When Fantagraphics published “Eye of the Majestic Creature” in 2011, it established Leslie Stein as one of the most talented comics creators of her generation. Since then, she’s released two more acclaimed books while contributing to VICE.
Her latest graphic novel, “Time Clock,” continues to tell the story of Larry Bear, the semi-autobiographical star of the series. In this book, Larry leaves New York to move to the country, eventually returns to the city, has to deal with bad jobs and her own alcoholism, and gets deeper into her obsessive hobby, sand counting.
Stein, who is also a member of the band Prince Rupert’s Drops, sat down to talk about her new book, which includes a “sand counting convention” featuring a number of figures inspired by other cartoonists.
CBR: This is the third “Eye of the Majestic Creature” book, and even though it has chapters, it’s one long story. Why did you decide to tackle a graphic novel?
Leslie Stein: I tackled the book in the same way I handled the second. Originally, I was hoping to have a series like “Hate” or “Eightball,” but since thats no longer commercially viable, as I was told by Fantagraphics, I thought about the series as individual comics that had an arc within a book format. Really, the way it’s being presented as an “Original Graphic Novel” has much more to do with marketing than it has to do with the way I went about making the work.
My editor at Fantagraphics, Gary Groth, thought it was a good way to make sure people knew it was not old, collected material — which it is not — by now naming the books individually. We should have done that with the second book too!
“Time Clock” was what I named the first comic in the book, but its almost too transparent, in my opinion. Then again, it’s honest. The protagonist, Larry is working odd jobs in New York to peruse her passion for sand counting, which is a stand in for how I perceive my cartooning lifestyle and all that comes with it. It’s an obvious reference to shitty jobs, futility and time slipping by.
In each book you make, you try a different approach and seem to set a new storytelling challenge for yourself. What was your goal with this book?
I think the main goal in this book was to strip away all the detailed work I did to hide my poor cartooning faculties. So, okay, how do I do that and make it part of the narrative that is useful?
Halfway through the book, Larry encounters a depression that strips her of all details. Then, I had to see if I was good enough to make what I think of as, Hernandez-style black and white work.
Where did the idea of sand counting come from initially?
I was heading to Hawaii on a family vacation a few years back and stopped by my local bar, where my best friend and bandmate, Bruno — my inspiration for Boris, in the “Eye” series — worked. I asked if he wanted me to bring him anything, and he jokingly responded, “six grains of sand.”
I thought that was funny, but I got there and was looking around a market and saw a tiny wooden box and asked the seller what they could possibly be used for — answer, “Sand!”
So I tried to count six grains to put in it for him. It was impossible. I finally did it and brought it back to him. He had no recollection of asking for that. Perfect.
In this book, Larry attends her first Sand counting convention. I have to ask, how did you come up with all the characters at the show?
Some of them are made up, and some based on people, or the types of people you meet at comic book conventions.
She encounters a established counter at one point, who I based on Joost Swarte. Her tablemate is this guy Jash, who she perceives to be a fraud that doesn’t actually count the sand before making the sculptures.
At one point, she is walking around and looking at all the other tables, and some of those were just fun to draw. There’s a guy with a huge rotating glass dome with sand in it. I used to draw the Jetsons a lot when I was little, I feel like that inspired the look of his sculpture.
Larry Bear was based on you initially. After a few books, do you think of her in those terms? Or is she just a completely different character?
She is still based on me and my experiences.
You’re also making comics that appear on VICE, which are very different, stylistically, from these comics, though the tone and feel of them is similar.
Yeah, they are both very much my honest take on what I’m witnessing and experiencing on the planet at the moment. I think everything is really sad, beautiful, and funny. The VICE comics are getting increasingly more honest and intense, and it’s really terrifying.
How much do you take from your job to write those scenes, the hurricane ones especially?
Pretty much all of that happened at a job I had. She takes a job managing a restaurant because she thinks that is a step forward — but in reality, it’s just another crappy job.
One aspect of the series that’s been sad is how Larry and Marshmallow are becoming more estranged and growing apart
Her relationship with him is very much dependent on her isolation and lack of interest in the outside world. As she begins to question her little bubble, she is trying these new things — going to conventions, taking the restaurant job, thinking about partnership and family. Ironically, it is him that ends up growing, not her. For she is just beginning to give in to the societal values that she is surrounded with.
He begins to grow because he’s outside those pressures, and ends up and healthier and more productive person because he’s simply doing the things he finds to be emotionally beneficial. These are issues and ideas that I struggle with personally.
Do you ever think about giving up the city and moving to the country? Or is drawing those scenes as close as you want to come to that?
I still fantasize about it. I don’t think I could do it alone, though.
Do you know where Larry is going? Do you have a plan for her and the series? Or do you keep making it up with each new book?
I keep making it up as I go. I have the next one written in my brain; beyond that, I’m not sure. It’ll take me a while before I work on her again, just because I have another couple projects that I want to do first.
How many pages of comics do you tend to make in an average week?
Depends on the style. If I do two of the “Eye” style, it’s a whole lot. If I do five of the watercolor style, it’s pretty easygoing, but it depends on how I’m choosing to slow down so I can get all the beats right.
You’ve been coming out with a book at least every other year. Do you already know what the next couple books will be? Or possibly have at least one more already finished?
Yeah I have almost enough of the short stories that I’ve been doing with VICE for another book. I’m trying to format them really creatively and write new material that ties all these little stories together. I’m very optimistic for the project.
After that, I’d like to work on another project separate to “Eye” as well. Then, I’ll see what’s going on with me at that point and what feels right. Also, painting. Music. Walks. Trying to be giving to those that I love. Trying to catch the sunset every day.
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