MM3 Artist Interview : Sammy Harkham
Sammy Harkham has created an 8 page comic for Mould Map 3, to be printed with silver and black ink as an inserted section to the book.
The images below are reference points that Sammy showed us, we hope he won't mind us sharing them, we might have to take them down so look at them fast!
(Our first interview shared is one where the artist talks about how cool we are, we thought this would be a useful marketing device ;up)
US. See also: Everything Together, Kramers Ergot, Crickets, Simpsons' Treehouse of Horror #15, Terror House. Founding member of Family Books and The Cinefamily revival theatre. Currently working in Los Angeles.
MM3: Since you are the editor of the most respected and influential contemporary comic anthology, Kramers Ergot, how do you respond to being invited to be in one being assembled by a stranger?
SH: huff! big compliments, thank you.I personally think Kramers Ergot is pretty good, but will definitely get better and better with future volumes. It’s always very complimentary to be invited to anything. When I am asked to contribute to an anthology, my first impulse is to say yes, if for no other reason than knowing I will probably be making work that I wouldn't make otherwise. But that said, I rarely say yes, usually because I am busy with whatever project I have already in front of me and don't want to take time and energy away from it. And then there's the thing of respecting the editor and the project enough to really sustain enthusiasm over a long period of time and not regretting it later. I jumped at being included in the next issue of Mould Map because I really love the previous volumes, and never thought I would be considered for it. There is nothing like it, nothing looks like it, it’s aesthetic is totally its own, and it’s apparent interest in the wider arts culture is unique, and I like how it’s less a comics anthology then this weird British thing that's interested in color, fashion, drawing, deep shit, and jokes and looks and feels slightly "expensive". It really is unique in the world.
MM3: AAhhh thanks so much, I don’t know if I can include this question now because it’s too self-congratulatory for us!! Kramers Ergot 4 is maybe the key book that made me want to be a cartoonist. Now may I ask you this: Do you feel a certain responsibility or duty now to continue to publish Kramers Ergot?
There is no sense of obligation, I don’t think Kramers means that much to anybody, it's just a desire on my part. It’s a fun thing to do, to gather a bunch of stuff you like and present in a way you think is ideal. I am always trying to think of ways to make it less work so I could do them at the same time as making my own comics, but I haven't got there yet. It's a sucker. I hope Kramers Ergot 9 happens in the next year or two. There is stuff I am psyched on. By the way, speaking of cool anthologies, I just read Off The Press this morning. CF is a good editor!
MM3: Why do you think comic anthologies are important vehicles for artists? Do you prefer to read their work this way?
SH: I think context is an important thing. And that’s what an anthology does right away-it presents the work within the aesthetic vision of an editor that you don't get from single author books, since they are usually designed and packaged by the author themselves. And if the editor(s) have good taste and are a little nuts, you can get something where the whole is much better then the parts, something that speaks to a vision of a form or the world. That's pretty necessary in comics, a field without really strong institutional or academic support. Beyond that, its a great way of forcing readers to see work they may not think they are interested in, because the package as a whole looks enticing, they will give more "difficult" work the benefit of the doubt because they trust the editors. Some comics definitely benefit to being read in an anthology. Others, less so.
MM3: Did you have a specific idea about how you’d like people to come at your comic for Mould Map. You knew it’ll be printed as a special metallic insert, did this have an influence on the comic you decided to make and how you built it?
SH: It didn't effect my process too much. knowing it was going to be an insert within the bigger book made me want to make the strip as self contained and satisfying as I could-a world within a world. it's not dense like a lot of my recent comics, but I think a lot of the things I was hoping to convey came through. its different then everything else which is good, I want each thing to be different than previous thing.
MM3: Violence often plays an important role in your comics (and you have a strong interest in gore horror), what do you think is interesting about violence?
SH: For one thing, violence makes great visuals, and great gags. I am more interested in gore in movies, because I like the theatrical, melodramatic quality of certain kinds of movies, the immaculate construction and large emotions that you find in Sirk or Powell. Certain gory movies feel a part of that. Strong complex images within simple fable like stories. But I don't care for grim or realistic horror movies. I like joyous stuff like Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Housu or the Evil Dead. Fake looking constructions.
