The Vancouver Chronicles: Inkstuds

One quiet evening recently I talked with Robin McConnell, host of the Vancouver radio show Inkstuds that “explores the underbelly of the comics world.” We spoke about, you guessed it, comics, small press and plans for the future under a very festive popcorn and Froot Loops garland.

a small snapshot of Robin's library room

Melissa Luk:  So, give me the Inkstuds rundown.  Who are you, what do you do?

Robin McConnell:  Inkstuds started out as a radio show about six and a half years ago at CiTR at UBC.  My friend Robin Fisher, another Robin, had a radio show beforehand and she moved to Montreal.

ML:  One silly question I wanted to ask: how many times have you been interviewed? And how many interviews have you done?

RM:  I’ve probably been interviewed four to five times

ML:  OK, I’ve read two of them.  [Robin laughs]  I was worried!  Thinking, is he hiding any interviews he’s done?

RM:  No, no.  It’s just… I’m not an artist, so people don’t want to talk to me. [laughs]

ML:  But you’re interviewed up to 300 people now?

RM:  400.

ML:  Oh-ho.

RM:  Yeah, it’s an astonishing amount, and I’m pretty proud.  I try to constantly release interviews, roughly one a week.  Sometimes more, sometimes less, like right now, I haven’t done any interviews for a couple of weeks.  It’s Christmas, what can you do.

ML:  For the recordings, is there typically little editing?

RM:  Very little editing to the audio.  It’s really important that they are what they are.  They’re capsules of that conversation and capture the voice of the author I’m speaking with.

It’s interesting when you start hearing the same accents and things from all these different cartoonists.  Like there’s this really New York way of say, “caaamics”.  But it’s not every New Yorker.  It’s a certain age group, so guys like Spain and Neal Adams, who are from the 60’s and 70’s.  They make completely different comics, but they have the same vernacular.

a fun mini by ed choy moorman. this was sitting on top of one of the many piles of zines on the bookshelves. spot thickness 2 and study group 12 #4 in the background!

ML:  [laughs].  How else has the show been developing?

RM:  To give you a bigger idea of what Inkstuds is going to become, I mentioned the audio interviews, and then there’s the book and transcriptions, some of which will be posted online.  The other thing we started is video interviews with help from Daniel Giantomaso [of Star Gods Press].  We’ve posted two interviews so far and Daniel does an amazing job with the footage.  It’s done really nicely, really clean, and that’s a big project growing right now.  We have two more that aren’t posted yet that he’s working on editing.

ML:  Do these happen when authors come in town and you have the chance to record them?

RM:  The first two, one is done at my friend’s house who lives in town, Brandon Graham.  The second one was actually done later that same day with Anders Nilsen who was in town at Lucky’s.  Since then, we went down to Seattle for an afternoon and interviewed Peter Bagge and David Lasky in their studios.  That got me really excited and so our plan is next month, at the end of Feburary, to go down to Portland and talk to a bunch of folks there.

ML:  Another question is how does Inkstuds cover indie comics?  Many of them are published by alt publishing companies such as Drawn & Quarterly and Fantagraphics, which are on a very different level than lo-fi zines and minis.

RM:  Well there’s a spectrum within small press where there’s  Fantagraphics and Drawn & Quarterly, which put out Kate Beaton’s book that’s selling tens of thousands of copies. They’re actually getting quite a lot of sales.  But in the realm of comics, your average comic reader will think that’s small press compared to the average Batman reader.

For me I’m excited about the foundation, the art of comics.  A lot of the really fascinating work I’m finding right now is coming from these small press creators: kids who are doing zines that is all sitting down, drawing a comic and getting it out there.

ML:  So how do you get your zines?  Do people ever send stuff in?

RM:  Some people send stuff in.  I also like to go to conventions and pick stuff up, I’ll order stuff online if I heard about it or it looks interesting.  Small press conventions I’ll travel to.  There’s a good one in Toronto called TCAF [the Toronto Comic Arts Festival].

ML:  Oh, TCAF!

RM:  That one’s really good.  There’s one in Brooklyn called the Brooklyn Comics Graphics Fest.

I went last year and it was just mind-blowing how busy it was.  It’s only one day and all these amazing cartooning talents are there.  Like, Gary Panter is wandering around the floor with Matt Groening.  Two tables over is Charles Burns.  Across from me is Kim Deitch.  There’s Gabrielle Bell…

ML:  Really?  That’s crazy.  Is it pretty easy to table there too?

RM:  No, not that one.  That one they start with invite-only.  There’s a good reason, they do a really good convention.  And a lot of the good conventions are curated.  TCAF is curated.  Other conventions like APE, Small Press Expo, they’re not.  So whoever gets their application in first gets the tables.  And that just reflects folks that are keen, but doesn’t necessarily reflect on the quality of the work.

It’s important to be critical.  You need to know what’s good and really promote that if you want any kind of medium to grow, regardless of what it is.  Comics, zines, sculpture, whatever.  With anything you have this dialogue of what’s good, what’s bad and the creative criticism around that.

ML: I was talking to Yuriko [of Blim] and I guess this is a fill-in-the-blank statement: what do comics mean to you?

RM: Well… comics are comics.  They’re something I love to read.

ML:  Yeah!  When I spoke to Yuriko, she talked about how you view comics as an art form and that you collect pages?

RM:  I do like to collect a lot of art, a lot of comic art.

ML:  Does that fit into the fact that you have an interest and background in history?

RM:  Definitely.  It’s also part of the whole hands-on, tangible thing.  Say there’s an artist you really like and you get a page by them, a sketch by them. It’s really neat to hold it, to see it, to see how they made it, to see where they screwed it up, where they put on white-out…  It’s just kind of fun.

I really especially like getting sketchbook and process stuff.  Not necessarily a finished page, but what came before the finished page.

ML:  Those are very fun to look at, to see the progression from the sketch to the finished piece of work.

RM:  There’s a couple of books that came out recently, one is Justin Green’s Binky Brown, where they take the original pages and printed colour reproductions of it.  It looks beautiful.  Also, you get a better idea of what went into the work, the kind of angst that’s in the ink.

ML:  A lot of the interviews I read in the book were conducted in 2008, and for me, I was still in high school [laughs]…  I find it comical because a lot of these interviews are so early and then these names really blew up.  Now, they’re way more well-known.

RM:  What you’re seeing is the art form over these last fives years growing.  It’s got this unique culture, and that’s why these festivals like Brooklyn and TCAF have been really important.

ML:  Did someone in the book say we’re going through a golden age of comics?

RM:  I don’t remember…

ML:  Well when I read that I thought, we are!

RM:  It’s true.  One thing me and this other guy, Frank Santoro, like to talk about, is the cycles of comics.  How folks are influenced by comics, and comics are influenced by comics, and comics are influenced by comics…  It sounds like I’m on a treadmill, but what’s happening is you see creators really eating it all up and then putting out really refined work.  They’re taking from all these different parts and putting it together.

ML:  I heard you wanted to make a zine.

RM:  Are you asking about Gossip Girl?

ML:  You’re making a zine about Gossip Girl!?

RM:  What I’m making is going to be an anthology of stories set in the Gossip Girl universe.  And it’s going to be awesome.  Michael DeForge is doing the story…

ML:  Wait – you’re going to have a comic anthology based on fan… Gossip Girl?

RM:  Yeah, it’s total fanfiction.

ML:  Nghh… I’m intrigued… but confused…

RM:  It’s going to be awesome.

The aforementioned garland... for the radio archive, videos, transcripts, reviews and more.

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