BREAKING DOWN THE MOTHERFUCKING DOOR
One of the best things about being a comic book retailer is that I sometimes get to see great art or hear about awesome comic books before almost anyone else. And sometimes that preview art or that pitch makes me fall in love with comic books all over again so much so that I stay up way past even my bedtime over-indulging in the funny books. And recently I've been hearing so much good news coming out of the world of mini-comics that I've been tearing through huge stacks of unread comics into the wee hours of the morning.
Fortunately I'm a person who doesn't do a whole lot of sleeping anyway, thanks to my rock-around-the-clock Comic Pimpin' lifestyle and the lucky hand that biology dealt me which keeps me healthy, happy and perpetually energetic on four short hours of sleep a night. Doesn't seem to matter how late I've been out or how much San Francisco nightlife I've been indulging myself in, I always seem to wake up in the morning feeling like a million bucks and ready to devour the hell out of another day. But even so, there's nothing that supercharges up my batteries more than hearing about good things happening to good folks. Which brings us to today, where the shit is truly going down in mini-comic world. And believe this, what's good for mini-comics is good for the entire industry.
2004 has been a fantastic year for comics' once overlooked red-headed stepchild. Minis and their creators are lighting up the "in style" radar and bum-rushing the pop culture door. Just this last week The Arizona Republic, a well-respected newspaper with a print circulation of nearly 600,000 people, just ran it's second article on the phenomenon known as "mini-comics." Stop and think about that for a second. Six hundred thousand people are reading about mini-comics. Mini-Comics! With all the attention comics have been getting in the mainstream press for the past five years it's easy to forget that there was a time, not so long ago, that Variety didn't give a crap about graphic novels and Amazon.com didn't have comics on their best selling list and Entertainment Weekly didn't do regular reviews of comic books and rockstars like Courtney Love and big shot movie writers like Joss Whedon weren't writing comics and Barnes & Noble wasn't making fat sacks of quick money off comic books for girls. Back in those dark days, comics themselves rarely made the news, now comics are the news and reporters are flocking to the comics medium like a teenage Dave Stevens to a Bettie Page girlie magazine. They're so interested in what's going on in the industry that they're finding new angles to write about it... and they're checking out and writing about those crudely printed "basement tapes of the comic industry" that are mini-comics.
Stop and think about what it means for a second when a newspaper with a print circulation of 600,000 people starts making the term "mini-comics" into a household word. That's a damn, damn good day for comics.
You might be aware that 2003's Isotope Award for Excellence in Mini-Comics, Rob Osborne, got picked up by one of the finest publishers of comic book entertainment, AIT-PlanetLar, and has a graphic novel version of 1000 STEPS TO WORLD DOMINATION coming out in the end of October (AUG04 2360), but Rob isn't the only mini-comic creator making the transition to the big leagues. Josh Cotter, who walked home with 2004's Isotope Award for Excellence in Mini-Comics trophy has also made the big leap! And you can expect to be picking up your beautiful copy of SKYSCRAPERS OF THE MIDWEST at your local comic purveyor before the end of the year thanks the multiple award-winning comic publisher AdHouse Books.
For me, personally, this has been the best news of all of 2004. Josh's work is a thing of beauty and without a doubt, SKYSCRAPERS OF THE MIDWEST is one of the best comic books I've read all year long. Josh's writing is deceptively complex, disguising simple truths of life with robots and spaceships, and exposing the ugly realities of adolescence in sad, funny, awkward moments. Cotter's gorgeous artwork effortlessly stands up to the very best the industry has to offer and draws you into a seemingly simple world where real emotions lie. Part of the beauty of Cotter's work is in his ability to evoke mood and make you truly feel something. Even with the thousands of funnybooks I read each month, few comics are so effortlessly able slip past my defenses and hit me right in a raw nerve I didn't even know I still had. Of all of the comics published each year about the quiet realities of growing up SKYSCRAPERS OF THE MIDWEST definitely ranks up there with the best of all of them and once people get this book in their hands they are going to know why I think it's so special. And as anyone who has read it already will agree, unless the judges are smoking crack SKYSCRAPERS is a sure-fire lock for an Eisner nomination next year.
