MEMORY IS UNRELIABLE: a conversation with James Kochalka

On December 31st, 2012, James Kochalka ended a fourteen year run on his daily diary comics strip, American Elf.

15 days later, I sat down with James to discuss those years and what he’d documented.

Interview conducted on January 15, 2013

John Rovnak: It’s been two weeks since you drew your final American Elf. How are you feeling?

James Kochalka: [Laughs] Well, strange I guess, because I have not thought of any other comic that I want to draw, really. I have ideas, but I’m a little afraid to start. It’s funny because the entire time drawing American Elf I felt pretty much super, super confident, and fearless about art. But I think that’s because I knew I had this one thing I was doing that was basically as good as it gets.

Rovnak: And it was yours, in a format that you pretty much invented…

Kochalka: Yeah. And then I could do any sort of crazy thing I wanted to, and not worry about it. But now anything that I do, I have to think, “Is this going to be as good as American Elf?” And the answer of course is NO! Of course there’s nothing else that I’m going to do that’ll be as good as American Elf. So now I just have to adjust to the fact that it doesn’t matter if it’s as good as American Elf or not.
Before American Elf I did autobiographical stories where I’d mix in science fiction and fantasy elements. Well I went back, and read some of those, and I couldn’t believe how awful they were. [laughs] But I don’t know, I might just be being really harsh on myself. They’re nothing like a story. I mean other people write real stories, and mine are not stories. I don’t know what they are. At the very least, I suppose, they’re unlike the stories I’ve read by anyone else, so I suppose that’s a plus. And I imagine that’s what people saw in them back in the day. But I look at them, and I’m like, “I don’t even understand what I was doing. I don’t understand why I wrote those comics.” For one thing, the pacing is really slow. And American Elf is really really really fast paced, because it’s just tiny tiny tiny small vignettes, and it’s constantly moving. But pages will happen in my old books and nothing really happens. People are talking really slow. So I guess what I have to do is take the pacing of American Elf and put that into a…. [long pause]

Rovnak: So if nothing else, it’s forcing you to rethink your comics and storytelling. Which is a plus, right?

Kochalka: Right. Oh yeah, it’s good. I could have drawn American Elf forever because I was in the rhythm of it. And as long as I stayed in that rhythm, I could have done it forever. And in a way it was easy for me. It was hard, of course, as a physical task, doing it everyday. And sometimes it was hard emotionally to draw about things I didn’t want to draw about. But artistically, I guess it was easy because I had the format down. In fact, I was getting better and better at it. I think every year I got better at it. But stopping gives me a chance to really think about art, and really think about what I’m doing. I didn’t really have any time to think as long as I was still doing American Elf. I mean, I could think about American Elf, but I couldn’t really think about anything else. And that’s not entirely true, because of course I wrote Super F*ckers, and I wrote the Johnny Boo series and the Dragon Puncher series, and the Super F*ckers cartoon. I did plenty of other stuff, but somehow I was able to do all that other stuff without thinking. Now I feel like I’m forced to think. [laughs]

Rovnak: One thing I’ve noticed as I’ve gone back and read the entire run of American Elf is that now that you’ve ended it, it reads like a novel. It now has a beginning, middle and end; where before it was so open ended.

Kochalka: Right, I think it’s stronger with an end.

Rovnak: I think so too.

Kochalka: And if you go back and look over the strips, I think you’ll see that over the last couple years, you can tell I’m building up to the end. Like there are clues that the strip is ending, [laughs] even before I really knew. It’s funny because – and I’ve said this many times before in interviews – the reason I started American Elf… well, one of the reasons is because I had grown dissatisfied with the whole idea of a graphic novel. That I didn’t think the stories of our lives had beginnings, middles and ends. I felt that there’s just thousands of stories in your life, all twisting around each other constantly, and some of those stories stop suddenly, and then start up again later. Some things happen every single day. And I just felt like the typical way of writing a story doesn’t really capture what it feels like to be human and to live a real life. So I thought that with the daily strip format I could accomplish that. And just by showing a little bit from each day, over time you’d see the kind of rhythms a real life goes through, and I think I’ve drawn enough to capture that rhythm. [laughs] I probably learned everything there is to learn and know within the first two years. Actually that’s not true…
Here’s one reason why I quit… there are thousands… but I felt like the strip will end sometime. There’s no way to prevent the strip from someday ending. At the very least I’d draw it up until the day I died, or something would happen in my life that prevented me from drawing the strip. And I thought, what a horrible tragedy that would be, if something changed in my life and made me unable to draw the strip. It is so much better to make the decision now, when I have some control over it and I know what I’m doing.

Rovnak: Between you and me, did you produce a strip for January 1st 2013 just for yourself? How was it to not pick up your sketchbook and not document something from your day? Was it a strange feeling?

Kochalka: No I didn’t [laughs]. I did draw a strip, but it wasn’t American Elf, and I didn’t ink it… yet. I drew a strip about my mushroom characters from Fungus. In a way I still have been drawing American Elf everyday, because everyday I pick out the thing that would be the strip. I just don’t draw it.

Rovnak: In your head you do?

