Thought Bubbles: Comics Creators Talk ‘09, Look to ‘10 — Part 2

Continuing our look at comics in 2009 and what may come in 2010 as seen by a handful of our favorite creators (see part one, an introduction and our conversation with Brazilian illustrator Kako, here).

For part II, we caught up with Alex Robinson, a cartoonist who’s been creating very well received books like ‘Box Office Poison,’ ‘Tricked,’ and, most recently, ‘A Kidnapped Santa Claus.’ We also spoke with Mike Dawson, creator of ‘Freddie & Me,’ ‘Ace-Face,’ and ‘Troop 142.’

The two creators also co-host a very funny and entertaining podcast, The Ink Panthers Show, which is not necessarily comics-focused . . . but thereby perhaps well-suited to a general audience, not just comics fans.

(For more on the phenomenon of podcasting, check out our story from last September, ‘It’s the New Dial.’).

Alex Robinson

Alex Robinson has avoided the monthly format (i.e., single issue “floppy” comics) since completing Box Office Poison. ‘Tricked,’ ‘Too Cool to Be Forgotten,’ and D&D riff/romp ‘Lower Regions’ were all stand-alone, one-volume projects. As such, his work isn’t published as often as his fans would like, though it comes in a significant chunk when it does, as with the most recent project.

“Until my new book ‘A Kidnapped Santa Claus’ came out in November I didn’t have anything new come out this year, so not unexpectedly, sales weren’t spectacular,” Robinson told us.

A holiday-themed story that Robinson ably adapted from an old L. Frank Baum tale, the book has been generally well received (this Jew liked it quite a bit; see the Fall issue of Under the Radar magazine for my considered take). This 72-page volume was published by HarperCollins, which is noteworthy in that HarperCollins is generally known for publishing “regular” books.

As for when we might see Robinson’s next project? Fans should be patient. He hasn’t revealed much about it yet. In fact, he says it’s “still too fragile to be exposed to the harsh light of criticism.”

“Artistically, I started a new graphic novel with subject matter that’s really uncharted territory for me. So that’s exciting, but I’m also nervous,” he says. “But you have to go where the muse takes you, right? Hopefully, I’ll look back on this in a year and laugh at how insecure I was.”

Looking at the industry, Robinson echoes the sentiments of much of the comic-buying fan base in lauding comics’ increasing foray into mainstream venues.

“The continued success of graphic novels in mainstream bookstores is very satisfying,” he says. “Stuff like ‘Asterios Polyp’ getting a lot of widespread recognition in places that don’t normally focus on comics.

Conventions were another bright spot in Robinson’s opinion.

“One thing that surprised me more on the business end was the convention angle,” he shared. “There seem to be a lot more small shows focusing on independent stuff, which I think is great. . . small, one- or two-day shows in smaller markets that are put on relatively cheaply.”

But Robinson sees the flip side in competing conventions put on by corporate concerns.

“On the other hand,” he says. “you have stuff like the Big Apple Con having its giant show the same weekend as the New York Comicon, which seems insane, a big pissing match that will most likely only hurt everyone. So on the one hand you have these giant dinosaurs slugging it out and the smaller shows are like the mammals scurrying underfoot, going about their business.”

In terms of his own experiences, Robinson says that he “finally read Fables this year and enjoyed it very much.”

“I’ve been sampling a lot more alternative mainstream stuff like Vertigo,” he says. “I’m not an indie snob in that I’m just looking for a good story, whether it’s superheroes or regular people.”

Looking forward, Robinson admits that he’s not much for keeping up on comics news and, thus, not much one for general prognostication. However, he is looking forward to some specific titles from his fellow creators.

“A few friends of mine are working on things that I’m looking forward to, like Mike Dawson’s ‘Troop 142,’ but I think it’s still a ways off yet.”

And while still staying away from the fortunetelling, Robinson says that he’d like to see are “more reprints of comics I loved as a kid.”

“I’d love to see DC finally release a ”Mazing Man’ book, and a showcase edition of its old ‘Who’s Who.’ My goal is to eventually buy every comic I bought as a kid but in a fancier edition with a spine.”

