Pam Harrison Interviews Co-Recipients of the 2010 Prism Comics Queer Press Grant|
by Pam Harrison
This article was originally published July 2nd, 2010 on Examiner.com.
You can read the announcement of the 2009 joint Queer Press Grant recipients right here on PrismComics.org.
Pam Harrison, last year’s recipient of the Grant for her House of the Muses series, talks to this year’s recipients, Ed Luce and Eric Orner, about their work the QPG, and more:
What drew you to creating comics?
Ed Luce: I've been a lifelong comics reader but never really took to drawing them beyond high school. Although I majored in art during college and grad school, my studies drove me more toward fine arts and graphic design. I also spent a lengthy stint as an art professor where enforcing the curriculum meant crushing the spirits of many aspiring cartoonists. So it was safe to say I was kind of at odds with the medium for the better part of my creative life...’ til I kind of reached the end of my rope with painting and decided to try expressing my ideas through comics.
Eric Orner: When I was a kid in the ‘70s and 80s, I hated Super Hero comics. I thought the narratives were sort of stilted and boring. None of the characters were wise asses, and the women all seemed particularly cardboard. I liked irreverent satirical stuff instead, and was totally obsessed with Mad Magazine. My idols were the great Mad cartoonists Sergio Aragones, Al Jaffee, Mort Drucker and Dave Berg. I even liked the lame imitator mags Cracked and Crazy. I loved how subversive these works were, how unafraid of lampooning everything.
I wanted to write like Jules Fieffer and Stan Mack, and draw like the masterful Pushpin Studio artists in New York: RO Blechman, Ed Sorel, Seymore Chwast and David Levine. I also loved the great feminist cartoonists like Nicolle Hollander and Lynda Barry, and the mostly apolitical but knock down funny Roz Chast.
In the 1990s I joined the army of folks who love and admire Alison Bechdel. And I liked the cartoonist Donelon, whose work I thought was sort of intimidatingly Nellie, but pretty arch also. Like a cartoonist’s version of Ru Paul.
Nowadays I really admire Chris Ware’s artistic and design ability. As far as queer creators go, I am a big fan of Justin Hall and Steve MacIssac. I come out of more of a newspaper cartoon—as opposed to comics—tradition (though I think the two are drawing closer via the advent of graphic novels). For the last several years an excellent cartoonist out of Vancouver, Tyler Dorchester has been drawing an enormously funny, big hearted, cuttingly satirical comic strip called “The Brotherhood”, which runs in Xtra West and Xtra Toronto. I am a big fan of Ty’s work and hope that everyone that who cares about the queer cartooning-journalistic tradition will check him out and buy his book.
Did you go to art school or did you teach yourself?
Ed Luce: I went to art school for illustration and then grad school for painting, installation and performance. So I believe I had all the "tools" for making comics, it just took a bit of a shift in mindset, style and production. The most difficult part for me was learning how to draw the same characters over and over!
Eric Orner: The closest thing I got to art school was attending for two years UCLA Film School’s Masters Program in animation. I need to finish an animated movie I’ve been working on about a trio of sushi pieces who go on an adventure in one of those wooden sushi boats, before they’ll give me the degree.
In the mid 2000s I worked at Disney Animation, storyboarding on the Tinker Bell movie. The experience gave me a great opportunity to take drawing classes at the studio. I am not a particularly talented Disney style artist—I lack that cute sensibility—but the teachers there taught me a great deal, for which I’m really grateful. I continue to take a lot of life drawing classes whenever I can.
What sparked your interest in creating each of your respective series? Was this something that has always been in mind, or did it develop from a number of “Art Imitates Life” experiences?
Ed Luce: I guess my fondness for big, hairy cartoon characters finally drove me to create one that resonated my own tastes and interests. It's true there's a preponderance of brutish guys in mainstream comics and even bear types in erotic queer comics. But I was wanting to see something a little more playful and true to my and my friends' life experiences. Of course, not everything in my comic is quite so literal; I don't know anyone who stuffs dolls with their own body hair...yet. But certainly the comic is built on a series of real situations that have been exaggerated for comedic effect!
Eric Orner: Drawing The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green meant the world to me—and the adaptation of the strip to a feature film back in 2006 made me really proud—especially Meredith Baxter’s very funny portrayal of Ethan’s mom in the film. However, I didn’t submit any Ethan work to Prism in applying for this grant.
Instead, my submission involved my asking for help creating a new website devoted to graphic storytelling and reporting from around the world. During the past ten years I worked on a number of animated movies, and found myself doing quite a bit of traveling as a result. Animation artists call themselves animation gypsies because of the amount of travel involved as many productions are now based overseas. Many animation artists are also excellent cartoonists who use their off hours drawing what they are experiencing in foreign places.