Seeing as how this is the best news I've heard all year long, I cracked open the laptop and sat down for a virtual interview with the two men responsible for this awesome news, and for making me so pumped up about comic books that I've been staying up and reading huge stacks of issues while normal people are sleeping. So without further ado I give you creator Josh Cotter and AdHouse Books publisher Chris Pitzer in an exclusive interview:
Comic Pimp: Josh, you've had a pretty incredible year! How does it feel to know you're about to have so many more people checking out your work when it gets official worldwide distribution through Diamond?
Josh Cotter: It has been a great year, starting with the APE aftermath (of course)... things have been a blur from then on out. After leaving SF, I completed the second book and took it to MOCCA to hand it out, where I ran into Chris Pitzer (AdHouse). As with the previous book, distributing a mini-comic can be pretty difficult with limited resources, so having 'SSMW' in Previews with AdHouse behind it is going to be a nice change of pace. Chris has put out a lot of beautiful books... I just hope my stuff doesn't seem too terribly shabby standing next to something as amazing as 'Project: Telstar'.
Comic Pimp: No way is that going to happen! I know I probably said this before, but I think your work is fucking amazing, and I'm sure Mister Pitzer does too. Hey Chris, baby, I'm loving it that you picked up SKYSCRAPERS OF THE MIDWEST. You've gotta tell us all how this all came about.
Chris Pitzer: Well, I guess because of you and the Isotope Award. I had to check his book out after he won. So, I got the first issue at the SPACE show, and then I bumped into this guy who had issue two at MoCCA. Turns out that "guy" was Josh. I told him that I REALLY liked issue one and he just handed me issue two, gratis. Heck, he didn't know me from Adam. Anyway, I get home, get to read it, and figure if he's interested in working together, I would love the chance to try and get his book into more comic shops. I'm trying to take the book to the next level with some advertising, postcards, and other things that will hopefully get it noticed. Because once people take the chance to read the book, I think they'll see how talented he is.
Comic Pimp: Absolutely. Josh is a little shy himself, but his work is fucking amazing. Unless the judges are completely out of their minds next year, I think SKYSCRAPERS has an excellent chance at earning him Eisner nomination.
Chris Pitzer: An Eisner nom for Josh would be way cool. >From what I've seen, he's rather talented, and seems to be dedicated to the medium. A nomination would hopefully do him good in that even more people would stop and take notice of his work. But, I don't want to put the Midwest cart before the horse, so to speak. I just want to help Josh make some good comics.
Comic Pimp: Good point. Josh is really all about the comics anyway, and not the awards that may or may not be associated with it. But I can't help but think that once more people get see his work...
"Skyscrapers of the Midwest"
Comic Pimp: Mister Cotter, I know that shortly after taking home the Isotope Award, you hooked up with mini-comic distributor USS Catastrophe. And then recently you were listed as one of the industry's hottest up-and-comers by Jai Nitz at The Pulse. That's gotta be pretty damn cool. How did this career as one of the industry's hottest creators start out? How long have you been making comics?
Josh Cotter: After receiving the award, I was getting an unusually high number of requests for 'SSMW' over email. USS Catastrophe was just on the other side of the state and I had spoken to the guys involved with that before, and they agreed to take a few off of my hands to help me with distribution. After the initial comics community excitement of the Isotope award died down a bit, demand followed suit, so I hope they weren't too disappointed with their decision of taking me on... Book one is 'out of print' though, so I guess things went pretty well. Jai's a really nice guy... he's a midwesterner himself, and I later found out that the 'hot up-and-comers' label was a misnomer brought upon by the absurd levels of humidity one can experience while living in the land of plenty. Honest mistake. I didn't initially set out to be a cartoonist. I studied illustration in school but I wound up working in the gray world of production art, designing bumper stickers and political posters for the 'man'. I was going kind of nutty from the cubicle life, so on my lunch breaks I started writing a story about an anthropomorphic cat going through the motions of the '40 hour week'... the routines and habits of that kind of proletarian lifestyle. Since I was trained to be an illustrator I started drawing pictures for the story as I went along, and it suddenly occurred to me that I was making comics. Very, very raw comics. The book was called 'FUN' (that's where the cigarette ads from the back of SSMW come from). There wasn't any dialogue and the pacing was off, and it wasn't always as easy to follow for others as it was for myself, but it was a good starting point in an experimental way, kept me working. It got me the job as a cartoonist for the Kansas City Star, which eventually led to 'SSMW', so it wasn't a complete waste of time!
