R: I guess I’d kind of like to have this thing be where we’d cover—‘cause La Mano’s been around for a long time, and I guess—how long has La Mano been around, and what was the impetus for starting publishing?
Z: Well, I mean, I think—it’s in the other room, so I’m not sure right now, but I think it was ’92.
Z: I mean, the first thing that La Mano did was a split comic with me and Mr. Mike where—I lived in Oakland and he still lived here, and we did a split comic and did it on this premise that—I lived in a warehouse for a while, and at the time, I thought he was ancient, but he was 35.
Everyone else was 16 or 20 or whatever. He bought a printing press, and he was doing all kinds of zines and shit, and I was like, “Yeah, man, if you—can I be your apprentice, and you can show me how to use this printing press?” And he was like, “Yeah, I’d love to.” And I went down there one night and was just like, “Fuck, forget it. This is miserable.” But we printed that first split mini on that press.
Z: And that was just kind of like—I don’t know. I think I just decided—I didn’t decide I’d be doing it 20 years later, but this is sort of...You know, all the bands had labels, and it was just kind of like an umbrella to just put your stuff out. I was just like, “I’ll just make a little publishing house for my minis. It’ll be La Mano.”
R: That’s awesome.
Z: And with my friend, Mr. Mike. It was just sort of a “name only” thing that, whenever I put something out, it would have that name on it.
R: And was it always—was the intent at the start, then—it’s just really interesting that you guys printed that together, then, so kind of? Or, like, no?
Z: Well, Jux, the guy—he printed it. God, I don’t even know who paid him.
I’m broke so much back then, I don’t even remember exactly how, but it was just like, “This’ll be our thing,” and Mike sort of did zines and didn’t do zines, and he was never, like, a “comics, comics” guy. And then I just kind of kept going with it, you know?
Z: And, you know, I only put out something once every two years or something, so it wasn’t like there was a...I mean, the only consistent thing about it was that it never sort of went away, and then, in 2005, when I got the press...
R: Yeah! ‘Cause I was gonna ask, because La Mano feels largely like an intimate vehicle for your aesthetic, which is true of all micropresses, but back to how you were saying how you started, and it was you acting—I mean Mr. Mike acting as a mentor to you as an apprentice, and...
Z: Oh, this was a different guy. Mr. Mike still lived here [in Minneapolis]. He was just a zine buddy. He did a zine called Rump, which—you should actually probably borrow that—and he’s a guy that I met here in Minneapolis, you know, and he was a person who first got King Cat, and so when I first met John [Porcellino], it was because him and Mike had started corresponding.
R: Okay, so this is a different—
Z: Yeah, the guy in Oakland was just this punk rocker named Jux who was in a lot of issues of Cometbus, so it was just, like, moving—I didn’t really know it at the time, but there’s some of that community here, and there’s a community there that I became part of, and there was a community everywhere that you were a part of, even if you didn’t know it.
I mean, John P. said this to me when he was here last time. We were talking about stuff, and he was like, “All the way through the ‘90s, I didn’t—I wasn’t aware of anything in the ‘90s that was mainstream culture.”
Z: You know? And that was part of it. It was just, like, culture sucked, so you built your own. I mean, nobody was doing it consciously, but there was this culture that—fuck all that. He was sort of like, “I don’t fucking know any movies from then. I don’t know what was hot on the radio. I don’t know anything about that because there was this other totally vibrant culture that had nothing to do with that shit,” you know?
It’s easy to say that in retrospect, but when he said that, I was like, “Fuck.” That’s totally true. I’m sorry; that got—
R: No, no, I just thought that it was really neat that there’s always been—it feels like you’ve been more directly involved in the printing or had someone—I mean, when you had a book or a project or whatever printed, you knew the printer. It was more directly involved, I guess, than maybe some other labels.