In comics, I don't think of my work as violent, but thinking about it now, I realize maybe all of them have violence in them..... hmm. Comics, to me, are about simple emotions and ideas clearly expressed, and juxtaposing them in a way that has the density and emotional complexity of any other dramatic form. That's what makes them "complex". So therefore comics lend themselves to clear expressive action and images used in the service of more delicate and nuanced ideas and feelings. Besides violence, sex and dancing are also especially good in comics. Here's a question for you: if the Kickstarter is huge success will you use the extra money to pay the contributors the big bucks they deserve? say yes.
MM3: Yes this is not an enterprise for our profit, the target money covers all practical costs, including fees for each artists. Any additional money we make over the target will be fairly split between the artists. (I guess if we get a lot over our target we’ll also consider printing more books?) We feel strongly that artist fees need to be included in any budget, just the same as the cost of printing a sheet of paper. (But we are a bit guilty for this because the previous issues we paid the artists by giving them copies of the book to sell themselves…) Do you feel strongly about artists not getting paid for their work?
SH: I am with you in that the more money that contributors can get, the better. But most anthologies can't pay, or pay very little, but people know what they are signing up for, so its up to the individual if they want to do it. I do stuff for anthologies for the reasons I mentioned above, mainly it forces work I may not make otherwise. Hopefully I get paid when I sell the originals or somewhere down the line it running in a collection of some kind. Whatever. It’s comics.
MM3: I agree with you about violence but can’t articulate it very well. Would you agree that violence is some sort of classic entertainment tool? It’s so prevalent in all art forms, is it still worth discussing?
SH: There is tension in violence, or just preceding the violence, and tension is the basis for dramatic storytelling. you can't escape it really. Like anything else, its how it's used, context, etc. I don't think too deeply about the scenes and images that I am compelled to make. That said, it seems like everything I do find compelling and put into my comics has its basis in my childhood. I grew up with two older brothers, who exposed me to terrible, violent movies and comics, the first girl who kissed me looked like a boy and is how I draw girls and the second girl who kissed me is the other way I draw girls, etc etc. Things get locked in.
MM3: And regarding actions and movements and things that work well in comic form, do you ever have ideas for stories you want to tell that just aren’t possible within comics confines, and if so, what happens to those ideas?
SH: Less ideas. I think one cool thing about comics is that there is a novelty of reading any kind of scene if it's cartooned well. The overall story may be bad, but scene to scene, if I like a cartoonist I just want to be in their world. So I think anything I get excited about can potentially work. What I have trouble with is when my reach exceeds my skills. Wanting the drawings to feel a certain way, trying to go beyond my skill set, and being frustrated with the results. We all can breeze through stuff we've drawn a million times in the same style, but if I get excited about a war story and I want it drawn in heavy Alex Toth-style blacks, there is going to be some frustration, it will take a while.
I redrew parts of my Mould Map comic many times over. I have a couple unfinished comics that beat me, but I will get back to and eventually finish. There is a 6 page sequence in Blood Of The Virgin that is so hard for me to draw, I do one page of it every couple months inbetween other scenes because its so exhausting and defeating. But slowly and surely...
MM3: Slow But Sure. I also try to take this approach. Do you feel like you’re pushed to work fast? Other comic artists I’ve talked to, we all kind of agree that with comics you’re in it for the long haul. Do you think you’ll still be making comics at the age of 60? Right now, are you making the kind of work you imagined you’d be making?
SH: I think if I was to ever bail on comics, I would have done it by now. I will probably still be doing comics at 60, if I am alive. 60 is not old, anyway, you still got like another 30 years in the tank at that point, hopefully. I imagine by then I would have figured out a good casual style that's effective and I will just be working on one and two page strips. that sounds good. I honestly can't imagine that compulsive thought of "the next strip will be better" ever going away. and I will always be psyched on the idea of the perfectly built one pager or spread. That's like a life goal (yes I am an idiot). When I was a kid, I wanted to draw Faust, Tank Girl, and Madman. My dream was to make really good fun comics. I think my work is pretty good, pretty fun. They could be better and funnier. The next one will be better (see, there you go).
The reason I assume cartoonists want to be more prolific is to make more money. If you are only making a few hundred bucks from your last comic, you should therefore aim to make one a month and potentially rake it in. That would be a way to make a living. But if you take out that reason, I don't see what the rush is, since whatever comic you are working, if you're deeply in it, it will contain all the crazy bullshit you have going on in your life. It will come through no matter what, regardless of what the comic is "about".
(Interviewed by Leon Sadler, conducted by email in autumn 2013)