Two of Josh's strips from the Kansas City Star
Comic Pimp: Tell me a little about the creative process. First of all where did the inspiration for SKYSCRAPERS OF THE MIDWEST come from?
Josh Cotter: The creative process... The strip for the Star was a blessing for a beginning cartoonist (I still to this day have trouble coming to grips with the idea of me being a cartoonist. It's the one and only thing that I wanted to be growing up, but how this has all happened isn't what I envisioned... it's been such a painfully slow process... one day I'm working in a cubicle and five years later I'm doing a weekly comic strip for the big paper in town and putting together a book for a publisher. surreal.) Anyway. The strip for the Star was a great starting point for a cartoonist, but I still had a lot of personal issues that I was having trouble working out with a 4-panel 'humorous' comic strip. The 'FUN' books got me out of the cubicle life, but I still had social anxiety and depression to deal with... I didn't know where to start with dissecting that part of my psyche, so I started with my childhood. Come to find out, all of my problems started with kickball. So, in order to harness my playground anger and rid myself of the burden, I started 'SSMW'. There was something very therapeutic about crushing my former tormenters with giant robots.
And really, I had a great childhood. I was just overtly sensitive to the everyday lack of consideration of the typical elementary school child. I'm sure I was someone else's tormentor in turn. My brother, for example. 'SSMW' is a way for me to smooth out the scars that any average person can acquire from experiencing the American playground. And because I had it so easy growing up, I can't imagine 'SSMW' lasting any more than 3 or 4 issues. I already feel guilty about being so whiney in my work. All I've done so far is autobiographical stuff... it can't be healthy to spend so much time drawing about one's self. I want to exploit the pain of others, too.
Comic Pimp: (laugh)! Well I love that stuff with your brother, and don't apologize for making great comics, man. Personally, I could keep reading those playground anecdotes forever. One thing I'm interested in knowing more about is what it takes to bring this stuff to life. Some artists really struggle to get what they conceive in their mind down on paper, and for other artists it's simply a matter of drawing what they already see on the page in their mind. The confidence and consistency of your style are undeniable, and to my untrained eye you make it all look so damn easy. So go ahead, shatter my illusions. Tell me about what it actually takes to bring SKYSCRAPERS from the conceptual phase to real life.
Josh Cotter: I know that some people can just start drawing, without any prior planning... I'm too much of a control freak. My stuff always starts out with pages of writing and revisions and rewriting, etc. before I even begin to do character sketches and gathering photo-reference and more rewriting. When I was starting book two, I wrote for about a month before I even started sketching, and even then I had to have every panel broken down and plotted out before I cut my board and sharpened my pencils. I've been thinking about it a lot lately, and someday soon, I'm going to force myself to skip the whole outlining process, skip the pencils, and just break out the pen and ink and start at it. Someday. So with me, the process is a struggle. I'm certainly not a natural storyteller, so I have to be very critical of my ideas, a lot of stuff gets scrapped and the stuff that's kept around gets edited to death. I think my work might seem kind of stiff because of the way I do things, the story feeling too preplanned for it's own good.
Comic Pimp: You're just talking fucking crazy, man! (laugh) Okay, here's the part where I show a bunch of preview pages from SKYSCRAPERS to the people. Are you ready for it?
Josh Cotter: Okay. I hope they like them.
"Skyscrapers of the Midwest"
Comic Pimp: This one's for Mister Pitzer. In my eyes, I think SKYSCRAPERS is a great fit for the AdHouse family. Without a doubt you've got an eye for terrific books. I know what I like about the books you publish, but what kind of specific things do you look for? What catches your eye and makes you say "I've got to publish a book like SEQUENTIAL or SKYSCRAPERS OF THE MIDWEST?"