Z: Yeah, but that was, again, that whole—John put out his own stuff. Me and Mike—Mike worked at a copy shop overnights, so I would go in there, and all the zine people would go in, ‘cause they knew Mr. Mike worked at the copy shop, and everyone would—I think I told this story before, but there was one night when Aaron Cometbus was in town, and he was putting out a new issue of Cometbus, and it was Mike’s last night at work, so he put out, like, an open call to zine people, and so that night was just, like, every single copier was going, and everybody—I think Aaron did a whole issue or, like, most of an issue of Cometbus that night, you know? And I did that with Aaron when I was in Oakland, and it was just, like, Aaron was moving 10,000 copies of Cometbus whenever he put out a new one.
R: Holy god! Holy god.
Z: At its peak, I think Aaron was moving—I hope he doesn’t read this and get mad, but I think he was moving, like, 20,000 copies of Cometbus in its heyday.
R: That is amazing.
Z: With no fucking distro. You know, he just hustled, and I don’t think that lasted for long, but—
R: Man, that is so sad that that is not happening today for many people.
Z: It is, and it’s weird, also, because it’s doable, but I think people just...
R: How did he move that many?
Z: I asked him that, and he was like, “I hustled.”
It’s like, I know you hustled, but—
Z: It was just like—I feel like an old man when I talk about this, but it was just a different time, and that was pre-internet, so it’s like, people—then, people were more starved for awesome—for stuff, and now, it’s like people are saturated. It’s like, you know, there were x amount of awesome things that were happening, and now you’re aware of all the awesome things that are happening, and you have to decide which awesome thing. At the time, it was like, “Are you fucking kidding me?” I knew Cometbus was out, I’m gonna go where I have to to get it, ‘cause there’s nothing like this.
But I tell everybody, “That’s how everybody did it.”
Z: So it wasn’t “interesting” to do it that way. It was just how everybody did it.
R: So was 2005, you were saying—I guess I kind of noticed—I mean, it seemed like La Mano kind of launched itself more as, like, a big deal and more than just, like, you were putting out your own stuff. When did you start putting out stuff by other artists? I mean, were you always, kind of?
Z: No. I mean, that was pretty conscious. I can’t remember if I had left Low or if I was about to leave Low, but—no, I was still in Low, but I heard about the printing press—that AB Dick 360. Somebody else told me about it, and it was just...I had a short list of, like, if I ever do this for real, I want to put out these things. Like, these are things nobody’s putting out, and I feel like somebody should.
Nobody had really collected much John P. at that point. There was that. I mean, Barnaby hadn’t been put out. It was just this wish list of shit that hadn’t been done, and I was like, “Well, if I have this printing press, you know, I should try and step this up a little bit and put out—” And also, I thought it was interesting that there was still this definition of, like, real books and zines, and they were different, you know? There was less in the middle of that—you know, like something in between a book and a zine—and there wasn’t a whole lot of that, and I was interested what that would be, you know? And, I don’t know, I just thought I should give this a shot and use the printing press and try to be a “real publisher,” which now feels idiotic, but...
R: Well, and you were a real printer too. Like, you were going at two major things at the same time.
Z: Yeah. We’ve talked about that. That’s an issue. I talk disparagingly about it, but I don’t regret any of it, but I had to try being a real book publisher before I realized that I’m not really that interested in being a real book publisher—you know, to find out what you had to do to make that work, and for a long time, telling myself that I wanted to be the guy that made that work.
R: I mean, defining what works—you did make that work. You know, you put out amazing projects.
Z: Yeah, but that’s the part that worked for me. I mean, the part that didn’t work is—I don’t know, this is something you wrestle with all the time. There’s the creative part of it, and there’s the business end of all of it, but also what I was talking about at the beginning, you know? Like, that community was sort of almost disdainful of—I don’t want to say, like, success or trying to make a living, you know?
