I feel like I owe a big favor to comic creator/cartoonist Minty Lewis.
Because after 20+ years of reading comics from all types of genres, publishers, and creators, it was her ‘P.S. Comics 3,’ which I picked up at the Alternative Press Expo in 2007, that left me gobsmacked with pure, unadulterated joy and mirth. It was a reminder of everything cool and special that comics could be.
See, I’d just read about the office-based misadventures of some rather melodramatic, pathetic anthropomorphic fruit.
And fruit with eyes and hands and stuff is funny.
Now years years later, without having run into her again at APE or any other indie-focused conventions, ‘P.S. Comics’ and its Fruit Pals are still at the forefront of my mind, and really bring the lesson home that many of the most entertaining, creative, and worthwhile comics are self-published, under-exposed, or, at the very least, below the radar of the average person, let alone the average comic book fan.
Ms. Lewis was kind enough to chat with Osmosis Online and offer a little perspective on her background, future plans, winning a small press award, and the secret origin behind her nickname.
Note: I highly recommend visiting Minty’s Web site, pscomics.com, to check out some of her works, even before reading the interview below. It’s okay. We’ll be here when you’re ready. If you like what you see there and read below, you can order the P.S. Comics trade paperback, published last year by Secret Acres, from Amazon.com
Osmosis Online: When did you first start drawing comics recreationally? What prompted it? And what motivated you to start self-publishing?
Minty Lewis: I first started drawing comics recreationally in about 2003. It was a few years after I graduated from college and I was working at a job that was ostensibly creative (in the documentary filmmaking world) but actually was not at all (I was a PA whose primary duties were ordering videotapes and transcribing footage). After a few years of working at this job and spending most of my free time on food and beverages, I felt like a real dud. Eventually, I started taking classes in drawing and graphic design at Massachusetts College of Art so that I could get back into the habit of making art and being productive. Around the same time, I had a cartoonist boyfriend who was making a comic for the Small Press Expo anthology, and he encouraged me to submit something too. That was the first comic I ever drew and, much to my surprise, they accepted it.
Through that experience, I discovered that comics were a good fit for me. I felt comfortable being funny in comics in a way that I didn’t in other art forms, and I liked that comics didn’t require a lot of specialized training and equipment to get started. Anyway, after my comic was published in the SPX anthology, I decided to self-publish a minicomic (P. S. Comics No. 1) for the Small Press Expo in 2004. Since then, I’ve just kept at it.
OO: How’d you get your nickname? Is there a story there, or just one of those random things?
ML: I wish I had a good story for you! Unfortunately, I don’t. I was in the habit of signing off from emails with any name that would pop into my head: Janet, Corky, Lisa, Renee, Taco, etc. Whether or not this was a funny thing to do is debatable. In any case, one time I signed an email with “Your pal, Minty” and that one stuck to the point where certain people started calling me Minty in real life. Eventually I got a “mintylewis” email address after all the usual variations for “Melanie Lewis” were taken, and then it just kind of took off.
OO: Where’d you grow up? How’d you end up in the Bay Area?
ML: I’m originally from Northern Virginia, near DC. I went to college in Connecticut, then moved to Boston after college. I lived there for two years, then briefly moved back to Virginia, and then moved to San Francisco in 2003. In 2004, I moved to Berkeley and I have been here since then. I might move again sometime.
OO: Anthropomorphic fruit = Hilarious. But somehow Fruit Pals rings horrifyingly true; I think it’s all the funnier that you pretty much play it straight. What prompted you to come up with those strips?
ML:I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that part of the appeal of drawing fruit is that they’re a lot easier to draw than people. Even though I had experience drawing from life when I first started making comics, cartooning requires a different set of skills (that I didn’t have). It used to take me hours to draw a panel; I never would have finished anything if I had had to draw humans! So drawing fruit was a way to bypass the struggle that comes with trying to make things look “right.” No one can ever complain that I’ve drawn Apple’s arms too long.
I’ve gotten a lot better at cartooning since I first started out, but I still think the fruit characters serve my purposes well. They lighten the tone in stories that otherwise might come off as too cynical. And when you’re dealing with stories that run high in interpersonal drama, fruit characters are a good way to remind the reader not to take any of it too seriously.
OO: Currently working on anything?
ML:Yes! I’m working on a longer comic (graphic novel, I guess you could say) called “Salad Days.” The story stars our old pal Apple, and takes place after he has abruptly left his position at Omnimedia in a moment of inspiration. Upon reexamining his priorities, Apple starts volunteering with gorillas at a non-profit wildlife organization. Through this experience, he meets special lady and gains a new perspective on life. But is their relationship strong enough to endure Apple’s identity crisis…? Sorry, I got a little “back cover Sweet Valley High summary” on you, but you get the idea. I’ll have the first two chapters available at Stumptown Comics Fest in April.
OO: So, you got an Ignatz Award, announced at the SPX show a few years ago, for P.S. Comics No. 3. Were you surprised? Did it garner you much attention? Anything shake out from that? (vast riches, book deals, new enemies jealous of your talent, whatever )
ML: I was so surprised! I hadn’t even submitted my minicomic for review, so I was shocked even to be in the running and double-shocked when I won. Through my superior reasoning skills, I deduced and later confirmed that a cartoonist friend of mine was on the Ignatz jury and had submitted P.S. Comics No. 3 to the nominating committee without my knowledge. As far as resulting additional attention, that’s a little tricky to gauge. I definitely saw a spike in visits to my Web site for a few weeks, but I can’t say that the Ignatz Award vaulted me to a new level of fame. I already had a book contract with Secret Acres at that point, so I can’t say it got me a book deal either. If it got me any enemies, they are still hiding out in the woodwork planning their revenge. (Note to enemies: It was totally unnecessary to wait so long. I really let my guard down after 2007.) What the Ignatz Award did get me is a brick and a brick-stand with my name on it.
OO: Speaking of influential cartoons/cartoonists — do you have any particular influences, whether in an art sense or humor or writing? What kind of comics or other reading do you typically enjoy, whether an influence or not?
ML: It’s tough to point to any particular comics influences–I didn’t really start paying attention to comics until around the same time that I started making them–but I really appreciate certain cartoonists and feel a strong connection with their work (among them: Charles Schulz, Lynda Barry, Michael Kupperman, Gary Larson, Ted Stearn).
As far as influences from other media, I don’t know if there’s anything from which I’ve directly derived my sensibilities, but there are so many artists and works that have been important to me. I’ve spent a lot of time absorbing Devo, Roald Dahl, Pee-Wee Herman, John Kennedy Toole, Jack Handey, Chris Elliott, David Shrigley, and Molly Ringwald (among others), but there must be something in my raw material that drew me to them in the first place. Regardless of the directional flow, they’ve all burrowed into my head and gotten mixed up with each other and all the other stuff in there, and I consider everything I create to be a byproduct of that interaction.
I’d like to thank Minty Lewis for for taking the time to talk to Osmosis Online! While you’re thinking about it, OO highly recommends weekly visits to pscomics.com, and checking out P.S. Comics at your earliest convenience.