Chris Pitzer: I love them. I'm a fanboy. I've just taken it to the next level and am trying to make all of us some money and keep these great books coming out. Basically, I think each of the creators who have worked with AdHouse have their own unique vision. I think Chris Allen mentioned "whimsical" one time, and that kind of fits.
Comic Pimp: Yeah I'll agree with that. So we both think that SKYSCRAPERS is a perfect fit for the AdHouse family. Mister Cotter, how does it feel to be part of a line that includes the oh-so sexy TELSTAR ANTHOLOGY, the multiple award winning PULPATOON PILGRIMAGE, Scott Mills' MY OWN LITTLE EMPIRE, Simone Lia's MONKEY & SPOON, and the completely, utterly rocking COLLECTED SEQUENTIAL by Paul Hornschemeier due in stores next month?
Josh Cotter: It's pretty strange to be in the company of such individuals... I'm not really certain if my stuff is up to par or not. Maybe Chris is just taking pity on me. I just hope that the reading public isn't too harsh in it's judgment. Like I said, I was a sensitive child and things haven't changed much. Just a few negative, deconstructive critiques and I'll be back under my rock, whimpering.
Comic Pimp: Once people see your book there's no way in hell you're ever going to be able to get back under that rock man. Trust me, I sell comics for a living, and people are definitely going to respond well to SKYSCRAPERS OF THE MIDWEST. Now that it's been picked up by AdHouse what are your future plans for the series? For fans like myself who have been with you from the start does this mean there is more SKYSCRAPERS material to be released in the not-so distant future?
Josh Cotter: I've been writing the next book, it's still in a very skeletal stage though. Once I get the first two books sent off to Chris (the first two are going to be printed as one 56 page book, did I mention that?), I'm going to start focusing my energies on this next one. I'll probably do a couple/three more, if Chris let's me, but I have some ideas for some other projects that I really want to work on, too. Maybe another SSMW, and then some other project, and then another SSMW. We'll see. It's really up in the air right now. Chris may hate my guts this time next year. 'I'm the Book That Burned Down the AdHouse, by Skyscrapers of the Midwest'.
Comic Pimp: You crack me up, man. Chris, anyone who is familiar with AdHouse Books knows about your excellent production design and gorgeous packaging, so no one will be surprised to see something beautiful out of the AdHouse edition of SKYSCRAPERS. What have you got up your sleeve?
Chris Pitzer: Well, Josh already had a good eye for design and production with his mini-comics. I mean, they were freakin' sweet. So, I don't want to step on his toes with the AdHouse version. My goal was to make this as "store-friendly" as possible, so we'll bump it up to traditional comic size, and maybe run it on a tinted paper. Give it a little antiquated feel.
Comic Pimp: Nice!
Chris Pitzer: Also, the first AdHouse issue will collect the first two mini-comics into one book. Josh and I talked about how the best way to proceed might be, and we think that will be good for most the readers out there. After that, we'll start all new content with issue two.
Comic Pimp: Perfect! You make me a very happy comic book reader and retailer, Chris! That means I get me more kids being kids, robots being robots, and more of those hilarious cigarette ads...
Comic Pimp: Josh, you gotta tell me, how are your loved ones taking all this attention your comic work has been getting?
Josh Cotter: This stuff is all old news for my wife. I'd been doing comics for three years before anyone really began to take notice, so during that time she was my only audience. I'm certain she's ecstatic that there are a couple of people out there reading my books now so she can take a breather and enjoy her life a little, take a walk. She has, however, expressed her disapproval of me leaving inky fingerprints on the refrigerator and light switches. My parents, it provides them with the reassurance that my Bachelor of Fine Arts wasn't a complete waste of four years and a mountain of cash. My brother is excited that he gets to be an anthropomorphic cat obsessing over dinosaurs and He-Man toys.
Comic Pimp: You haven't started trashing hotel rooms because they gave you the wrong color M&Ms yet, have you?
Josh Cotter: That whole black and white M&M phase... There wasn't a Motel 6 that was safe from the wrath of this cartoonist scorned!
