Over the past decade, Noah Van Sciver has established himself as one of the leading cartoonists of his generation. His one-man anthology Blammo, which he’s been making for the past decade, has been a model for many creators seeking to make similar projects. Van Sciver has written and drawn a number of graphic novels in the past few years including The Hypo, Saint Cole and Fante Bukowski; in addition to Disquiet, a collection of short comics. He’s also serializing the graphic memoir One Dirty Tree on Patreon, contributing to MAD Magazine and drawing a weekly comic for Columbus Alive.
Van Sciver’s new book is Fante Bukowski Two. The book continues the story of the title character, an aspiring writer who has no talent. In this volume the character moves to Columbus, Ohio, and the result is more dark and funny misadventures. Van Sciver sat down with CBR to talk about the book, his many other projects, and his new book coming out in the fall.
CBR, maybe we should start with, both for the people who read the first book and new readers, who is Fante Bukowski?
Noah Van Sciver: Fante Bukowski is a 24 year old who romanticizes the “struggling alcoholic writer” cliché and lives his life in that role. He’s from a wealthy family but chooses to live only in cheap hotels and write poetry and short stories. He’s not talented at all.
What initially made you go, I should make a book about a clichéd, untalented writer?
I don't recall where the idea came from initially, but I do remember sitting in Panera Bread before my shift started and drawing him in a sketchbook. It was very easy to write page after page for him. That's how I knew I had something special.
So set up this book: Where are we when it opens?
We’re caught up with Fante one year after the first book. He’s spent his time since on a Greyhound traveling around the country, and now he has wound up in a fictional version of Columbus, Ohio, which has a strong literary scene. Now his goal is to establish himself as a “writer to watch” in the city.
How much of Fante Bukowski do you think of as comedy? Because it is very funny.
I think of it all as comedy. They’re comedic graphic novels.
The design of this book is great. For people who don’t know it resembles the design of Charles Bukowski’s book. Whose idea was it?
Keeli McCarthy at Fantagraphics designed both books, and she is a genius.
A cartoonist named “Noah Van Sciver” plays a role in the book. Why did you decide to do this?
The book is about two people trying to reconnect with each other. Audrey Catron, who is now a writer on tour, and Fante Bukowski, a bum writing awful poems. I needed a bad boyfriend for Audrey in the story. Somebody more dislikable than Fante Bukowski so that the reader would hope for that reconnection with Fante. The funniest idea was to just make that dislikable person me.
Can you say a little about who Audrey Catron is?
Audrey represents another part of being writer. The two characters struggle with success but where Fante struggles for any kind, Audrey struggles with the success she gained overnight.
When we meet her in the first Fante Bukowski novella, she’s going through a crisis. She’s a great writer but her first novel has come out and has been destroyed by the press and readers. She meets Fante at a poetry reading and they begin seeing each other.
In Fante Bukowski Two, Audrey’s second novel has been published and is a surprise hit. She hasn’t seen Fante since the first book and during her signing tour she decides to track him down.
In the book Fante has just moved to “the artistic galaxy that is Columbus, Ohio” -- which is where you live right now. How has Columbus treated you?
This is my one-year anniversary living in Columbus and so far it’s treated me well. I have a job doing a weekly comic strip for the newspaper here and my rent is cheap. It’s a great old American city with a strong cartoonist history. I would recommend it to any cartoonist.
You have another book coming out in the fall that you illustrated, Johnny Appleseed. Do you want to say a little about the book, and working with Paul Buhle?
I’ve always been interested in history and I’ve done my fair share of historical comics. So when Paul Buhle wrote to me and offered a book he had been working on about the real-life Johnny Appleseed I decided to go for it. I learned a lot while drawing it, and I think it has some of my best drawings.
You’re always working on multiple things. What are you working on right now?
Right now I’m drawing my autobiography called One Dirty Tree which I’ve been serializing nearly every day on my Patreon (where I serialize my new work now). It’s a story about growing up in a large poverty-stricken Mormon family. Other than that, I have my weekly strip for the Columbus Alive called The Introvert’s Club, and a new issue of my comic series Blammo to draw. I keep myself very busy.
You mentioned that you’re doing a weekly comic right now and you did one for years in Denver before. What is the strip you’re doing now? What do you like about the form?
When I moved to Columbus I was offered space in the paper to write about anything I felt like each week. The strip is called The Introvert's Club and the tone of it jumps around each week depending on how I'm feeling and it's a lot of fun. The freedom is valuable for me artistically. It's more fun than the strip I did in Denver, where I had to follow the guideline each week of interviewing a band and then drawing the interview. That got old for me and I'm sure for the readers as well.
You mentioned that were drawing a new issue of Blammo. For people who may only know you from your graphic novels and may never have read an issue, what is Blammo?
Blammo is a comic book series I started in 2007, that's a collection of short fiction, and autobiography. I try to do a new issue every year. It's very personal to me.
Do you have plans for more stories of Fante and Audrey?
For Fante, definitely. I have another book in mind which I plan on using as the closing to the stories. Audrey is out there somewhere, but I just don't know where.
Fante Bukowski Two is available now from Fantagraphics Books.