There’s something in there that I can’t easily define, but, you know, we’re doing this because we don’t want to be fucking businessmen, you know what I mean? But there’s a business element to publishing, and if you want to be sustainable and you want to keep it going, you have to conduct yourself in that way of keeping this sustainable, and what that is is, you know, running a good business, being on top of your shit—you know, all that stuff, and...you know, La Mano’s put out beautiful stuff, and I couldn’t be happier about it, but I started doing it, and I was like, “Someday, I’d like to get this to the point where this is my full-time job,” you know? Where this is what I do. I mean, not only has it not worked out that way; it’s also—if that came and kicked me in the pants, I’d love it, but it’s—I don’t think I’m good at the things you have to do to keep that sustainable, you know? And the older I get, it’s just like, I have less time, and I just want to make comics. You know, I just want to make stuff. I barely have time for that, so I just want to...
R: Yeah, I totally understand. I think part of it too, with making—at least for us, and maybe this is similar ‘cause you started self-publishing for a long time under the same label, so you weren’t coming at it from a business perspective or whatever. You were just like, “I want to put out these awesome books, “ and I guess for 2D Cloud, it’s kind of a similar thing where we started, like, no idea that we were gonna try to be a publisher, and then, yes, and then not really knowing how to go about the side where you’re trying to be sustainable.
Z: I mean, and part of that is, like, again, you don’t know until you’ve done that, and I know people who have done that, and it turns out they’re really good at that part of it, and that’s, like—they just have a natural affinity for doing those things. It’s not all, you know, “Marketing is dirty.” That’s nonsense, but there comes a time when you look in the mirror, and you’re like, “Either I’m good at this thing or I’m not good at this thing, and if I’m not good at it, I should, like, not keep trying to be good at it.” But you don’t know until you go there, and I don’t regret going there.
R: Didn’t the first year that you relaunched La Mano—didn’t that go pretty well?
Z: Aw, yeah, man, I’d kill for that. No, I mean, all the La Mano books have done—you know, they’ve all made their money back.
R: That is fucking amazing.
Z: It is. And, you know, I paid everyone except me, but, you know, I keep a studio, so—
R: Even that’s amazing.
Z: Yeah, but it’s been slower every year, and that’s also due to—again, we’ve talked about this. With the saturation of stuff in the world, you have to work pretty hard to keep your presence for people to know you’re still out there. And I put out a book—in my heyday, I was putting out a book a year, so, you know, it’s just...
So interestingly enough, I’m kind of back where I started. This is the new Recidivist. I’m gonna do 500 of them, it’s gonna be on shitty paper, and it’s gonna look like a zine. I mean, it’ll get to who it gets to, and if it gets to the right people—I’d rather it get to the right people—I’d rather it get to 500 people that are gonna be, like, super into it, whoever they are—zine people, comics people, not-comics people—normal people. That’s part of the publishing paradigm. You’ve got to reach as many people as possible each time. If you don’t, it’s not successful, and it’s like, you have to keep that going, and I just can’t.
R: I wanted to go back to or start it—so Sammy [The Mouse]'s had three or four homes now, with each incarnation being really unique. The Coconino Fanta[graphics] upscale single issue format—which was just a beautiful format—do you have any background on that format in terms of how it started, why it ended, and how Sammy became a part of that?
Z: Yeah. I did what I thought was gonna be the final issue of Recidivist on La Mano, and I think I’d done a couple other projects. I’d already gotten a sense of, “This is a ton of work.” After you do the work, there’s this ton of work, and the Sammy idea had been gestating for a while. When I was thinking of it, I was thinking I want to do this thing actually like the new issue of Recidivist—a really cheap newspaper, two-color comic, you know? Cheap and weird. And then after Recidivist, I was like, “Then I’m gonna have to print it, and I’m gonna have to do all that stuff,” and around that time, I heard about the Ignatz line from Coconino. I called up Eric [Reynolds, Associate Publisher at Fantagraphics], and it was exactly what I was thinking of how I would do it. At the time, there was the added plus of, well, it was such a beautiful idea; the guy who oversaw this was a cartoonist named Igort, who is Italian-and I guess he was inspired by some of the small-press surrealist magazines that they would self-publish. His idea was, you know, “Each cartoonist will have this format, but then I’ll sign a publishing house in six different countries, and they will all be committed to the whole line, so they will publish translations.” Each one of these will come out in six different languages.
