Just before TCAF 2009, Conundrum Press publisher Andy Brown sent an e-mail to Robin McConnell asking what he thought about making a book out of the archive of Inkstuds interviews he had been doing for over 3 years. The idea intrigued McConnell and a year and a half later, the 280 pp. book ($20) has been published.
It’s a selection of some of the best Inkstuds interviews of the past 5 years, which has been one of the best sources to hear independent cartoonists speak at length about their work and comics in general.
Sequential had a chance to turn the tables on McConnell and ask him about how he went about selecting interviews for his book, what he learned from the process and why he feels it’s important to do interviews.
After the interview McConnell spoke in very grateful terms to what the Beguiling means to him as it was at TCAF that his book became a reality and that he has received valuable support from the people there over the years.
On Sunday, he’ll be promoting his Inkstuds book and interviewing Ottawa cartoonist Dave Cooper (promoting his new book, Bent) at a Beguiling event. The event will last from 3-6 and take place at The Central, the pub directly north to the Beguiling at Markham and Bloor. You should go there.
I guess you started doing your show about five years ago now?
Yeah, just over five years now. Five years and a couple of weeks I think.
Well happy anniversary.
Thank you man. It’s been a pretty active time of year, it’s been pretty exciting.
So when you started, did you think it would get to this point?
I had no clue (laughter). When I started it, Robin Fisher, who hosts the Onomatopoeia Show, she had given up the space at the station because she was moving to Montreal and so there was the opportunity there to do a show and I was in a flux time in my life and I said “sure, what the hell, I’ll give it a shot”.
And the show started out pretty painfully. For some reason that first interview with Seth, people seemed to like, and I’m pretty happy with it. But we did a lot of shows that weren’t really… as engaged as the interviews were, so once I really started getting into the interviews then I realized what I wanted to do with it.
It’s been pretty fun since then. It’s kept me active, involved.
Nice. So when you sat down to do this book, and you have these 300 interviews to go through, how do you begin to choose which ones belong there?
Well, it was kind of crazy narrowing it down from 300 to 30. The first thing is obviously it’s a Canadian publication so we want a substantive amount of Canadian content, that was important to me. We wanted to capture Canadian comics beyond the obvious of Seth and Chester Brown, there’s David Collier, Rebecca Dart, Jillian Tamaki. I mean, look at the book, it’s half Canadian. So that was the first step, really identifying those Canadians that we wanted, me and Andy Brown the (Conundrum Press) publisher talking back and forth. On top of that we did a list of what I felt like my top 50 or 60 were and slowly narrowed it down.
One thing about this book, there is a narrative going through it, as far as who we chose for the interviews that kind of connects them all. There’s a lot of interviews I chose not to include in this that are fantastic interviews but I don’t think they really connect with what’s going on in the book. Hopefully you noticed the big “1” on the side of the book, so hopefully there’s more to come.
You mentioned the Canadian content and how that was a conscious choice to bring them together to give a sense of what Canadian comics are like and what current ideas are out there. Did you get a better sense of what that means when you put those together?
Kind of. I’ll also say a mea culpa in that these are all limited to English-speaking cartoonists and I think there’s a lot of great French guys that I haven’t talked to, like Michel Rabliagti is one of the pre-eminent Canadian cartoonists right now. He is so amazing, he’s such a fantastic storyteller. But I haven’t interview him and I don’t know his level of English. Julie Doucet is another person who captures that Canadian identity is not in the book and whose English, frankly, is not, I don’t think, up to doing a radio interview unfortunately.
But for the rest of Canada—
Yeah, yeah it captures a wide range of Canada. I guess I kind of went off there. But yeah, I mean guys like Marc Bell, there’s so much behind him and so much surrounding him that’s why having someone like him is important. When you look at an anthology like Nog a Dod, which is a collection of this great group of people who have the same ideals and there’s even more that aren’t in that book, that kind of follow in those footsteps. And there’s all these linkages with these guys. And there is now, and then too, other Canadian cartoonists where you can see that layer of influence—like Dave Cooper, who I’m talking to on Sunday, going through his work you really see how important someone like Chester Brown was to him. Joe Matt and Seth. Well, Joe Matt isn’t Canadian, should be careful with that one.
Oh, kind of. He lived here for a while.
I don’t include it (laughter).
I know there are others that give him honorary Canadian status, but he’s in LA now. He lost it.
I’m sure one other thing you had to reflect on in going through this process was what makes a good interview.
Yeah. Oh yeah. It also taught me how I’m doing my interviews and where I need to work and adjust myself. The fascinating thing about the interviews in the context of being written is there’s a lot you don’t realize in a spoken interview, the things someone will mention that really I could have followed up on or people going on tangents about fascinating things that didn’t really stick out to me before but obviously is a really interesting part of the interview because it reads really nicely.
Now you notice those things in the print format, but do you think you lose something in the transition from audio to print as well?
