Eric M Esquivel writes for Bleeding Cool;
So, apparently nobody told Brandon Graham that I’m not a real journalist, ‘cause he conceded to an interview without much of a struggle.
Brandon is a personal hero of mine, and for the legion of you who adore him as much as I do: you’re welcome.
And for you few souls who have yet to experience Mr. Graham’s work: you’re even welcomer.
Welcome to King City.
ESQUIVEL: One of my favorite things about you is that your Wikipedia page lists your birthplace as “somewhere in Japan”, when the reality is that you were spawned in the espresso soaked, plaid clad wonderland mortals call “Seattle”.
I find it fitting that a creator whose influences range from The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, to Appleseed, To Green Lantern to Dirty Pair would have an origin story as convoluted as his bookshelf.
You’re the Wolverine of the art world, man. “Snikt!” like a motherfucker.
So, let’s start there. Drop some science on us vis-à-vis your Super Secret Origin. Rumor is you’re the product of several generations ‘ worth of visual artists (but, as established above, we all know the worth of rumors).
Set the world straight, man. The people want to know.
GRAHAM: Heh, if I was the Wolverine of the art world, wouldn’t I be unable to remember my past and then when I finally did we’d all be really disappointed?
The Wikipedia page on me being off is a good reminder to me that the internet is a liar. I was actually for real born in central Oregon. My dear sweet father has a max max farm in Bend, Oregon with a geodesic dome he’s been building since before I was born.
My family has lots of artists in it: My older brother Keith does art and sometimes comics. He’s in a couple of the Meathaus anthologies. My mother writes science fiction and her father was a pin-up artist (Bill Randall) it goes way back like dinosaur spikes. and I’m just keeping up the trend by shacking up with my talented misses Marian Churchland, who has put out her Beast book through Image and drawn some Elephantmen issues and an upcoming Madam Xanadu for Vertigo.
But yeah, most of my childhood was in Seattle with comics around before I could remember.
I dropped out of school early and had a couple years with boxes and boxes of my older brothers stuff to read and reread. And he had mostly small press 80’s comics with lots of European books.
ESQUIVEL: Yes! That’s exactly the sort of thing that I was fishing around for.
The purpose of Post-Modern Myths is to create a resource for up-and-comers to refer to when assessing whether or not they should give up the ghost and divert the energy they’re currently spending trying to “break in” to comics into studying for a business degree and become an assistant manager at The Gap (or whatever) instead.
A lot of folks presume that the only pathway into comics treads through high school, then college, then The Joe Kubert School, then an internship at Marvel, then CB Cebulski’s casting couch (and feel doomed to failure before they even start, because of that presumption)—but you are living proof that someone can exist outside that paradigm and still produce high caliber, Eisner-nominated, babygirl-impregnating work in the mass market on a regular basis.
The reason I wanted to have a public conversation with you is because the trail you blazed into comicdom is so unconventional… it’s hard for me to even wrap my mind around it on a conceptual level. I feel like a goldfish staring at an iphone, trying to decipher your life’s journey. It’s in 4D, or some shit.
I take it back, you’re not the Wolverine of the art world—you’re Mxyzptlyk.
As our readers will find out, you went from being a dropout, to a local graphitti legend, to a pornographer, to a manga author, to an Eisner Award Nominee, to one of the most exciting, critically acclaimed talents Image Comics has seen in a decade.
So, if you’re willing, I would love to hear the story of when you dropped out of school. When was this? What was the catalyst for that decision? What were you working on at the time, artistically? How did your friends and family react? Essentially: Where was your head at?
We’ll get to the ridiculously talented Ms. Churchland (and James Stokoe, and the rest of your crew) in a second.
(also, I’m stoked that I already effed up something, one email in. A geodesic dome in Oregon? Really? Damn it. At least I got the continent right. Take that, Wikipedia).
GRAHAM: You’re very nice to me.
One thing that’s really important to me is pushing the idea of the culture of comics and not the business of it, so you could be making the best comics ever and be an assistant manager at The Gap at the same time (if anything your comics might be better because you’d be making them for yourself and not just to pay the rent).
But, school–I always had problems in school. I was suspended a lot and eventually I got put in an alternative high school called “NOVA”. I used to joke that in Spanish it’s name translates to “NO GO”, so I didn’t. I ended up getting my G.E.D to appease my mom.
I remember being very frustrated and just wanting to be able to just make comics.
And. with everyone in my age range in school all day, it left me lots of time to get deeper into comics.
I guess it was from about age 16 until I moved out at 19.
Artistically: at the time I was doing endless versions of a thing called October Yen, about a guy with cat ears and a 100 year old alien robot that took care of him. a little earlier than that I had a comic called Super Team about a bunch of outlaws in a giant blue space ship. The characters all had these Peter Parker same letter first and last names: “Daring Dog” , “Fearless Frog”, “Bombshell Bat”.
ESQUIVEL: That’s an excellent point (regarding your “comics culture” comment). Most artists in the comic book community gauge success by whether or not they can pay their bills making the funnies and not by the actual quality of their work.
