Thanks for the opportunity to interview you! I’ve admired your work for a while now, so this is a real pleasure.
NICE TO MEET YOU!
The most recent issue of Crickets focused mainly on a writer and a filmmaker. And I noticed in the liner notes of Poor Sailor that it is inspired by a Guy de Maupassant story. Are there any writers, artists, or filmmakers that really inspire you? What is it about their work that feels relevant to how you make comics?
Gosh this is one of those things that I whatever I say, I am omitting someone/something equally important to me. Maybe I’ll tell you what I’ve been absorbing lately that I really liked. I just watched Brief Encounter (1945) and was really knocked out from that. I love love stories. I wish there were more of them in comics. It seems lately I have been watching a lot of older British movies, and one thing I like about them, and Brief Encounter has this as well, is that very specific kind of social manners and emotional rigidness. This is a cool document of England in the forties. What daily life was like, how people communicated, and all that. I thought the movie really got to the sickening combination of guilt and emotional longing someone could feel falling in love with a stranger.
I’m reading Knut Hamsun’s Children of the Age. Hamsun is one of my favorite writers and someone I try to emulate in his straightforwardness, lack of pretension, and emotional mania (in the characters! not myself). And his observance of the small details of nature and daily life as well as the small victories and battles going on in the slightest of gestures. He is also very funny.
I also just got the new collection of Buzz Sawyer, and looking at it I thought the same thought I think every time I read Roy Crane’s comics, which is I should just copy how he draws since that’s basically what I want my work to look like.
Photon magazine is a genre movie magazine from the seventies that is kinda of stuffy, but also super nerdy. Super long cover feature on Jacques Tourneur, typeset in tiny 6-point typewriter type. Lots of amateur fan art throughout. Everything laid out a little clunky with glue and scissors. I like books, but magazines or comic books are like the ultimate for me. I love the casual nature of them, and it makes me want to make my own. That, along with back issues of Dirty Plotte, Julie Doucet’s comic book series from the mid-nineties, have been getting me really excited about the next issue of Crickets, and comic books in general. Those Dirty Plotte comics are perfect little objects and the comics themselves Doucet was making are maybe completely perfect comics. I know that’s vague, but it’s true!
For some reason every time I get the broom from the closet to clean up at night I think of this Russian movie called Come and See. I think about that movie almost daily and I have only seen it once on a shitty VHS about 10 years ago and can’t remember who even directed it. That has a dream quality to it and a kind of openness I find really appealing. I like stuff that lets things be unresolved, has room for ambiguity, etc.
I’ve seen elements of Westerns, fantasy, horror, and myth in your comics; “Black Death” alone seems made up of all of those genres. You’ve also produced work like “Blood of the Virgin,” which feels achingly real. What strengths do you find in genre, and how do you think it informs the more natural, more mundane elements of your comics?
I guess I really want my comics to have strong plots and to deliver the goods with regards to traditional dramatic storytelling, and working within genres, even very loosely as I do, is one way to do that. I think that’s the thing most missing in alternative comics: solid stories that deliver what they promise (I think David Boring may be the only graphic novel that truly lives up to that name “graphic novel”). I want that as a reader, and I end up making it a concern of mine in my own comics. I don’t think plot is important unto itself at all, but I think a good plot can be a Rube Goldberg-like device that can slowly reveal more and more of the characters, their world, and ideas in the best possible way and in the most emotionally satisfying way. I am not interested in the tropes of genres at all, so I don’t really work within them in the usual sense. Setting is more important to me and informs and inspires as much as anything else in a story. Often I start with setting (San Fernando Valley in the late 1990s, Hungary in the late 1700s, Hollywood in the early ’70s etc), a vague idea of a character, and go from there. Time and place form everything. The other reason is because it keeps the stories visually unique from each other. I get jealous at times of cartoonists who work with the same characters and setting consistently, and can therefore get more comics out quickly, but jumping into something visually different each time keeps me excited.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, I can’t say I’ve read any autobiographical work from you. When you do write from life, it exists almost exclusively in a gag strip format, like the pages in the back of Crickets #2. Do you have any specific reasons for avoiding this genre?
I think of “Lubavitch, Ukraine” as my autobio comic. I’d rather make fiction that is almost all autobio, but not stated as so, than to make explicit autobiography. Mainly because I want to be free to organize experiences from many different times in my life into a single story, instead of being beholden to an actual moment, and destroying it to reframe it for others. It’s almost ghoulish. Also, I find it very difficult to have yourself as a main character without falling into the trap of making the reader think you have sympathy for you. Yikes. Anyway, at the end of the day I don’t think any autobio strip is anything but fiction. When I do the autobio strips about cartoonists, those are all gags. They have a limited range of ideas they are working with (to say the least!)
Your “Sex Morons” issue of Crickets struck me as very voyeuristic. The sex, infidelity, and violence you portrayed was both fascinating and a little terrifying. What value do you find in exploring some of the darker impulses found in people?
I don’t know. I guess I embrace the idea that art is like a dream space for us to live other lives, try on the clothes of another experience and hopefully give us fresh insight into our actual living lives. I want that experience to be as fun as possible for sure.
I love the way you compose pages. You can find a lot of stillness within a nine-panel grid, as in a comic like “Somersaulting.” Or you can cram your pages full of information, without losing any sense of clarity. Does the story dictate the type of page to you? Or do you have formal ideas you like to explore, and the story sort of forms around them?
Thanks. Yeah story dictates that stuff. Usually I have some idea of the tone I want and that will lead to what the layout should be. Often when I am struggling with a comic I am trying to draw, I realize it has too many or too few panels on the page. It doesn’t “feel” right to draw these panels at this size, they need to be bigger or smaller. And then I will start over and it goes a lot smoother. I actually almost fully penciled “A Husband and a Wife” much larger, at 6 panels a page and it was a torture till I realized it needed to be drawn smaller with 12 panels a page. “Blood of the Virgin” is cool because while I generally keep to 4-tiered page structure, I let each scene dictate what it needs, and that’s nice too.
I’m always looking forward to new work from you. Do you have any art projects or comics in the works that you’d like to reveal?
Well, I curated a show of blacklight screenprinted posters for this Halloween festival in Los Angeles called Nightmare City. People can see those and buy them too online: http://nightmare-city.com/wordpress/unwelcome-blacklight-poster-show/
Crickets 4 is coming soon! But before that, I have a mini-comic coming out from Oily Comics that’s almost done. That should be out any second now.
Sammy Harkham will participate in an informal Q&A along with Jonny Negron, Chris Cilla, Matthew Thurber and Jason T Miles at 7 pm on Friday October 19 at Floating World Comics, presented by Gridlords as part of the Projects.@8 months ago with 34 notes
#Sammy Harkham #Graham Kahler #Gridlords #Interview #The Projects