R: That’s so awesome.
Z: It is, and the idea that, you know, there would be French people who would sell real well in France but would sell less well in—that it would all sort of equal out—that the American artists would sell better in America.
R: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Z: But that also corresponded with the time people stopped buying floppy comic books, and to ask people to pay eight bucks for a comic book was—
R: Totally worth it.
Z: Totally worth it, but—
R: There was less people of that mind.
R: I just remember seeing those first couple. I mean, the first ones that I’d saw was the—who was that guy who just did that?
R: Yeah, him and—he just did some Lou Reed book through Fantagraphics.
Z: Oh, Mattotti. That’s one of my favorite fucking books of all time. I mean, there was amazing work that was—I keep bringing this up, but there was a guy named Marco Corona who did three issues of this thing called Reflections, and he’s Italian. It was just like, “Oh, another Ignatz book,” and I got it, and I read all three of them together, and I was just—Jesus, it’s so good, and for whatever reason, it sort of didn’t even make a blip in the comics community. But, I mean, even by the time I signed on, everyone had dropped. The French publishers had dropped out. Publishers in the Netherlands dropped out. So even the first issue of Sammy had appeared in Italian, and it appeared, you know, through Fantagraphics and through Coconino, which is Igort’s thing. And, you know, just the longer it went on, the less sustainable it was.
R: That’s so sad. It was the most amazing line. It was totally, at the time, my favorite. Everything was just beautiful. The format was beautiful.
Z: Yeah, it was. The end of my story is, I had this idea. This thing came up, and I thought, “This is just the format I was thinking of and more elegant, and it’s gonna be in six languages.” I called up Eric Reynolds, and I said, “How can I pitch this?” He said, “I’ll give you Igort’s email address.” I pitched it, and he said, “Yeah, let’s go,” so, yeah, I’m really glad I was part of it. That book Anders [Nilsen] did was astounding.
R: I missed so much of that.
Z: I mean, there was one or two things that I didn’t like, but it wasn’t, ‘cause it sucked. It just wasn’t my thing. Most of all of it was just, “Jesus, this is beautiful.” It was really well curated. It was a beautiful line.
R: And then for the second incarnation, you ended up self-publishing and having a Kickstarter and printing it as well. What made that shift happen where you decided that, yes, you wanted to print a collection versus having Fantagraphics?
Z: When the writing was on the wall for Sammy, I was talking to Fantagrahics, and it was like, “Well, this line is gonna fold. What do you think the options are here?” It probably could have happened with Fantagraphics, but again, they had a bunch of copies of the original comics to sell, so repackaging them, and them repackaging that as a single volume would be kind of weird ‘cause they still had a bunch of copies of the individual issues. It’s kind of weird because you’d be asking people to pay for the same thing, and I thought, “How it was gonna progress from there?” And the fact that it was an $8, 32-page comic book, I just thought, “I want to get this in people’s hands.” The Ignatz thing—as great as it was, it was for people who were deeply invested in comics.
R: It wasn’t so much a casual thing.
Z: Yeah, and those are my people, but at the same time, I want it to be for normal people too, and I thought, “Well, this stuff has been out there. If I collect it, I do it cheap. I present it in a new format for people who haven’t seen it, and it was just like, if there’s ever been a time, I’ve got a printing press, I taught myself to print, I have these certain resources. If I’m ever gonna print one of my own books, this is the thing to do it on. It’s recollecting other material for cheap. All the stuff came together where it was like, “You need to do this once. You need to do everything once since that’s sort of what you’re set up for.” And I did.
R: That’s incredible.
Z: Yeah, but, you know, this is where people cut me off, ‘cause it’s like, I’m so proud of that book, you know, and so proud of what went into it, but at the same time, somebody walking up to it and not knowing all that stuff is gonna be just like, “This is kind of a weird-looking book,” you know? The printing’s kind of weird. It looks like somebody made it by hand. Books aren’t supposed to look like that, you know? And it’s too cheap, and what the fuck’s going on, you know?
