To start, congratulations on your Fulbright award for this coming spring 2019 in Austria. What can you tell our readers about your upcoming residency?
There’s an entity called Q21, which is an umbrella organization for sixty alternative arts groups in Vienna. Q21 operates within the MuseumsQuartier, the cultural district that also includes the Leopold Museum and mumok, the contemporary museum. Q21 runs artist residencies all year, but one of them is reserved for an American Fulbrighter. I’m the current Fulbright-MuseumsQuartier/Q21 Artist-in-Residence, and will be working in the MQ for March and April of 2019.
My project is Regarding Th.at, which will be a web-based cycle of comics poems with Vienna as its focus.
In 2012 your imprint New Modern Press published the first anthology of comics poetry Comics as Poetry, since then how has the comics as poetry landscape changed, or has it?
It has expanded, which is most welcome. Not long after I published Comics as Poetry, Paul K. Tunis, Alexander Rothman, Gary Sullivan, and Bianca Stone published the first volume of Ink Brick. (The eighth issue just picked up an Ignatz award last summer.) Soon after, Ley Lines started to produce similar material. There are more and more creators describing what they’re doing as comics poetry.
Are there any exciting new creators in the comic poetry realm we should be aware of?
I’m particularly paying attention to Madeline Witt, who’s using a two-by-two panel structure almost exclusively and subtle, sophisticated colors to wonderful effect.
As both a creator and critic (you author the long running artblog.net) what is the driving force behind your work?
My work as an artist and my work as a critic come out of different places and they often interfere with one another. I made a deliberate decision not to get involved in comics criticism because of the impact that criticism had on my painting.
My comics poetry comes out of an aspiration or hope that a certain kind of regard will pull art-value out of the ordinary stuff of life, that even the floor tiles will sing to you if you pay attention to them in the right way.
The criticism is driven by frustration that so little art achieves that aspiration or anything else of equal import. When something does, I feel like yelling about it.
It seems comics, graphic novels, and sequential art in general are experiencing a golden age with an explosion of varied contributors across genres, but also incredible commercial support. Are you hopeful for the future of Comic Lit?
There’s incredible commercial support if your main character wears a robotic exoskeleton. I like that stuff quite a lot, but commercial support outside of that subgenre is, well, credible. But certainly it’s possible to publish other kinds of work that wouldn’t have been publishable twenty years ago, except in the most obscure way.
That said, a lot of us involved in comics poetry embrace obscurity. I’m not invested in trying to make comics poetry blow up big. I settle for its existence. More broadly, comics as a vehicle for general creative expression, as opposed to one limited to the entertainment of children – which is not to say that one of those is serious and one is not – is a permanent aspect of the genre. We can rest on that and work from it.
Can you describe your approach to comics poetry and how your process differs from your writing and your art as separate practices?
I think that I would have more interesting answers to this if my writing wasn’t confined to art criticism and a bit of politics. I have ideas for fiction but nothing has yet come of them. Fiction is going to force my art to be more specific, so it’s going to entail a double retooling that I regard as a big spoonful of medicine.
My process for comics poetry starts with a feeling that I try to put into words. There are always several things wrong with the first attempt, so revisions follow. Then images come, and an exchange happens between the images and the words until they achieve a kind of alignment that they can’t create by themselves.
Are there any particular influences on your work?
Seeing the comics of John Porcellino in the mid-2000s clarified for me what kind of comics I wanted to make. Kenneth Patchen and his painted poems are a big touchstone for me, as are Hakuin and his followers, particularly Sengai. Painters who incorporate text interest me when they do it well – Cy Twombly, Anselm Kiefer, and the much lesser-known but still wonderful Susan Shup.
Regarding your process, do you set out to create a series using a particular format or does that evolve naturally based on how the work takes shape? Do you have particular rituals?
Format is an early if not initial decision. For Cloud on a Mountain, for instance, the idea for two panels of two facing pages, each of them a self-contained poem, motivated the whole book. Those kinds of constraints are enabling, reducing the number of creative possibilities from infinite to merely countless. Also, they are themselves generative. Making your idea fit the arbitrary scheme that you’ve chosen tends to improve its expression, assuming that you’re capable of dealing with the limitations.
In your series The Moon Fell on Me you explore everyday beauty in nature and observational poetry, and you also experiment with different web layouts to deliver your work. Can you tell us a bit about that process and the challenges you face in general with developing the platforms to house your pieces?
Comics poetry comes out of a zine aesthetic, with the associated attitude that everybody who wants a copy can have one. My version of that is put them on the web, and to regard their form on the web as the finished works, not the material objects that get created along the way.
The browser opens up possibilities of really long horizontals, really long verticals, animation, interactivity, and loads of stuff that’s out of the question for print. That’s not always an advantage. Sometimes a technical thing is possible, but there’s no aesthetic return on it, and out it goes.
As noted, I tend to decide early on a format, then create the art, scan it, clean it up in GIMP ( I use all open-source tools on a Linux workstation), and then convert the scans and build then into web pages using programs that I’ve written in Python.
How much does the technology of websites factor into your creative process? Do you think about delivery online while creating at all or is it always an additional exercise after the piece is complete?
It factors utterly. The work will take a wholly different form whether it’s destined for web or print, and whether I’ll be building the page or someone else will, as in my contribution to Solstice.
do you enjoy the challenge and opportunity that web technology offers (like animations and different layouts) that you wouldn’t have in print?
I do enjoy it. The coding problems introduce a logic challenge where there are otherwise literary and artistic ones. That sounds like a lot of cats to herd but it gives the creative exercise a particular flavor that doesn’t resemble other projects I’ve pursued.
But the opportunities are unprecedented. My initial idea for Regarding Th.at is to make it read well either horizontally or vertically, and whether it’s on your phone or on a billboard. So I’ve been digging into the Scalable Vector Graphics specification and running some complicated experiments in HTML5 Canvas. I’m pleased to find that there’s no “official” or “right” way to do what I’m doing, but there are plenty of ways for it to go wrong. That’s a space that I like to be in.