Friday, December 10, 2010

You are a comic book nerd

Posted By on Fri, Dec 10, 2010 at 5:41 PM

You just might know it yet, or you don't know how to get started.

There are a few ways — walking to a store with mouth open and eyes darting to the walls, racks and crates probably isn't the best. Ask an employee for help — better yet, ask them what they recommend — and watch their eyes beam like a kid's on Christmas.

Of course there are endless superhero titles and characters, from the familiar (Superman, Batman) to not-so-much (Marvel Zombies). There are classic graphic novels that transcend the genre, from Art Spiegelman's Holocaust memoir Maus to Alan Moore's hugely successful Watchmen, and (once upon a time Gambit Weekly contributor) Harvey Pekar's American Splendor. And there are new classics like Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead and Charles Burns' Black Hole — or newer acclaimed works like the latter's X'ed Out.

Maybe you're more attached to newspaper strips — who does it for you, Charles Schulz or Bill Watterson? Or Gary Larson? Maybe you're more of a Leo Cullum. Webcomics are at your fingertips. So you're a web developer or science junkie? There's XKCD. News strips too "normal" for you? There's Perry Bible Fellowship (RIP).

Perhaps the best way to dive in is to look at what's around you. In this week's cover story, I talked to local comics authors and illustrators from across the city's (and beyond) comics circles — self publishers and 'zine authors, high artists dabbling in the low stuff, and workhorse illustrators for mainstream publishers.

Below is a partial interview with influential local comix artist (and exceptional conversationalist) Caesar Meadows. Check back on the blog tomorrow for an interview with Lafayette comics artist Rob Guillory, who illustrates the coming-soon-to-TV series Chew.

Note: This interview spanned Star Wars vs. Avatar, the history of Japanese manga, and comic book industry inside baseball. And there's this stray quote, which nicely summarizes Meadows' work and his attitude in the comix community: "As people discover (my comics), part of me is hoping it inspires them. Even if they don't like my work, and they think they can do better, go ahead; do it better."

What do you like out there?

There's so such on the surface, flipping through stuff I see online, there probably isn't going to be enough time in a lifetime to read everything, but I feel like it's still out there. Whereas before, it was really hard — I have these encyclopedias on the history of comics, and they mention old comics, but it's only a few paragraphs, or a few panels. I'm like, 'I want to see those strips!' But now, I've got a backlog of reading material when I get the time to pour into this stuff. It's like a golden age to me. I'm just amazed at the generation coming up. There's so much to pull from and be inspired by. They read that stuff, they want to do their own, bring their own perspective to it, and I'm blown away.

And there are so many outlets for that, too, now.

And they're extremely successful. They take those online comics, but them into trades, and they do really well. And the online ads — they're very technically savvy.

An analogy I use for my own stuff — there are cartoonists out there writing violin concertos, like amazing, complex pieces. Whereas myself, I think I'm a pretty nifty fiddler. (laughs) I can do a really nice tune, and I think if you enjoy comics, and you read one of mine, you're going to enjoy it. And that's fine with me. I'm attempting to get better. But I also know — it's funny, comics I like, in interviews with them, they're not the biggest comics fans. They don't read as many as I think they would read. It's probably because they're working more. They can't let their ego get the best of them. They must spend so many hours a day working on it. I love comics, but I'm not driven to spend every waking moment getting better at it. I feel like that for some people that's what they want. They want to see the sense of dedication, and bringing this amazing talent and ability. For me, I love that, but there's also these really great diary cartoonists, like Julia Wertz. I find that as entertaining. I enjoy reading it for what it was.

People I've show Robert Crumb's stuff to said it's too dark, too misanthropic or hateful of human beings, or honest sexually. That's powerful to me, someone revealing themselves that way, like 'OK, I can have those thoughts.' Some people, you're not supposed to — 'How dare you put those thoughts out there.' They're not seeing what's amazing there. James Joyce, if someone wants to decode what he's doing, it takes an amazing mind to do that. You can't just let it sail by. If you're not getting it, it's lost on you. But I love that that's out there.