Comic Pimp: (laugh)! As the custodian of the Isotope Award for Excellence in Mini-Comics, I'm always interested in hearing stories about the champions, and what they're doing with their trophies. Knowing you battled 100 other mini-comic creators to get your hands on it, and knowing that there is only one given out each year, how did it feel going to conventions with it? Did you use your trophy to intimidate people?
Josh Cotter: I took it to a couple of shows in Kansas City and people were frightened. The locals would try to touch it, and would soon regret their foolish notions as they scrambled after their hands to keep them from rolling under the Lorenzo Lamas booth. Actually, people thought it was beautifully designed. It was invited to sit all day at a couple of KC shows, and it ruined more than one sweater.
My one regret is not taking it to MOCCA. The trip from SF to KC wasn't kind to it (since I couldn't take it on a carry on it had to sustain the abuse of the loading crew), so I opted to leaving it in the living room to guard the apartment, rather than take it to NY and subject it to more abuse. But once there, I knew I had screwed up. A thousand mini-creators, and me without the one thing that would make me stand out. If I could do it over again, I would have brought a second bag, with nothing but the Isotope award and a bunch of pillows packed around it. Foolish.
But the people that do experience the Terror of the Award that is the Isotope don't soon forget it's power!
Comic Pimp: Speaking of conventions, I was down at the San Diego Comic Con with a fistful of SKYSCRAPERS #2, determined to get it in front of as many cool publishers as I possibly could, when I ran into Chris Pitzer from AdHouse Books who told me that you and he had already been talking about doing SKYSCRAPERS through AdHouse. That made my job easy, because Mister Pitzer was definitely a publisher who I thought would really like your work, and help bring it to an audience who would also appreciate how good SKYSCRAPERS is. You gotta tell me, how did this deal with Chris Pitzer come about? Did he approach you or were you looking for a publisher?
Josh Cotter: I was under the impression that when one is signed to a publisher a choir of angels begins singing and seas turns to blood and it rains frogs, etc. But as with my transition from cubiclite to cartoonist, getting signed didn't happen how I expected. I ran into Chris briefly at MOCCA and gave him a copy of 'SSMW2'. No mountains were moved. A couple of weeks later I was doing my routine email check, and I had a message from Chris stating that he really liked my book, with a quick note at the end saying 'and, if you ever want to collect these, we should talk'. I thanked him for the compliment, and went on with my regular day. A few hours later, it occurred to me... collecting+we should talk = publish? I'm slow. I emailed him back and was like 'OH. OH, yeah. OK. Yeah, let's talk!' I wasn't necessarily seeking out a publisher, but it was occurring to me more and more that it would be really cool if I could just do the art part of it all, and let someone else collate, fold and staple the damn things. So, Chris, being the fine, upstanding gentleman that he is, (while most likely not going to collate, fold and staple them personally), is going to help me with 'SSMW'. Bless him.
Comic Pimp: Mister Pitzer, one look at the future of AdHouse and I can't help but get pumped up for what's on the horizon. It's The Comic Pimp, why don't you tell my readers about some of the other books you've got comic out.
Chris Pitzer: You and me both. When I think about what's coming up, I can't believe it. Actually, Josh is in one of the books that will come out next year... PROJECT:SUPERIOR, which is the follow up anthology to TELSTAR. As you know, with TELSTAR, we did the space and robots. SUPERIOR is all about the heroes that are super. Josh turned in a perfect Josh-take on it. This book is looking super sweet, and is planned to be 288 pages of great comic stuff.
You mentioned THE COLLECTED SEQUENTIAL, which will collect the mostly out-of-print comic that Paul Hornschemeier cut his comic teeth on. I just got all the proofs for this book last week, and man, does that one look nice, too. A 256-page hardcover full of comics. It doesn't get much better than that. And,Paul is a fantastic designer, so you know it's looking good that way.
The other big project, which I think most of comic-dom is excited about, is PROCESS: RECESS, the James Jean sketchbook. JJ just won the much deserved Eisner for cover illustrator, so you know his sketchbooks have got to rock. Anyway, we're shooting to release this next year, probably sometime around APE, so we can head out to your neck of the woods and have some fun.