R: Without the context—
Z: Without the context, it’s just kind of a weird-looking book. With the context, I think it changes into something else.
R: It’s really powerful.
Z: You know, the new issue of Sammy’s perfectly printed, and I’m happy about that, and I’m happy that I didn’t have to do it, but it’s just, like, it’s not quantifiable. Certain people are like, “Oh, my god, what is this? This is amazing!” And other people are like, “Oh, can I—I don’t want to touch this.”
“This looks like somebody made it.” [groans]
Z: I mean, I get that.
R: I don’t know. I think it’s super neat having that context and how to, I guess, communicate that to people that maybe know less of why that’s cool. I don’t know.
How was your experience with the Kickstarter? What prompted you to go that route?
Z: I just didn’t have the money to do it, and—this could get us into a long conversation about the sad facts of—I told you to cut me off when it gets depressing. It costs more for materials for me to do it on my own press than it would cost to send the whole thing to China and have done books sent back to me, and that’s minus me paying myself to print it, and that’s me buying my paper at a remainder paper place, you know?
It’s true. It just costs me more to get my materials to do it myself than it would have cost me to send it to China and have it be printed. And there’s a whole thing around that.
R: Well, it would just feel very contrary to what La Mano seems to be about, which is a lot of beautiful, handmade books that have context versus something that doesn’t have context. And there can be beautiful things without that as well, but I think that’s a great strength, and it fits really well with your overall aesthetic and things you have both done yourself or work that you sought out to put out with La Mano. I think that’s just a great strength and something that’s really beautiful about the label.
Z: Thanks, man. You know, I’m totally with you, but on quiet nights at home, I realize that, however it came about, that how things get made and the context around these things being made, to me is—I even start to feel that way about my own stuff. It’s as much what I did to make it happen as it is—I feel like somehow that makes it onto the page, but to me, the process is the same as the result. They’re equal. But I understand that, for me and you, that seems totally normal, but I think for a lot of people in the world, that’s...
Z: It’s just like they are not interested in that at all, you know? They just want their thing and to have this very clear experience with it. “I got it. I’m reading it.”
R: I think or I hope that some of that has to do with people just not understanding what is so interesting or neat or valuable about having that context and having that connection with the work. And part of it too is it’s just a different time.
Z: I’ve had the horrible thought—I just sound like a mad, old buck—but I really wonder if the world is—not like I’m right and everybody’s wrong, but if the idea of branding has made its way into human consciousness in this way that totally makes sense, but, you know, like, if it’s not branded, people don’t understand the brand. They’re so used to—there’s McDonald’s, and I know what I’m getting there. I know what that is, and I can like it or not like it, but I fucking know what it is, and that across a lot of things—I mean, I see this with bands now, and it drives me nuts. It drives me fucking bonkers. “I’m an indie rocker. I make this kind of metal.” No, man. No.
It’s funny; it doesn’t bug me when it’s McDonald’s, but it bugs me when it’s bands.
“I’m ‘this thing.’” No, you are what you are, and then that is what makes you make the kind of music—you don’t decide what your brand is and then do that brand. You decide what you are, and that turns into your brand, you know what I mean? But that whole thing of, like...
R: Searching for context or—
Z: I need to know what this thing is, and if I can’t understand it, I don’t have time for it, ‘cause there’s so many other things. You know, I don’t have time to figure out what this is. I just need to know what this thing is, and if I don’t know what it is, there’s tons of things where I do know what they are. I know that this is grindcore. I know that this is indie comics. It’s like I know what I’m getting, so I don’t...
R: Yeah, yeah.
Z: To do that work, to figure out things that don’t have a brand—here’s where I don’t sound like an old fogey—it’s kind of a lot to ask of people, you know?
R: It could be, yeah.
