Monday, December 10, 2012

diary of a guttersnipe 12/10/2012: this is cul-de-sac + plenty cognac + major pain

by Shawn Starr

This week instead of the usual jibber-jabber and repetitive pictorials of renowned actor Nicolas Cage, i talk with one half of the creative force behind my favorite anthology 'Thickness'.

An interview with Ryan Sands, Co-Publisher of 'Thickness'

Shawn Starr: I think the first, and most obvious question, is how did you go from 'Electric Ant' and 'Same Hat' to publishing the decades preeminent porn anthologies?

Ryan Sands: With the first two issues of 'Electric Ant', I had an excuse to get to meet and publish comics by a lot of my favorite cartoonists. One was Michael DeForge, and we quickly became friends over email and then later hanging in person at Toronto Comics & Art Festival. In early 2010 the video for "Telephone" by Lady Gaga debuted, and the two of us were tossing messages back and forth about the visuals and how rad it would be to make a 90's riot grrl-esque fanzine about Gaga. It went from a throw-away idea to a full-fledged book in about 7 weeks, and we debuted 'Prison For Bitches' at TCAF that May. Collaborating with Michael is a blast and his design impulses are always spot-on; We would always email about random YouTube hip-hop or weird manga, and over the course of that year he became one of my closest buddies.

We knew we wanted to collaborate on another project after the Gaga zine, and had been talking a lot about Porn/Erotic/Romance comics as a genre that wasn't being explored at all, while genres like cyberpunk or Swords & Sorcery were being explored and pastiched by indie cartoonists. Michael and I both felt like it would be fun to get some of our favorite cartoonists to do slightly longer "short comics" and see what happened when those works were linked together thematically around "eroticism". We went into the series with a pretty clear idea of what sort of issues we wanted to create, and we couldn't be happier with the comics our awesome contributors came up with for 'Thickness'.

'Thickness' seems like it was designed specifically for the risograph, what is it about the risograph that attracts you?

Yes definitely, self-publishing and self-printing the book on risograph was our plan from the start. We both were really impressed by the feel of comics that Mickey Zacchilli and Saicoink were printing on risograph in 2009 and 2010, and I love how cheaply it can create beautiful but messy, multi-color books. I had seen similar printing when I was a high school exchange student in Japan, and the inky tactile experience of reading a risograph-printed book dovetails nicely with the semi-seedy nature of "erotic comics". In the run-up to publishing the first issue, I was able to put together a rudimentary risograph print shop here in San Francisco, and have been printing books for friends like Hannah K. Lee and David Murray.

The cost-effectiveness of the printing has led to a bit of a boom in risograph within the indie comics scene lately, and there's even a risograph mailing list where printers and cartoonists using them share ideas and tips.

The production of 'Thickness' became more and more elaborate with each issue; the page count grows, you added fold out posters, issue three sports both a dust jacket and companion mini comic. Did you feel the need to outdo yourself with each issue?

The funny thing is that we actually had some even-sillier ideas for issues 2 and 3 that we backed away from. I had wanted to do a lenticular-animated cover and even temporary tattoos at one point, but Michael correctly talked me out of them. That said, I think the issues grew with complexity as our ambition for the books grew. The original plan was to have a pin-up in Issue #1 as well, but was cut because we couldn't get the artists we wanted in time.We didn't plan out each issue being bigger than the last, but we were very specific about how the contributors to each book played off each other tonally. Michael and I knew the third issue would be our last, so it definitely was packed to the gills with everyone we could manage to fit in.

You have a lot of artists I wouldn't associate with pornography, Angie Wang's piece is stunning for example, but I would never have expected that based on her previous work. Was it difficult to get everyone to embrace the genre and were you surprised by any one contribution?

We went after each artist in the book specifically, but we actually didn't have much trouble "convincing" folks to be a part of the book. I guess that means they all secretly wanted to draw erotic comics, or perhaps felt they could, *ahem* "rise to the challenge"? I personally was extremely impressed with all the work we were lucky enough to publish, and still feel that some of the stories (like Michael's "College Girl by Night" or Jonny Negron's "Grandaddy Purple, Erotic Gameshow" or Mickey Zacchilli's "Slime Worm") are some of the most vibrant and interesting short comics by those creators so far.

