At what point did you realize that you wanted to draw for a living?
Well, at age 20 I read Understanding Comics for the first time, and it was at that point that I decided I wanted to draw comics for the rest of my life. I was going to Oberlin College at the time, and I was majoring in technical theater. There was no comics program at Oberlin, so I started drawing comics for the student papers and I also self-published a comic on my website. I even set up and taught a semester-long comics class using their “Experimental College” program. After Oberlin, I had this crazy plan to try and work as a set carpenter on Star Wars: Episode III in Australia. I moved to L.A. and built TV sets for about four months, then I moved to Sydney for four months, where I didn’t get the job.
When I came back to the United States, I thought “Nuts with set building! I want to be a CARTOONIST!” I really threw everything I had into my minicomic Phase 7, and after about a year, I knew that I needed more training. I was self-taught and I was running into all kinds of problems with figure drawing and perspective and inking techniques, etc. etc. etc. So I moved to New York and went back to school at Pratt Institute, for illustration. I worked harder in that program than I have ever worked on anything in my life, and I graduated with highest honors. I stayed in New York for one more year afterwards, to try and make a living with comics and illustration, but it was absolute hell. I used to think that was the dream: to support yourself with your art. But in reality, it puts so much stress on your creative output, and you have to work CRAZY hours, like basically
16-hour days, 7 days a week – it’s not worth it.
I now believe that it is much healthier as an artist, to have a day job which can help you take care of your basic needs (rent, food, internet, cell phone, etc.) While this uses up some of your precious time, it also BUYS you some very valuable time to be able to create without too much stress. I would say I make about half of my income now with drawing and the other half teaching at The Center for Cartoon Studies – the best day job ever!
How have your experiences been teaching at The Center for Cartoon Studies?
CCS is one of the most amazing places on earth. As a cartoonist, I feel so lucky to be here. The fact that this place even exists is incredible, and that I get to teach here? It’s too much. Honestly, it is my dream job. The students are so hardworking and passionate about comics and the staff is absolutely top-notch. The school just GETS comics, and treats comics with so much respect. Everything from the Schulz Library to Steve Bissette‘s comics history class, to all of Jason Lute’s awesome Cartooning Studio assignments. I could go on and on. It’s an absolutely magical place for me to work.
That being said, White River Junction is not the easiest place in the world to live, and I know I won’t be here forever. I’m a really long ways away from my family out here (they’re in Seattle) so I would like to get back to the West coast eventually. All I can say is, it’ll be a really sad day when I have to leave, and I will miss it like crazy.
What were some defining comics/zines in your life?
I grew up reading Disney comics. I was an absolute devotee of Carl Barks and Don Rosa (in fact, I still am!) I also read a lot of Tin Tin and Calvin and Hobbes. Then, as I got older, I read super hero comics for a few years, but I wasn’t really into it. Then I discovered Bone by Jeff Smith, around issue #12, and I was REALLY into that. No matter where I lived, no matter what was going on in my life, I never missed an issue of Bone. I was really sad when it was over. Understanding Comics was really the turning point for me though. After I read that, it just opened the floodgate, and I read anything I could get my hands on.
As far as zines, probably the most important one for me was Brainfag by Nate Beaty. The first time I tabled at the Portland Zine Symposium, I had the good fortune to be randomly seated next to Nate, and his zines really blew my mind! I had never seen anything like them and they were so inspiring for me to see. At some point, King-Cat Comics and Stories by John Porcellino also became really important to me. To this day, it is really the shining example for me, of what I want Phase 7 to be. It’s easily the best zine out there.
For new zine and comic creators, how important is it to table at fests and conventions such as SPX, MoCCA, Portland Zine Symposium, Alternative Press
I think it’s crucial. Not because you are going to make money (you aren’t), but because it gives you a chance to connect with other members of the zine and minicomics community. So much of drawing comics is sitting by yourself at your drawing table for days and weeks and months on end. Tabling at a show is a way to connect with others who share the same habits, and to get your comics in front of some people’s eyes! Split a table four ways with some friends, trade your zines with people and you can walk away from one of these shows with a stack full amazing stuff and each zine connects you with a potential new friend. Almost all of my best friends these days, I met through going to conventions.
