I almost renamed the feature Talking Text-Comics with Tim for this week’s interview with Tim Hall, but I thought better of it. Hall’s project, Uplift the Postivicals, is ambitious, oddly engaging and unlike anything else that ACT-I-VATE has featured over the years. Hall’s ACT-I-VATE bio covers everything you need to know before jumping into the actual interview: “Multimedia writer and journalist Tim Hall has been a champion of indie and DIY comics since 1995, when he first began publishing such future stars as Dean Haspiel, Josh Neufeld, Nick Bertozzi, and Sam Henderson (and many others) as part of the New York Hangover newspaper. His stories have since been put into comics form by Rami Efal, Josh Simmons, Michel Fiffe, and as part of Nick Bertozzi’s award-winning Rubber Necker series. He is excited to take his writing to a new level at ACT-I-VATE with ‘Uplift The Positivicals,’ a freeform column of stories rendered as text images. His most recent novel, FULL OF IT: The Birth, Death, and Life of an Underground Newspaper was called a ‘Best of 2008’ by literary journal decomP and features wicked cool cover art by ACT-I-VATE co-founder Dean Haspiel. Tim lives in a small town in northern Illinois with his wife and son.” My thanks to Hall for the interview.
Tim O’Shea: Uplift the Positivicals is described as “Text-based comics, fontasies, soul sutras and shredded prose, rendered in bold, binary alphabetics.” I’m not sure where to start with that engaging mouthful, so I’ll be
selective in my curiosity–what do you mean when you use the term “fontasies”?
Tim Hall: To be honest, I wrote that description before I had written a single column, so I really screwed myself, didn’t I? First I had to map out my narrative territory and get people used to my style and hopefully into the characters. I’m now in the process of incorporating concrete poetry, typographic elements, visual writing and the like into UTP. The challenge for me is to tell a story using words in different ways, without relying on design per se. That’s a long-winded way of saying that if I ever figure out what a fontasy is I’ll be sure to let you know!
O’Shea: For this story, how did you go about selecting this font in particular?
Hall: I was looking for something bold and condensed that wasn’t too overbearing. My primary goal was to make UTP readable on iPhones, while still packing enough info on each panel for desktop readers. I’m leaning more toward the portable devices, and actually just made the template slightly more widescreen.
O’Shea: When you delve into love life battle stories (as you do in chapter 3 [as well as in other chapters]), even in a fictional story, do you ever hold back for fear some ex will recognize themselves, no matter how much you might have changed details?
Hall: I try to tell the truth in a way that isn’t meant to hurt anybody else. The point is to poke fun at myself, and the crazy path we sometimes take on our way to true love. That said, I don’t feel the need to protect anybody either. I don’t think anybody in the world would recognize the people in chapter 3 except maybe the individuals themselves, and I hope they laugh, not cry!
O’Shea: Would you agree that this story would not work in the present day, given that going to SDCC is considered hip now in some circles. But back in 2002, it would make sense to tell folks you were going on a business trip to avoid admitting you were attending a con.
Hall: It’s definitely hipper now, but I don’t think that played into it. At the time I was genuinely worried about how my going to comic conventions would be seen by a potential date. I was worried that Dolly might think I was a nerd, and yet I found myself just telling her the most outrageous lies on our first date, like that I dress up in a furry costume and sleep in a Paddington bed. It was all because I was more afraid to broach the subject that I was separated but not yet divorced at the time, and because of my general bad luck with dating–though of course I hope the stories make clear that I’m my own worst enemy in these situations, that perhaps the only thing wrong with my dates was me.
O’Shea: Just to clarify, when you write about inkers here, is this you speaking or the fictional character? (Sorry if I’m blurring the lines between author and character, and feel free to correct me here)
Hall: A little of both. With autobiographical humor it’s important to tell the truth, but know what to highlight and exaggerate. Since I had a bad history with the character in that chapter I’m partially being mean, but there’s a bit of truth that I also cop to, i.e. my own ignorance: what does an inker do without pencils to ink? I understand the skill involved and the difference it can make, but I still don’t understand if it’s art or craft. Commence flaming!
O’Shea: The only art that appears so far is at the opening of certain chapters, how did you make the decision to favor text more that art with text? Who provided the art for the story?
Hall: I recently started working with Jen Ferguson, a really fine painter and illustrator who has not done any comics that I’m aware of. There’s been no formal decisions about anything, it’s just the improvisational evolution of the column. I went in with no ideas, nothing written. Dean Haspiel asked me to be part of AIV because he loves my writing and wanted to roll the dice and throw some text into ACT-I-VATE, whatever may come. I’m literally making it up as I go along, finding my way each week, so in the beginning it was just text, now text with an illustration, and now Jen and I are beginning to work on meshing the two. My biggest concern so far has been for the writing to be as lyrical, evocative, and visual as possible. It’s been a chance for me to do freeform writing more than text-comics proper, but like I said I’ve got some more experimental things in the works.
O’Shea: When all is said and done, how many chapters will it run?
Hall: I have no idea. The current thread, “How To Fall In Love,” should be done next installment, then hopefully the first text comic will run. I think I have an ending for Uplift down the road, but not for many months. Once I start talking I’ll generally keep going until somebody stops me. I’m trying hard to earn my place at the AIV table, so hopefully that won’t be for a while yet.
O’Shea: Are you revising as you go along with the tale, or was the whole story finalized before the first installment was posted?
Hall: Since it’s autobio I know the general story line of what happened, but nothing is planned, nothing is written ahead of time, except now I’ve got to give Jen a heads up so she can illo each installment. I’m constantly surprised by new things I remember and where it leads me. It’s funny how unexpected the truth can be when you’re writing it.
O’Shea: What has been the biggest challenge to creating UTP?
Hall: As a writer, just moving from the letter page of a word processor to the landscape frame of images has been a huge shift for me; it’s already had a massive impact on my writing and editing, rhythm and pacing. While that might not be apparent to people just coming to my stuff for the first time, it’s been revolutionary for me personally. I hope people will give Uplift a chance while I see where this new medium will take me. I have a pretty deep background in experimental literature and a decent knowledge of art so I already know some of what’s possible, but it’s still a vast and unexplored territory. I’m trying to give birth to a new kind of writing, but I have no idea how long the labor will be or if it will bear fruit.
O’Shea: What else is on the creative horizon for you, in the near to long-term?
Hall: I recently learned that one of my stories is being translated into Bengali, which isn’t something you get to say every day, so I’m psyched about that. Right now I’m finishing up a memoir and a screenplay, both of which I believe have major appeal, so I’ll be hunting for an agent this fall. And if any artists out there like Uplift and would like to collaborate on something they should contact me. I’ve got a lot of great stories in my collection Triumph Of The Won’t that would make for nice pictures.