Aside from labeling them "pornography" or whatever, I thought it was really interesting to see what folks created when given an outlet to create a short story with some weight to it (rather than simply a page or two like many anthologies usually ask for). It feels like 10-20 pages is a good length for an experiment in style, or deviation of sorts. Everyone that we invited to 'Thickness' is one of our favorite contemporary cartoonists, and each brought a really interesting perspective to the loose theme.

The final issue of 'Thickness' had a decidedly harsher tone than the previous two, was that a conscious decision?

That's interesting to hear you say. I agree the book is a bit more direct... or perhaps the most unapologetic? But it also has some of the funniest panels in the entire series, in Lamar Abrams' "30XX". The series in its entirety hopefully is able to push nearly every reader's buttons in some way, and we definitely had strong ideas for what was missing from the first two issues. The lineup in the third issue reflects the creators Michael and I were most interested in hearing from, though we didn't dictate content or themes to any contributor. I love the third issue on its own, and I also think it works well as a final installment in the series as a whole.

The use of color in 'Thickness' is interesting, the Horror/Fetish stories tend to have these really dark tones while the Humor/Real Life use a bright almost neon palette. You also link several thematically similar stories through color, the Johnny Negron and Gengoroh Tagame entries for example are both a deep purple. How much did you work with each contributor to get the colors that way?

We worked with each contributor to decide which colors would work best for their comic, and talked over a few long email threads with the group as a whole to ensure there weren't any unintended overlaps. Some of the colors were last minute decisions or went through some trial and error; we'd initially test-printed Michael's comic in issue two in blue and purple inks, and while it looked pretty nice, I felt like that comic specifically flew in uncharted territory thematically and bullied him into using the gold ink for the first time in the series (laughter). Other cartoonists like Brandon Graham had very clear ideas about which colors they wanted (red and black, in his case, to connect his story to the original 'Dirty Pair' comics), so we incorporated that into the issue.

Without sounding too lame, I think having limitations force you to make these weird and instinctual choices, and the truth is that I only had 8 or 9 different colors available for printing with my risograph. It took forever to print the way we did, but the shifting colors throughout the book hopefully have a weird and fucked-up effect on the reading experience that works for people.

It's difficult to imagine anyone putting down 'Thickness' #3 and not have Gengoroh Tagame's contribution stick with them for a couple days. He's both the most commercial and non-commercial artist featured in the book. What led you to including him, and that story in particular, in 'Thickness' ?

Oh snap, I'm glad you are still haunted by his S&M tale (laughter). Gengoroh Tagame was a creator we dreamed of being able to include from early on in our planning, but never thought we'd be able to get him. Through the good graces of my friend Anne Ishii, we were able to talk and work directly with Tagame and he was more than happy to have his work seen by English-readers. It was an exciting experiment for us to actually license and translate a manga directly from the creator, and Tagame gave us a few stories to choose from for reprinting in 'Thickness'. That story is definitely very intense and steps into some difficult territory, and we felt it brought something challenging and new to the series. It definitely ends that final issue on a pretty singular and pointed note, and that felt really right for 'Thickness'.

Whats the next project you're working on? I remember hearing something about a collected 'Thickness' on your Inkstuds interview, any word on that?

We are very interested in a collected 'Thickness' book, and Michael and I are considering options for making that happen in the future. All of the contributors are excited about our initial plans, and we may have some sequel/additional comics to wrap up into a cool compendium for readers. We don't have any more details than that yet, but we do plan to present the works in a new way.

I'm working on a few new zines for early next spring, including a zine about my day hanging out with Kazuo Umezu, a zine about my grandparents, and another issue of 'Electric Ant'. I'm also hoping to continue printing and/or publishing more small books by artists on my risograph in the coming year. I'm extremely excited about the current trajectory of indie comics and zines for 2013.

Michael is pretty much (in my opinion) the most exciting cartoonist working today, and he's currently in the midst of more issues of his 'Kid Mafia', as well as 'Lose' #5 and his web series 'Ant Comic'.

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