You are currently working on your first graphic novel, Basewood. What is it about? Have you found a publisher for it yet? Do you plan to self publish it or use Lulu?
Well, the PLOT of Basewood is about a guy who wakes up in the woods, and he has no memory of how he got there. As he tries to uncover his past, he meets an old man and his dog, a wolf-dragon/monster and a tough young woman. But in the OTHER sense of the question, Basewood is about loss, and how different people deal with it. Or at least, that’s what it’s about for me. I’m not sure everyone will get that from the story… It’s about a lot of things!
I am currently self-publishing the individual chapters of Basewood in my minicomic, Phase 7. A few years ago, a small Belgian publisher, L’employé du Moi, published a 200-page collection of my Phase 7 comics in French. They did a great job with that book and I have become very close friends with a lot of the guys who run the company. So they are going to do the French-language version of Basewood. I had one offer from a U.S. publisher a couple of years ago, and I’ve showed the initial chapters to lots and lots of publishers, but I haven’t committed to anyone yet. Honestly, I’d like to wait until I’m a little closer to being finished before I start trying to figure all of that stuff out. Maybe I can use the French version of the book to try and convince an American publisher to take on the book? (How weird is that?!)
If no publishers are interested in making the book, I will definitely self-publish it. I’ve never applied for a Xeric grant, so that might be an option, if I want to get a lot of them printed, or like you said, I could make a version using Lulu.com or one of the other print-on-demand services.
As documented on your Flickr account, you are refraining from cutting your hair and beard until you complete Basewood. How has your significant other feel about this? Do you regret making this vow?
My girlfriend Claire is very supportive of my beard, but she’s also very excited for me to finish the book, so I can go back to looking normal. She showed me how to French-braid my beard and fasten it up using bobby pins, so that it looks looks like a regualr beard. It’s a great trick for getting some air on my neck, and for getting through airport security with less hassle! I don’t regret growing my beard out. It has been difficult at times (like now, when it’s a foot long and it’s 100 degrees outside) but it has also been a very eye-opening experience for me. It’s bizarre how differently people treat you when you have a big beard and long hair. I’m sure I’ll probably end up drawing a comic about my experiences at some point!
My first exposure to your work was the Dvorak Zine. After I read it (and absolutely loved it) I wished there was more zines/comics like this. Do you have any plans to do more zines in the vein of the Dvorak Zine about other subjects you’re passionate about? Pinball perhaps?
Well, if you liked The Dvorak Zine, I did a follow-up comic about Dr. August Dvorak for the Syncopated Anthology, which was edited by Brendan Buford. That story was basically made up from all of the extra research and stories that didn’t fit into The Dvorak Zine.
As for stuff I’m passionate about, yeah, I’m (slowly) working on a pinball zine with my friend (and minicomics master!) Jon Chad. I’ve also begun scripting a two-issue arc of Phase 7 which will be all about my relationship with Weezer, which is my all-time favorite band. And then I’ve just barely started working on a massive, 300(?) or 400(?) page story all about my love of Star Wars, which will include the whole trip to Australia and everything. But all of that stuff is
years away (except maybe the pinball zine, which MIGHT have an issue out this fall). For now I need to stay focused on Basewood, so I can get it done and shave off this crazy beard!
Who are some comic or zine creators who deserve more recognition?
Oh gosh, that’s a hard one. There are tons of people who’s zines totally rule, and MOST of them do not get enough recognition! Friends of mine like Liz Baillie and Marek Bennett and Matthew Reidsma all put out incredible stuff that people should totally check out. Also another great project is an anthology called Papercutter which is put out by Tugboat Press. It features up-and- coming cartoonists, usually three per issue, and it is always amazing work, without fail. Everyone in there deserves more recognition. Papercutter is a great place to find new cartoonists!
Any last comments?
Naw, I think I’ve babbled on for long enough! If people want to know anything more about me, just visit my site: www.alec-longstreth.com Thanks!