Kochalka: Yeah, in my head. [laughs]

Rovnak: That leads directly into my next question. I’m sure you’re quite conditioned to view your days with the perspective of choosing an event or sequence for a strip. Are you finding you’re still viewing your days that way?

Kochalka: Everyday I would go about my day, and I’m thinking about what would be a good strip, and I haven’t stopped. I still do that all day long, every day. [laughs] That might never end. But the truth is that I did that before I started drawing American Elf. I was always translating in my mind whatever was happening into a comic strip format. Now I think I’m starting to stop thinking about what would be the American Elf strip for the day, and thinking about how can I use these moments in another story. Which is good because if I wanted to draw another autobiographical story mixed with science fiction and fantasy, I really couldn’t because all the material is put into American Elf. There would be nothing to draw about because it was all in there. But now if I stop for a while, hopefully I’ll accumulate enough of these little bits of information in my mind, that I’ll have enough to make another story.

Rovnak: You would have to lead two lives otherwise….

Kochalka: Right. [laughs]

Rovnak: Did you ever consider just stopping the strip publicly, and continuing the strip just for yourself? Why end American Elf entirely?

Kochalka: Oh yes, I did consider doing that. But then I thought, I don’t like doing anything that’s not going to see publication. I have no interest in creating any art, or any time-consuming art, that’s not for public consumption. I could never continue to draw the diary strip, and then never publish it. I would have to at least publish it eventually in some collected form.

Rovnak: In preparation for this interview I spoke with quite a few cartoonists about American Elf, and one common response from many was a real excitement and pride if they had at some point made an appearance in one of your strips. Why do you think this is? Is it every comic fans dream to appear in a comic? What makes appearing in American Elf so special?

Kochalka: Well this is going to sound really egotistical [laughs] but let’s say you’re hanging out with Picasso, and Picasso painted you into his painting. You’d be excited! I imagine these people know it’s an important work, and who would not want to be part of that? Although, when I announced the strip was ending, one person wrote to me to tell me that something I had drawn about them a decade earlier had terribly embarrassed them, and I guess they had been worrying about it ever since. So they just wrote to patch everything up since the strip was ending. That was interesting. Something that I’ve learned over the years is that drawing a strip like this is incredibly dangerous. There’s another reason to quit. I had nothing to lose in the old days. Now I’ve got a family and everything, and they don’t need any kind of drama, weird art drama… I don’t know. [laughs]

Rovnak: Did you find many acquaintances or family members trying to make appearances in the strip? Could you sense interactions from some people that seemed manipulated or motivated entirely by a desire to stand out in your memory so that they might be drawn by you?

Kochalka: Well the only ones I would notice were the people who were super obvious and would say, “Put me in the strip!” That obviously is clear… But my friend Jason (Jason X-12), who’s in the strip many times, he would always be angling to get in the strip, and I never would notice. He would just try and say awesome things hoping that I would draw those awesome things into the strip. And then he would always complain later that I’d just draw a leaf I saw or something, instead of the awesome thing he said. [laughs]

Rovnak: One person’s awesome moment is not another’s, right? [laughs]

Kochalka: That’s right!

Rovnak: So deciding to begin a daily strip back in 1998, I would imagine it must have been a bit daunting. Was it? And at what point, or how far into the process, did you find a rhythm with it? Do you remember a time when the strips just started happening, becoming part of your daily routine, versus the conscious decision to sit down and draw one everyday?

Kochalka: I would say it took a little over two years to get used to it. There was a period in the second year where I quit for two months, because it was too hard. It wasn’t until after that, that I really got into the rhythm of it. And the idea of starting the strip was daunting. I drew it for a week at the San Diego Comic-Con in the summer of 1998, just a sort of a little travel diary kind of thing, and it was great!! I couldn’t believe how great it was! And the whole reason I started was because Brian Ralph was on a plane with me, and he was like an aisle over, and I noticed he was doing work. He was working on the book Cave In, and I was like, “Brian Ralph is getting work done, and I’m just sitting here!” [laughs] So I pulled out a lined notebook, and I drew the first strip in that. And then I did it everyday, sometimes twice a day, in that week at the San Diego Comic-Con. And then got home, and photocopied it and made a tiny little mini-comic out of it. And I thought, “Boy, that was such a great thing. Wouldn’t it be amazing if I did that for a whole year?” Then I thought, “God, that would be so much work!” So I put it off for a couple of months, until October 28th. And then I just started. I went to the store, and I picked out a sketchbook that I thought would be pretty good, and then I started. Now I didn’t invent autobiographical comics, but by combining autobiographical comics with the daily strip format, I was the first person to do that that I had ever heard of. I don’t know if anybody had ever done that before? Of course there’s Jim’s Journal, but that’s fictional autobiography. It’s Jim, drawing his journal, but it’s not real. But that certainly was a strip that I was aware of that played some role in creating American Elf. Anyhow, it turned out to be a great marriage of two forms; and really, in retrospect fairly obvious. [laughs]

Rovnak: Did you find yourself doing or saying things that you knew would make for an interesting strip? Would you find yourself making statements that would allow for you to passive-aggressively communicate with people in your life?