Z: For a lot of people, it’s like you have to meet this thing halfway or you have to put some work into figuring out what it is, and right now in the world, it’s like you’re asking somebody to do something that the rest of the world is clamoring for them to not figure out, do you know what I mean?
R: I think so, and slightly off topic, but it makes me wonder: do you approach the work that you’ve made yourself and the work that you’ve published with that same idea of not knowing what it’s going to be? I guess kind of having some sort of totally identified—not brand but overall vision, where it just happens.
Z: Yeah, that’s what I mean. Again, running La Mano, it’s me working with someone, and we kind of figure out what it is, and the more identifiable it is, the more excited I get. Like, the Nate Denver book [Wait, You’re Not a Centaur]—it’s a book of 50 50-word stories, there’s drawings in it, there’s a CD in it, there’s kind of some comics in it, but for a lot of people, you hand it to them, they’re like, “Is it a book?”
You’re like, “Yeah.”
“Well, what do you mean? It’s got drawings in it. It looks like there’s a comic. Is it a comic?”
“Well, it’s got a CD in it. Is it a record?”
“No! Yes! And no! To all of those!” And I love that. I love that, “What the fuck is this thing?” I like that Jason Miles book [Dead Ringer]. I don’t know what that thing is, and that was me and Jason hammering out, “What is this thing?” I still don’t know what it is, but I’ve never seen anything like it.
R: I agree. Austin English had a great review of it that was very powerful. I think what you were saying before about what’s between zines and books, and La Mano felt like it was making that thing real, especially that Jason T. Miles book. That totally feels like that in-between thing, and it’s just fantastic.
Z: Yeah, and I think so, and you think so, and Austin thinks so, and there’s a group of people who really sort of got that, but for a lot of other people, they were just like, “I don’t—is that—is this a comic? It looks like a zine, but it’s big, and it’s got a—it looks like an art book, but it’s obviously not that,” and just like, “What is this?”
R: What was the print run that you did for that?
Z: It was supposed to be 700, but I was still learning on my press, so we tried to make it 700, but I fucked up, and one page was 250 light of everything else, do you know what I mean? Since I used to get all my paper at this remainder place, I bought everything they had and can’t find any more of that paper. More than 250, less than 500. I think we meant to make to make 500. It was maybe 300ish.
R: When you relaunched in 2005, what was the scale for a lot of La Mano projects?
Z: It just kept going down and down. I think I did 500 Mosquito Abatement books.
Z: You publish, so you know. I still have 1,200 or 1,300 of those kicking around.
R: That is amazing.
Z: But John can keep some forever. Recidivist, I think I did 4,200 or 4,300, and I probably sold through two thirds of those.
R: That’s great.
Z: Yeah, and things started getting weird. Well, they didn’t. The next thing I did was that awesome portfolio of William Schaff prints [[Portrait of a Young Man Trying to Draw](http://lamano21.com/?merch=portrait-of-a-young-man-trying-to-draw)]. That was supposed to be 500. I think we ended up with closer to 400 of them, but I got about 30 of those left.
Z: The [Nate Denver book](http://lamano21.com/?merch=wait-youre-not-a-centaur)—the first edition—sold through in a heartbeat ‘cause the guy from Tool wrote the intro, and then we did a repressing, and those almost sold through too.
R: So how many of those?
Z: See, that’s the thing that drives me nuts. We did a printing of 800, and those I did all on my press, and that was the first time I was like, “This is awesome.” Tool posted up something, so that sold out pretty quick, and I did another run where I just printed the covers and had the guts done elsewhere. I did 1,200 of those, and then La Mano didn’t get another order for anything for seven months or something. That was one of the many times I almost quit, but we ended up selling a bunch of those.
R: What was the year that that happened?
Z: 2007? 2008?
R: Yeah, that makes sense, because I think it was around that time that the economy started heading down, which sucked.
Z: He did another book, and he did a run of 1,000 of those, and I know that they aren’t moving a quarter as well as the first book did, and it’s just as good, but something’s changed a little bit. I don’t know what it is, but something has changed a little bit.