The excellent graphic novel Pyongyang, by Guy Delisle, is an example of a guy working on an animated film—in North Korea of all places—and drawing his experiences into a book as a result. I am hoping to create an on line magazine devoted to that sort of longer form graphic storytelling and reporting.
I’ve met artists from all over the world working in animation, and I hope to create the sort of site where you can click on a spinning cartoon globe, hit Russia for example, and take a look at the latest dispatch from Dmitri Donskoi—or hit Uganda and see the work of Joshua Dysart and Alberto Ponticelli.
House of the Muses was originally conceived, front to back, in prose, and went through a number of incarnations before I found a creative medium of putting it all together. How were each of your works originally conceived?
Ed Luce: I was invited to contribute several drawings for a paper doll themed art exhibition and one of the designs I came up with was this "Wuvable Oaf" character, pretty much as he appears now in the comics. The bare, unclothed doll was a big, scowling, scary guy but he was clad in kitty-faced skivvies. All his outfits revealed he was really a cream puff: fuzzy blue footsie pajamas, a Smiths T-shirt, a sweat suit covered with black kittens, Chipmunk and Smurf records as accessories. That drawing got a lot of attention from some friends, who kept asking "Who is this guy?! I want to know more!" A comic seemed the best way to tell that story...
Eric Orner: The work I submitted as my contribution to the project included excerpts from a graphic memoir I am currently working on about the two years I spent in strife torn east Jerusalem working on an animated film there. Some of this same work is going to appear in an excellent new project of Rob Kirby’s called Three. Rob’s done some great work for this upcoming anthology, as has Joey Sayres and I am really delighted they asked me along for the ride.
I think the biggest hurdle for me was just getting started. I felt like I was doing it just for myself, at first. I’d offered it up to a couple of lesbian forums I was frequenting and with a handful of exceptions, it was not well-received. I didn’t know many comics creators personally and self-publishing was completely new to me. Even before receiving my grant, just the presence of Prism Comics helped inspire me. What was it like for you when your series was just taking shape?
Ed Luce: I completely sympathize with your initial uncertainties and lack of publishing experience! It definitely took me some time to figure out what form the narrative was going to take. And I had no idea how I was going to get the thing into peoples' hands! Certainly Prism played a huge part in spreading the word, via their invaluable presence at conventions and online.
I think my approach to introducing the Oaf to readers was a bit different than most, which ultimately helped a great deal. Before I started the comic in earnest, I had created a sort of 'template drawing' of the Oaf in his kitty undies, for use as a personal reference to better draw him repeatedly. A friend thought it would be a great idea to take that image and print up a bunch of shirts, to drum up interest in the character prior to the comic's release. Almost like an attempt at a 'viral' t-shirt. And that idea most definitely worked, to the point that it threatened to eclipse the comic itself! People started posting pictures of themselves wearing the Oaf on multiple profile sites and before I'd even finished any stories, we'd sold hundreds of shirts. Still, that early collective curiosity very much inspired me to keep going and complete the first two issues. And folks were very keen to pick up those comics as a way to learn more about this kooky guy in his kitten undies.
I think it's important to get your work out there in any form you can so the feedback can energize you. If it sits in your head or tucked away in your portfolio, how are you going to make it to that next step? As we both know, the hardest part is just getting that first comic out there...
Now that you’re established comics creators, what’s your writing and illustrating schedule like? What’s your personal remedy for writer’s block?
Ed Luce: I like to try and have four releases a year, two regular 32 page issues (with special editions) and two shorter specials that explore the characters outside my main storyline. It's a rough schedule to maintain but it means having something new almost every time I hit a convention.
I also love the challenge of producing short stories and strips for anthologies and magazines, so I take on as many of those as I can. It allows me to fit my characters into strange and different scenarios that I never would have come up with in my own comics.
I wouldn't say I've had writer's block per se just yet. If anything, I'd say I suffer from the opposite...there's so much I want to do, I can't get it out fast enough. Wuvable Oaf #0 introduced a large cast of characters; as I mentioned, I have yet to explore BuFu's experiences in plus PLUS size fashion, Lil' Papa's mysterious past and experiences raising the Oaf or any of Smusherrrr's nefarious doings. And I plan to do whole arcs on the comic bands EJACULOID, SPHINCTERINE and MUFF 'n ' TOP GRRLZ. The cast almost feels like they have lives of their own already, I just have to find the time to sit down and draw it all!
Eric Orner: Having a day job which doesn’t involve the cartoons I’m currently working on. It makes me grateful for the time I’m at my own desk, creating under my own steam. Also, walking the dog a lot.
What are some of your favorite comics?
Ed Luce: I feel a particular artistic kinship with Bil Sherman, who created several issues of Wanky Comics a few years back. His work is beautifully messy and ballsy and bursting with energy. I'd say he's the bizarro, erotic comic brother of the Oaf. His work is still available at his website (wankycomics.com) and comes highly recommended by me!