I don’t know. I think they’re different experiences, they’re different mediums. The audio is more of an experience interview, it’s more of a casual interview where you can listen to it but not really fully jump into it. So, a lot of folks, I hear a lot of people listen to it working on their comics, doing whatever as their background fodder. But when you sit down to read an interview, you’re really taking in all of it. So where you lose the subtle nuances of hearing someone talks, you also gain knowledge of more of the breadth of talking, getting a chance to underline and say “oh, I want to read about this guy” instead of a name just flying through the air where you have no idea how to spell it or where to find it.
So then they offer different qualities, so it’s important to have both.
In Jeet Heer’s introduction, he writes about comics being heavily reliant on the interview format to build its history and critical dialogue. What role do you see Inkstuds as playing in that tradition?
I hope it provides some sort of recorded history. In addition to the 5-year anniversary, I recently just got my BA in History. One thing that’s really important to me, and you don’t see it as much in the book, is documenting some folks who haven’t really got interviews with. There’s some like that. Like Ted Stearn, I love that interview so much, and that’s the first interview Ted had ever done.
Yeah. There’s other folks too, one that we unfortunately had to cut that we’ll probably be printing sometime one day somewhere is George Metzger who’s a local Vancouver underground comic artist, who has a lot of history to him—a lot of knowledge of these points of underground comics in Vancouver and San Francisco—so many great stories– and we got to record that history, this is the history of comics and we have those folks here right now that we can talk to, to document and have that history at our fingertips to use at a later day so we can understand where comics came from. And that’s something that’s important to me as an historian, to understand the history of what made things the way they are today. I mean Seth didn’t just pop out of the woodwork. What made Seth? What made Chester Brown? Who were the ones who got them excited? Why did comics get them excited? Why would they become cartoonists.
As someone who’s studied history and is passionate about history, how would you rate the job that’s currently being done in comics.
I’m going to say there’s some really great stuff right now. There are some people doing some really fabulous work. One of the obvious ones is Jeet Heer, who did the introduction. And choosing Jeet for the intro was, to me, a no-brainer. He’s been a big supporter of the show for quite a while, since before I first e-mailed him about the show he was already listening.
Dan Nadel is someone else who is doing really great work as far as documenting and bringing some obscure and not so obscure cartoonists to light.
The (Comics) Journal, when it’s doing good, provides some really good stuff. Not so much on history, more on contemporary stuff.
Patrick Rosenkranz, who did the Rebel Visions book and the Rand Holmes collection. He’s probably, when it comes to people writing on comics, he’s probably my favourite comics historian.
So I don’t mean to ask you to choose your favourite child (Robin laughs), but who is the best interview then, someone you find very compelling and would love to interview time and time again?
Well obviously, like you said, it’s like choosing your favourite child. I think the fact that there are two lengthy interviews with Seth in that book is a pretty obvious clue.
The first time I interviewed him I was familiar with his work but I wasn’t as familiar as I was the second time around. We had a good discussion, and the second time it was just like sitting down with an old friend. We were really able to go in different directions. People kind of make these presumptions about Seth that he only wants to talk about certain old timey stuff and we’re talking about Matt Brinkman, Jack Kirby, Robert Crumb, you know all of these great, interesting resources of inspiration and there’s so much depth to Seth and he’s so good at explaining and talking and discussing. I think he’s really a great ambassador for comics.
On the flip side, Jordan Crane goes on the world’s best rants. I love talking to Jordan, I’ve talked to him a couple of times. Anytime you give him a subject he’s got great stuff to say, really interesting and a lot of good knowledge of important modern comics’ history he has been a part of. Yeah, it’s all good.
So who would you most want to interview that you haven’t so far?
That I haven’t yet? I did say Julie Doucet, I’d love to interview Julie, she’s one of those. I would have said Dave Cooper three months ago, and since then I’ve interviewed him. And I’m doing that thing at the Beguiling on Sunday. I’m really excited about that, and nervous, because I really don’t do public talks. Should be interesting.
I think Crumb is another one who would be interesting to talk to. But also, a part of me feels like there’s lots of great conversations already with Crumb, that there’s nothing that, I don’t know, I could add to the dialogue that Gary Groth can’t do a billion times better than I could (Laughter).
Alan Moore! There we go.
Alan Moore, yes, speaking of someone who is endlessly entertaining.
You know the sad part about Alan Moore- not that Alan Moore is sad, Alan Moore is amazing- is the fact that no one… a lot of the interviews they don’t care about Alan Moore the creator, they care about Alan Moore the personality and he really is to me a writing genius and you need to treat him as such and not treat him as a grumpy old man. And I get really frustrated when I read those interviews where he goes off about Watchmen. Like, of course you ask him those questions you’re going to get those answers.
Ask him about a million other things.
To digress here, one thing that I do find really interesting about Moore is that his personality and his internal logic are so much a part of his work. That it’s really hard to separate them.
And you shouldn’t. He’s creative, he’s not a robot. And the thing is, comics creators are artists. It’s like what Seth said at the Doug Wright awards, that when you’re making comics, make them your art. Be proud, stand by what you’re doing. Commercial work is commercial work, that’s not your artwork. Artists are idiosyncratic beings. Embrace that. Enjoy it. And take it for what it’s worth.
And with that, we’ll wrap this up. Thanks for your time Robin.
Thank you David.