And, I've got all types of other things, which you can read about on the website.
Comic Pimp: Cool! Okay Josh, same deal. Other than SKYSCRAPERS, what else do you have going on? I know you've been doing a regular strip for the Kansas City Star, any chance of us seeing that get collected too?
Josh Cotter: My wife and I moved to a small town a couple months ago, so I was able to quit my real job and focus on freelance illustration and comics. And that has been so nice, being able to focus on what I love. I've been doing the strip for the Star for a year and a half now... but it's such radical departure from my Skyscrapers material. Skyscrapers is reserved for my therapeutic, dark corners of the mind stuff, lots of hatching and detail... and the strip (it's called 'Send Help') is absurd, experimental humor ranging from gags to political commentary, done in a very simple, streamlined drawing style. I'm afraid that if I collected it, it would scare off the 4 or 5 people that are interested in my more serious work. It's almost as if there are two separate personalities at work... on paper I'm kind of schizophrenic, I guess.
Comic Pimp: Well, at least I'd like to put a collection of those on my bookshelf! Well, I suppose I'd better wrap this up. You certainly made all the right moves in 2004, Mister Cotter, and I suspect that 2005 will be even better for you. Right now you're the king of the mini-comic scene and with your career taking off I know you've got to have some great advice to impart to other comic creators out there. What wisdom can you share with other people working in the comic creating trenches? Any advice to people submitting for the 2005 Isotope Award for Excellence in Mini-Comics?
Josh Cotter: Advice.... There are so many people out there creating minis that deserve to be published so much more than I, and many of them would prefer the DIY thing over outside help anyday. I really enjoyed the DIY process, but for now I feel really fortunate that someone has stepped up and offered to help me out. I guess, never make getting published a priority. As long as you love what your doing and you're enjoying the process, the energy and time that you've invested in it will be evident in the end result, and eventually people will take notice...
Comic Pimp: Yeah, that's a great point. Do you have anything you'd like to add?
Josh Cotter: You are the man. This has been a life-changing year for me and I owe it all to you. All hail the Comic Pimp.
And I'll most certainly be out there in April. February in San Francisco was amazing... I can't begin to imagine what April in San Francisco would be like...
Comic Pimp: Looking forward to it! We'll have to spend some more time together this year, I'll show you guys the city, take you out to some of my favorite places. And if you thought last year's Isotope Award for Excellence in Mini-Comics ceremony was hot, wait'll you check out what we got planned for 2005. I can't wait!
Thanks out to Josh Cotter and Chris Pitzer for helping me put together an excellent interview and show off a whole mess of preview pages of SKYSCRAPERS OF THE MIDWEST. When this book comes out, take a look. I think you're going to really like what you see.
For more information on AdHouse books visit:www.adhousebooks.com/
Before I go this week, I've gotta send out a quick note to the Nick who wrote me about "Kenny with an E." Please re-send your email, man, I accidentally cleared out a segment of my in-box that your email was in before I could respond to you. Consequently, I don't have your contact information any more, and want to get back to you.
If you're a long time reader of The Comic Pimp, I know you're going to do this anyway, but I'd be remiss in my comic pimping duties if I didn't remind you to set aside $12.95 for October 27th and pick up a copy of Rob Osborne's 1000 STEPS TO WORLD DOMINATION from AIT-PlanetLar. Buy it because you support mini-comic creators. Buy it because Rob's a swell guy who deserves your hard-earned money. Buy it because it's funny. Buy it because you understand an artist's iron determination to make his voice heard. Buy it because it's got an introduction by yours truly. Buy it because Rob's wife Sara is utterly gorgeous. Buy it because you want to rule the world yourself someday. Buy it because it's got a monkey and a guy who wears an eye patch in it. Buy it because it comes out three days before Rob's birthday. But most of all, buy it because you like to read good comics.
1000 STEPS TO WORLD DOMINATION
by Rob Osborne
Published by AIT-PlanetLar
136 pages for $12.95
This column is dedicated in memory of the great Johnny Ramone. If there ever was a guy who understood what was cool about doing your own thing, the comic lovin' Johnny Ramone was that man.
Your music will live on forever.