I'm also a big fan of Roberta Gregory's Bitchy Bitch and Bitchy Butch comics, as well as Dame Darcy's expansive Meatcake empire. I count Edward Gorey, Aubrey Beardsley and Osamu Tezuka's libraries among my favorites too!
Besides an ever-changing variety of mainstream superhero comics, I never fail to pick up Robert Kirkman's Walking Dead, Jeff Smith's RASL or the "can't-look-away car-crash" that is Dave Sim's Glamourpuss.
Eric Orner: Curbside by Rob Kirby, Chelsea Boys by Alan Neuwirth and Glen Hanson, Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel, and all of Ralf Konig’s work. I also really like Bitter Girl by Joan Hilty.
Are there any creators out there who have served as mentors either directly or indirectly?
Ed Luce: I met Justin Hall not long after moving to SF in 2006 and he was one of the first creators who actively encouraged me to give this whole thing a try. He introduced me to Prism, suggested a lengthy reading list of queer indie creators and was just there to spur me along at the right moments early on.
I've also been greatly inspired and mentored by my collaborator Matt Wobensmith. He has a long history in publishing (he was responsible for the ‘zine OUTPUNK in the 90's) and producing music (he released early singles by Pansy Division, Tribe 8 and Screeching Weasel, to name a few), so his experience has been invaluable. Our creative partnership has allowed me to push past the boundaries of the printed page and create records and other paraphenalia inspired by the Oafiverse.
Eric Orner: The Los Angeles based cartoonist Mimi Pond—whose Secrets of the Powder Room at the back of the Village Voice was partly a model for my The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green—which I always saw as a sort of “Dating Tips for Desperate Gay Guys”.
The Queer Press Grant opened a lot of doors for House of the Muses, but the grant’s influence also went beyond pure dollars. There was a definite bump in interest after the announcement. How has it been for you?
Ed Luce: Without question, receiving the Queer Press Grant has kicked the Oaf's profile up a few notches! It's like winning the Ms. Queer Comics Beauty Pageant! But seriously, I'm looking to use the grant to publish a collected bound edition of the first few issues, with some all-new material, so that we can have an increased presence in bookstores and libraries, nationally and internationally. This means the book will be able to reach an entirely new audience and I couldn't be more excited.
Where can readers buy or order your work?
Ed Luce: All things Oaf are available at wuvableoaf.com. The site also has a set of links for retailers around the country that carry the book. And the Goteblüd store is always well stocked with my stuff too; check out goteblud.com for store hours and information on our various exhibitions and events!
Eric Orner: There are 4 Ethan Green books from St. Martin’s Press. You can find the movie based on the strip, also called The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green on Netflixs. For more recent work, let me plug Freud’s Blind Spot, an upcoming book from Simon and Schuster/Free Press. A great anthology about siblings, edited by the novelist Elisa Albert (The Book of Dahlia) in which I have a longish graphic story.
Is there anything else you want to share with our readers?
Ed Luce: I have to give big thanks once again to the folks at Prism for choosing me for the QPG! I'd also like to encourage both aspiring and established creators to apply for the grant; it's a rare opportunity when anyone actually wants to give you money to make comics, so take advantage and give it your best!
And I'd like to thank everyone who has supported me and the Oaf so far. There are bazillions of comics out there that folks can drop their hard-earned cash on and I'm always grateful when people are moved enough by what they see to take a chance on mine.
Lastly, I just want people to know that no creator can produce their work all by their lonesome selves. I'm lucky enough to have a partner who is every bit as responsible for the success of the comic as anyone I've mentioned so far. So my undying thanks and love go to Mark for all his patience and support!
Eric Orner: Just my congratulations to Ed Luce, whose Wuvable Oaf is outstanding, and deep thanks to my cartooning, comics drawing, graphic novelling brothers and sisters for letting me share in the grant this year.
Pam Harrison and Kurt Sasso recently had the opportunity to interview Ed Luce live at TGT Webcomics on June 8th! (Unfortunately, Eric Orner was not available to appear as well.) You can listen in on the interview with Ed at the TGT Webcomics website! Kurt Sasso and Pam Harrison celebrated Pride Month by interviewing many of the best and brightest in LGBT comics and webcomics, and are eager to find out who they'll have on next year. This first year kick off podcast extravaganza was sponsored by Prism Comics.
Pam is the creator/author/illustrator of the House of the Muses graphic novel miniseries. To find directions to the comic shop near you, take advantage of the terrific ComicShopLocator.com!
Prism Comics promotes the works of the LGBT community in comics. It does not implicitly endorse any other material or products associated with those works. Any opinions expressed are those of the author(s).