And then I did that record—you’re not supposed to do any art stuff if you’re a publisher. You’re supposed to put out books, not, like, books and a record and a CD.
R: Well, what was the reception for the record, and how did that differ from putting out some of your books?
Z: Again, it was just weird. It was weird. It didn’t go through normal channels. It wasn’t on a label. I wasn’t going on tour or playing shit, so it sounds like somebody made it in their basement, which I did.
R: It’s a fantastic album.
Z: It didn’t do that well. And I went back and listened to it recently, and some of it is just, like, this is so fucking good.
R: I agree. I agree. I don’t understand how things work.
Z: I don’t either. I totally don’t.
R: What was the print run that you did for that?
Z: 900. So I just don’t...
This is getting really depressing.
R: Oh, I’m sorry. When you typically work on a project, do you have any kind of promotional build-up or anything where you announce the project and then reach out to people afterwards? Do you show some sort of a tease, or is it just, like, when it’s done, you ship it and announce it to retailers?
Z: I try to do that stuff, but again, with the look in the mirror, every time I try to do that, something goes haywire, and when it’s done, I’m fucking done.
“I did it. Done.”
R: This is maybe too late or after the fact, but have you ever thought about roping someone else in to help with that component?
Z: I have. Fanta helped a little bit with the Sammy book, just out of the goodness of their hearts, ‘cause they’re awesome, but it’s always been very not concerted and very haphazard. It would be great to have that at some point.
R: Going back to Sammy again, with book two, how is that, working with Tom [Kaczynski] at Uncivilized? How did that come about versus it being published under La Mano?
Z: Book one—I’m glad I did it, but it took me way longer and it was way more effort than I ever imagined or expected it would be, so at the end of that, I was like, “I did it. I just want to draw now.”
R: How long would you say the printing process took?
Z: Oh, my god. Fuck. Six months? That had to do with a lot of different things. It had to do with the machine, it had to do with my skill level, but, yeah, it was fucking miserable. Most things that could go wrong did go wrong. A couple of times. When that was done, Tom was starting up Uncivilized, and it was like your friend down the street.
And to be honest, Fantagraphics was—at the time, Kim Thompson was still alive, and I think they would have done it. Kim and Eric were pretty into it, and Gary was sort of like, “Why don’t you just finish it, and we’ll put it out?”
I can’t. That would kill me. I need signposts on a thing like this, and Tom was kind of raring to go. So we just decided to do it, and he had just signed up with Consortium, but there again, Sammy 2 was supposed to be out five months before it was, because something went horribly wrong with, actually, my storytelling, and I had to go back and redraw a third of the book.
R: Holy shit.
Z: But again, it had this sort of rollout that made sense, and something happened where that rollout had to be chucked out the window, so that happens enough times, and you’re like, “Well, that must sort of be my deal whether I like it or not.”
But I’m really happy working with Tom. I’m really happy with the way it looks.
R: It looks great.
Z: It sold less than issue number one.
R: For the first one, I know you had that Kickstarter, so there was maybe more excitement with that. Do you feel that it was pushed properly? ‘Cause with a Kickstarter, you put all this awareness at the start, but then if you don’t continue with that—I don’t mean to get off topic, but a similar thing happened with Little Heart, where we had all this interest at the start, and our collaborator dropped off. It has to continue to be pushed, but when it’s just another book that’s being put out...
Z: Me and John talked about this a lot. This year at SPX—and everybody sort of agrees on this trajectory: it’s the most glorious time for comics ever, and also it’s bizarre because, like I was saying about Cometbus, there used to be a small pool, and all of a sudden , the pool of people making comics, and to a large part, the quality of the comics—there’s not twice as much stuff. There’s seven times as much stuff, and the general quality and production values of all that stuff is crazy considering what it was like ten years ago—a few years ago. So now it’s like you used to be a voice in the pool, but now it’s like you’re a voice in the cacophony.