Mike Dawson

New York City-based Mike Dawson admits that 2009 was an odd year for him.

“It was the first year in a while that I wasn’t enmeshed in a big graphic novel,” he says. “I had an exciting start to the year with the release of Ace-Face, a collection of short stories from AdHouse. I was able to travel to a few new conventions, including TCAF (ed. note: The Toronto Comic Arts Festival) in Toronto, which was hands-down one of the best shows I’ve been to.”

However, Mike says he struggled artistically due to a lifestyle change. He was forced to learn some new work habits, having to modify his old ways due to recently becoming a father.

“Having fewer hours to spend at the drawing table was taking something away from my pages,” he says. “I had to find a more satisfying way to work, which I found in the fall, moving away from brushes and back to crow-quill pens. At the moment I feel great about my drawings!”

When asked about his plans for 2010, Mike elaborated on the project his friend Alex Robinson eluded to above: Troop 142, a graphic novel set at a Boy Scout camp. It’s what he’s working on full-time these days. He offers insight into his progress to anybody that would like to see it, via the Internet.

“I decided to post pages online as I complete them, to help keep me motivated. This has been a lot of fun. I’m basically doing what I always do with a book, assembling it as I go, and going back to edit, and so on. The fact that I’m doing it publicly is the only difference.”

In fact, Dawson says that 2009 was when he “finally began to get excited about putting comics online.”

“I realized that comics culture basically exists online at this point, through blogs, Twitter, and social networking,” he says. “I was saddened by the news that The Comics Journal was scaling back its print version so radically. It bums me out to think that my dream of one day getting a big long interview in the mag has become that much further out of reach. But, on the other hand, I think it’s the correct move for them. Online is where things happen, and where the readers are going.”

Perhaps the ongoing migration of comics culture to the ‘net is a part of why Dawson is “very excited about where things are going with The Ink Panther Show! podcast.”

“Alex and I don’t have any intention of this becoming our main gig,” he admits, “but it’s a ton of fun to produce.”

The show’s modus operandi in 2009 was to interview (or really more hold conversations with) a creator or friend the pair is already well acquainted with. In 2010, Dawson is looking to change that.

“In 2010 we’re trying to branch out to other creators who may not necessarily be people we’re already good friends with. I am looking forward to getting the chance to chat with folks whose work I admire, but may not know so well personally.”

When asked about his reading habits in 2009, Mike says: “I grew to appreciate Manga more in 2009 more than any other year. I’d started dabbling in previous years, but this year was the first time I sampled the work of Osamu Tezuka. I started to bring some of the sensibilities of Manga into my own work.”

As with Robinson, David Mazzucchelli’s ‘Asterios Polyp’ made a big impression, with Dawson saying it was a “completely satisfying comics reading experience.” Another comic that Dawson enjoyed in 2009 was Liza Hanawalt’s ‘I Want You,’ which he calls “laugh out loud funny.”

“I enjoyed Josh Cotter’s stream of consciousness ‘Driven By Lemons,'” Dawson adds. He says the book is “really fascinating to look at, and intimidating in its obsessive manic detail.”

“I loved Dash Shaw’s short stories from MOME, particularly his comic about the making of the movie ‘The Abyss,'” Dawson shared, also offering ‘A Mess Of Everything,’ ‘Skim,’ and Jeffrey Brown’s ‘Funny Misshapen Body,’ as comics he enjoyed in 2009. The latter, Dawson indicates, “might be my favorite autobiographical book that (Brown’s) written.”

Looking to the New Year, Dawson offers up several projects he’s keeping an eye out for.

“I’m looking forward to the new edition of ‘Hicksville’ by Dylan Horrocks. I’m interested in reading Bodyworld by Dash Shaw. I gather there’s a new Dan Clowes book coming out next year, and hopefully a new ‘Acme Novelty Library.'”

In part III, we’ll share responses from another recent father, Dan Cooney of ‘Valentine’, as well as Miriam Libicki, creator of ‘Jobnik!’ and more . . . both of whom teach comics as well as create them.


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