You can go back and read all the Marvels and DCs, but it's weird, these big movies and all the source material is — I mean I love reading that stuff, but it's really dumb. I love that stuff and have a nostalgia for it. But someone who grew up not reading comics? I think they're going to see how ridiculous it is. Maybe they'll like it in some goofy way. Like the first Star Wars movie, when I saw it as a kid, it blew me away. I loved it. I'd never seen a movie like that. It was real. Now I see it, I still love it, but for someone who has never seen those movies sees it as an adult who was really a fan of cinema, it would just seem so ridiculous and so silly.

I mean, Avatar was in 3-D, so —

(Laughs) I saw it, and I thought it was going to be really dumb, didn't think the 3-D was really that amazing. But I can understand how it connected with so many people. Like, 'Wow, what an amazing fable brought to bare.' It worked as just a pure, captivating — I can see why it's popular.

But getting back to comics: I'm just glad there's a diversity there. But I'm wondering if it's making any inroads to people who were already comic book readers.

Like, people who were more into the mainstream stuff, not digging into the more alternative things?

When I was in high school in the '80s, the more adult stuff was the Alan Moore, the Frank Miller, and Art Spiegelman and Maus, which, you could read that and it felt like this amazing thing like a diary. And it worked. It was unique and there wasn't anything like that. But since then, there's Joe Sacco, who's done amazing comics reporting in Czechoslovakia, Palestine, Bosnia, which gave you insight on what's going on that part of the world, and it's straight comics. His style isn't super super realistic. It's very cartoony.

Before I was into superheroes I was a big fan of Harvey comics. I loved Richie Rich, Casper. Before i was into MAD, I had a huge collection of Harveys. I actually traded at the Bookend in Harahan. I grew up uptown on Audubon Street. I was probably 10 or 11. I loved to get comic strip paperbacks of newspaper strips. I was a huge Peanuts fan. K & B used to have paperback-sized comic collections. I went to the Bookend and realized they had all these back issues of MAD, maybe 25 issues. The guy was like, 'I'll trade you all those comics for these MADs'. And I so wanted those MAD magazines. I'm sure he thought I was some dumb kid. It wasn't really until high school I got into the whole Marvel universe.

On growing up with Peanuts:

My parents divorced fairy early. My dad was absent, I'd go with my brother to visit pretty frequently. We grew up with a single mom who was raising us, and was doing a great job, but a single parent can't be there as much, so comic reading filled the gap. Peanuts in particular. Reading it was like, these kids, even though the humor of the strip is these kids having complex, adult thoughts, me reading those, and there weren't adults in the strip, it was like solace. These children, even if I may not have understood it, maybe had to make my brain stretch to find out what this humor was and what they were referencing, it was like a source of like, 'Well, these kids are doing it without parents around as often.' It felt good that kids were doing it. It's not like my mom wasn't there, but I was doing things like taking the streetcar downtown to Canal Street to see movies at the Loew's State. I think reading that strip lead me to start feeling independent. It certainly informed my cartoon sensibility.

I've never had stock characters, in all the years I've been drawing. I want the medium to be the thing. As much as it must be a bit of ego to go, 'OK, people are going to be reading the strip, they realize I'm the one writing it,' and say, 'Oh it's Caesar Meadows, he doesn't have an actual character.' It's more about the single idea or notion. It's not like I wouldn't want to make money doing it or do a collection and it sold well or was approached — like, recently, by Hansen's Sno-Bliz. That was awesome. (See below.)

Caesar Meadows designed this for Hansens Sno-Bliz.
  • Caesar Meadows designed this for Hansen's Sno-Bliz.

(Owner) Ashley Hansen Springate saw the comic, liked it and wanted to do this new cup. My style has a wonky line to it. we live in a time when people want to do InDesign and really clean cut, whereas I really like the wonkiness. She asked me to do the cup, and to me that's so much more wonderful than getting paid, to be something that's part of the fabric. It's not like, 'Oh, I did the cup!' It's the fact that they are looking at this drawing I did — maybe kids saw it and liked the swamp creatures, or just like the hand drawn design. I went every weekend and it was such a treat to see people holding my drawing.

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