I know tons of gals and guys in the game who don’t consider themselves successes yet just because they haven’t done any work-for-hire stuff for Disney or AOL/Time Warner–people like Angela Montgomery and Dave Baker — whose portfolios are bursting with amazing, next-level-shit that I couldn’t replicate if my brother’s life depended on it.
Are you at a point right now where you can just rock out on comics 24/7 and still put food on the table? Have you ever had to take a non-creative job just to make ends meet?
Talk to me about Perverts of The Unknown and Pillow Fight and the rest of your porno repertoire. Was that portion of your career a “day job” era, or are you just as passionate about those works as you are King City?
GRAHAM: Sure, I was thinking about that recently, about how so much of success is how you define it.
These days I just draw but I take on side jobs that help fund the comics.
The last real jobs I had were in NYC like 5 year ago. I worked at the Strand book store and at a bar.
I remember at the book store I would move boxes of books and sometimes I’d just wall myself up behind boxes and see how much I could draw in a tiny sketchbook before anyone found me.
The porn for me was just wanting to make comics all day and it being the only job I could get at the time drawing and writing my own stuff. I tried to make it good. I developed all these theories about how porn required a different comic science than what I’d use for my regular work (fewer panels on a page drawn closer and think facial expressions are more important).
The NBM books had to have a certain amount of sex on every page, so lots of the story and character got eaten by that. But sometimes it forced me to just rework how I’d tell a story. In the first Multiple Warheads short the narrative jumped back and forth in time so I could fit the sex in and also tell the story of the character, Sexica smuggling a werewolf penis for her dude’s birthday.
ESQUIVEL: Word, dude.
If anyone reads that “…so I could fit the sex in and also tell the story of the character, Sexica smuggling a werewolf penis for her dude’s birthday” line and then doesn’t go out and immediately pick up a copy of Multiple Warheads then they have no business reading comics in the first place.
One of my favorite things in the world is when someone like Frank Miller signs on to do something in the pop comic genre (Batman, or Daredevil, or whatever), challenges people’s very notion of what the comic book medium is capable of and then proceeds to peace out before the novelty wears off to go work on personal projects again (Like Xerxes, or Holy Terror)for the next twenty years. It’s the artistic equivalent of a drive-by.
You linked to James Stokoe’s unauthorized Silver Surfer stuff over at Warren Ellis’ Whitechapel board semi-recently, and the internet lost their collective shit over it.
I know that you’re not really motivated by skrilla…but is there any mainstream property that you’d be down to pull a Frank Miller/James Stokoe on, solely because you have a fondness for the character?
(Personally, I’d love to see you do something in that vein with the Morlock characters from Marvel’s Uncanny X-Men—really exploiting the surreality of a culture of disfigured, superhuman mutants living in a Carol-esque, subterranean wonderland built from discarded syringes and flushed goldfish bones and stuff.)
Or is that the dorkiest, most fanboy question you’ve ever been asked in your entire life (oh, God)?
GRAHAM: I’m down with Morlocks. I was really into it when they showed up in Power Pack when I was a kid I always wanted to see someone like my pal Farel Darymple who draws really good kids and really good New York on that.
I like to sit around with friends and try to come up with the best Marvel team something like how Excalibur was in the 80’s,
I’ve always wanted to do a Conan 70’s style Savage Sword magazine or Dirty Pair book off the Adam warren issues.
I really like that Stokoe did the Silver Surfer just for himself without involving Marvel.
Michael Deforge did a Spider-man ‘zine like that recently:
And Ulises Farinas has been doing some similar ish with Batman right now:
ESQUIVEL: I love that stuff. Looooove it. Deforge’s & Farinas’ work in particular, but also that whole outlaw superhero misappropriation trip that some artists feel compelled to take.
It speaks volumes to the mythic quality of American superheroes that the kids who grew up reading their stories feel so entitled to them as adults. AOL/Time Warner having a monopoly over Batman comics feels equally as offensive as if Walmart laid claim to The Virgin Mary, or Krishna, or whomever.
You mentioned earlier that you’re not as enthralled with the business aspect of funnybooks as much as the culture it gives life to. Do you want to take this time to spit some game about your scene? Maybe introduce our friends in the UK to the Marian Churchlands and Barnaby Wards in your social circle? Give a “shout out”, as it were?
Oh, and tell us how you met! Was it some sort of “And then there came a day unlike any other…” super fantastic origin story sort of deal, or did you assemble your Art Avenger posse gradually over years of attending conventions and just generally being present in the industry?
GRAHAM: Word. There’s a certain just not giving a fuck to taking characters and doing what you want with them.
When I was first hanging out with kids doing graffiti, there was a great feeling that you could really draw anything you felt like. It sounds obvious but it really opened up a lot of ideas for me– And also seeing that same feeling in comics with guys like Matt Howarth in the 80’s or Locke –who was a guy who hung out with Brian O’Malley and Corey Lewis and was putting up these great comics on the internet around 2000.
I’ve got to meet some really amazing artists over the years.
These days I mostly hang out up here in the far far north with my lady Marian Churchland (who did a book called Beast with Image).
Down the street from us are James Stokoe (Orc Stain, wonton soup) and his misses Marley Zarcone, who did Forgetless for Image and is now doing some Vertigo work.