And also, the kind of comics I was making ten years ago are the kind of comics that would probably do well now, and the stuff that I’m doing now is the kind of stuff that did well 20 years ago.
It’s just all sort of weird timing, and you can’t call that shit. It goes where it goes.
R: I agree.
Z: Let’s be honest: anthropomorphic animals running around yelling at each other is not the cool thing going on in comics right now.
R: But you have to do what comes out: the stories that you’re ready to tell, the art that you’re ready to create, beyond what’s trending right now. But then it’s cyclical, and you have to also sell it, and how do you communicate that and garner interest? I think that what’s going on now is that there’s just—we’re bringing in younger blood. There’s a lot more labels coming and everything, but there’s not enough outside growth, and there’s not enough channels to foster that sort of growth. It’s like you have more mainstream nerd culture that covers some of this stuff but very faintly, and that’s what’s mainstream, and then there’s blogs and really small pockets that try to pick up the slack, but it’s...
Z: Yeah, it’s like the pool of creativity is growing, but the pool of readership is—and Peter Bagge said the same thing—the pool of readership is not growing. God forbid you use the word market share. There’s just so many more people doing it, but sort of the same amount of people are there to read it, and me and you know it’s like, “This is my community, and I’ve been in this community since I was 16.”
I feel this way about Sammy the Mouse. I feel this about King Cat and other stuff, obviously, but the basis of this whole thing is comics are a cheap and democratic form of communication. The idea that some 60-year-old woman would find one of my comics on the ground at a bus stop and pick it up is way more exciting to me than the idea of, I don’t know, somebody who’s deeply involved in the same world as I am. I don’t want to do stuff just for cartoonists.
R: No, I agree.
Z: But at the same time, cartoonists kind of have to start looking at themselves as a poet. Poetry—nobody gives a fuck about poetry. Peter Bagge talks about that. There was a time when every god damn American read poetry, and now they don’t, and so you can be the best poet in the world, and who that’s gonna go to is generally the small proportion of people who care deeply about poetry.
It’s weird, ‘cause comics are in the middle of that. There is a lot of potential for your average person to pick this thing up. That’s the glory of comics for me. That you don’t have to know shit about anything, and you can pick this thing up and enjoy it. It’s weird, ‘cause sometimes it does make it out into the larger public consciousness, and often it doesn’t, and I don’t know how to bridge that gap, you know?
Part of me doesn’t give a fuck, and part of me cares very deeply. Part of me is like, “You want to know something? Fuck you.” [laughter]
Really, if this is the way it’s going, I’m just gonna do the most personal thing. I don’t give a fuck if you don’t understand it at all. I just don’t. Whatever. I’m just gonna do this thing, and if it’s your thing, it’s your thing, and if it’s not, fine. That’s totally cool.
I don’t buy that thing of art as masturbatory. Like, I do this so that people can read it and interact. I want people to get this. I’m not some god damn painter who does a painting and puts it up and the wall and is all, “Screw you all.” Comics are about this wonderful means of getting things out in the world, and it’s a wonderful way to do it. I’m not done unless somebody’s reading it. That makes them done.
R: I agree.
Z: There’s great stories—I think about Joe Sacco a lot. I’m just going off, but I remember when Fantagraphics was putting out the comic book issues of Palestine, and nobody had ever done those kind of comics before. Ever. They were so good, and I remember talking to those guys, and they were like, “We can’t give these fucking books away.” Like it was just only going to this incredibly small subset of people who liked comics and were willing to go with Joe. Most people were like, “This isn’t Hate, and this isn’t Eightball. What the fuck is this?” It was just selling dog shit, and I remember distinctly having this thought of, “This is important, brilliant work.” He’s gonna do this, he’s gonna continue selling 500 copies of each issue. I made that up, but for the time, it was really little, and he’s gonna stop doing this, not because it’s not good work. The world isn’t gonna catch up with Joe Sacco. And it did, you know what I mean? It did.
That gives me hope. He did the work. He kept doing the work, and people fucking figured it out, and that makes me really happy.