And there’s Justin Moritat Norman (The Spirit, Elephantmen) who is kind of like a comic book godfather to a lot of my friends, and Sheldon Vella (Supertron) who comes out here every so often from Australia. And Corey Lewis (Sharknife) down in Seattle.
And lots, lots more.
I think it’s an exciting time for comics.
And when I lived in NYC I was really involved with the Meathaus dudes (Farel Darymple, Thomas Herpich, Chris McD, Tomer Hanuka ect ect).
I guess I’ve met most of my friends through a convention or each other.
Stokoe and Marley I met after I saw their work on the internet and Stokoe had listed me as one of the artists he liked, so I ended up writing to him and convincing them to move out and be my roommates.
I’m so happy that you dropped that “it’s an exciting time for comics” sound bite. You have no idea.
I worked part time at a comic book store up until about a year ago, and all I encountered all day were pseudo-intellectuals bitching and groaning about how boring everything had been since 1987—as they were dropping sixty clams a week on Secret Invasion tie-ins.
It’s incredibly refreshing to see someone who’s not just excited about the current state of the Words and Pictures business, but who’s also a big part of the reason it’s exciting.
I feel like Prometheus delivering fire from The Gods right now, but here’s a link to Brandon’s journal, everybody. If you don’t bookmark that link right now, and check it regularly, then you hate comic books. And you hate yourself. A lot. I have found more awesome people & products since I stumbled upon that livejournal than in all the years I subscribed to Diamond’s Distribution Catalogue. It is, in the parlance of today’s youth, the good shit.
While we’re on the topic of good comics: let’s jibber jabber about King City for a minute.
Give us a quick synopsis of the story, a rundown of the key players…and maybe a little juicy insider information on the move from Tokyopop to Image.
GRAHAM: There’s an old Jamie Hernandez flyer that has the quote “if the scene sucks it’s because you suck”
I think about that in relation to comics a lot.
It is a really great time for comics: you have all of comics history from all over the world to read and
so much more of it in English than ever before and an amazing amount of new creators showing up from all sorts of backgrounds and influences.
That said, this is where I differentiate between how I think of the culture and the industry.
With all these fantastic artists making new work, it can still be hard to walk into a comic store
and find something worth reading every month or week. a lot of the most exciting work isn’t showing up in stores or easy to find.
Something I complain about a lot is how the industry eats new artists, with it either being a hassle to break in (so a lot good artists end up in easier-to-break-into, better-paying industries), or when some exciting artist does show up a lot of the times they get teamed up with a bad writer and continue to put out more of the same crap–so you get all these good artist working on bad books.
And obviously a lot of that is having to eat and pay rent, but as a reader and fan of comics, I just want good books.
So yeah, it’s a fantastic time but we can make it even better.
But yesss– King City!
It’s my spy comic about a guy who has a cat that with the right injection can do anything.
He returns to the city he grew up in and gets mixed up with his old friends. One of his friends
gets caught up in the extraterrestrial sex trafficking and his ex is now seeing a xombie war veteran who is addicted to a drug that turns the user into the drug, and while all this is going on there’s a giant demon king monster threatening to take over the world.
…It’s always hard to boil comics down into paragraphs.
Originally it was coming out through Tokyopop and when they cancelled most of their American books I
desperately called all over to try to find some way to get it back in print. The guys at Image were amazing in helping me out. Joe Keatinge and Eric Stephenson really went out of their way to get it back into print.
So now it’s putterring away in 12 monthly issues. Issue #9 is just about to come out.
Brandon, I want to thank you again for stopping by Bleeding Cool and shootin’ the shit with me for a minute.
I’ve been more productive this week than I’ve been all year, ‘cause every time we correspond I get so excited about the potential of comics I can’t calm down enough to fall asleep.
I had to enroll in a remedial yoga course at the local community college after the fourth consecutive day. It’s ridiculous.
I trust our readers will experience a similar insomnia after they get a load of the transcript.
Any parting wisdom, Grand Cat Master?
GRAHAM: Thanks a lot for giving me a chance to rant on here, Eric. I’m thrilled at the idea that I could hype anyone on comics, I like to say that my job isn’t about drawing comics as much as it’s about staying excited about drawing comics. Even with all the amazing work that’s been done It’s really a mostly untapped artform.
All the shit possible with words and pictures is nuts.
Eric M. Esquivel is the author of the critically acclaimed graphic novel “Horrible Little People”, the critically tolerated “Adventures of Bikini Automatic”, and the critically despised “Childish Delusions of Grandeur and Superiority”. He also wrote a whole bunch of mini comics that the critics know nothing about , and can be found at www.ModernMythologyPress.com .
His upcoming works include “Calabrese!” for Spookshow Records, “Pop! Science” for Modern Mythology Press, and “Girl Scouts In Space” for The Girl Scouts of America.
Sometimes he reviews issues of Cyberfrog for www.Bookmans.com.
He used to do boring journalism stuff for The Tucson Citizen, before he decided that he hated money.
He is not John Siuntres’ son*
*or is he?†
† He isn’t.