Kochalka: Well I would sometimes set people up. Like I would have an idea for a line that I wanted to say, and I would say it to them, and then I would draw their reaction. And sometimes if I didn’t get the reaction I wanted, I would say the same line to someone else. [laughs] And the strange thing about that, and the strange thing about the whole strip, is that it’s definitely true. It’s autobiographical, but it’s also fictional. But that means my actual real life is becoming fiction if I am saying lines for the idea of getting a response. So suddenly my strip is autobiographical, but my real life is fictional. [laughs] And then, towards the end, there’s this weird feedback loop too, because I’m putting it up online, and I’m putting it in the newspaper, and I hear responses back from people, and make adjustments to my life based on reader reaction. I mean, that is insane! So I began to feel like I was trapped in some sort of strange dimension where nothing was real. You know it’s like the philosophical question of are you a person, or are you butterfly dreaming they’re a person? Are you a brain locked in a box on some distant planet being fed stimuli?

Rovnak: Are you a cartoonist, or are you a cartoon?

Kochalka: Right. Exactly.

Rovnak: Throughout the 14 years, what was some of the criticism you’d receive about the strip? Was there a reoccurring complaint or issue from family or friends? Were there people just outraged with how candid you were?

Kochalka: Some people really disliked me, or disliked my persona as I portrayed myself in the strip. I seem to generate enemies without actually doing anything to anybody. Without even ever talking to me, people would just decide they hated me. [laughs]

Rovnak: One thing that always stood out for me was how frank and honest you were with your portrayal of parenting. Did you receive much criticism about that?

Kochalka: Oh yeah. You know I got a letter once from a guy who said he liked the strip. But then I had kids, and he just thought that I was an awful person. That I was kind of mean to the kids, or that I was mean to my wife, and he just thought I was a bad man. And then he had kids, and then he saw that absolutely everything I drew about in the strip happened to him too [laughs] and he wrote me another letter to apologize. He said he was sorry to have judged me so harshly. It’s funny, because until he wrote me a letter saying he was judging me harshly, I had no idea I was being judged harshly.

Rovnak: How do you view your place in the comics industry? Will American Elf be remembered as your definitive work, and does that scare you? Are you scared of having your future work compared to American Elf?

Kochalka: I guess. I think it’s okay. [laughs nervously] I mean, Art Spiegelman did Maus, and he can’t really top Maus, right? And he’s fine.

Rovnak: Is it scary to now go back to the drawing board and start something new?

Kochalka: Sure. Luckily I have something else to distract me, which is that I have to paint between 100 and 200 paintings before April for a show at Giant Robot in L.A. So I’m just painting paintings, and I don’t have to worry about comics for a while. Although I do have to start a new strip in SevenDays. It’s supposed to start next week, and they keep asking me what it’s going to be, and I haven’t decided. [laughs]

Rovnak: Maybe you could just do an autobiographical strip about you struggling to come up with a new strip that’s not autobiographical? [laughs]

Kochalka: Yeah. Well I do have a brilliant idea for what to replace American Elf with, but I don’t know whether I should dive right into it. I almost dove right into on January 1st, the very next day after drawing American Elf, which is Zamerican Skrelf. [laughs] Zamerican Skrelf is American Elf, but not true. It would be sci-fi and fantasy stuff, but with the same characters, with some autobiographical truth, but a lot of made up events. So I still might do that.

Rovnak: Have you ever had an interest in producing someone else’s biography in comic form?

Kochalka: No. Sounds terribly boring. [laughs] You know it’s impossible for me to draw all the little details of what’s in a room, if it’s a room I haven’t seen. Or more specifically, if it’s a room I can’t actually look at while I draw it, or know intimately. I couldn’t draw a story that took place in someone else’s house, unless I was going to live in that house, and then I could look at the things I was going to draw. I can’t even imagine what another house looks like. [laughs] There are so many little details. Even in American Elf I would get details of my own house wrong all the time. If I draw from memory, the details are definitely wrong. But occasionally, or fairly often, I would draw a mixture of from memory and from life. If I wanted to know what some part of the room looked like, or some object in the house looked like, I could go up and go look at it. And sometimes I would. But I didn’t always. Sometimes I would just do the best I could just from memory. And certainly every time I did it from memory, I got it wrong. I always drew the phones wrong, but it’s not that important. That’s just the way it works, and it’s not unique to me. It’s the same kind of thing I guess where somebody witnesses a crime, and no one can describe what the person actually looked like, or what actually happened. Everybody gets it wrong. You just can’t trust memory. What I found recently is that memory is so unreliable that I’m not sure what’s real anymore. I remembered very clearly that this friend of mine built a fire in my sink last New Years Eve. And I was like, “Is he gonna build another fire in the sink?” And Amy was like, “You dreamt that! You dreamt that he built a fire in the sink.” Because I had really remembered it as a real event, something that actually happened, but it was just a dream. Then I thought, “How many other things from my life didn’t actually happen?” [laughs] There could be all sorts of things that I remember that didn’t actually happen.

Rovnak: And maybe by drawing them in your strip, you somehow made them more real.

Kochalka: Yeah, that’s right!

Rovnak: Is there one strip that stands out to you as your favorite or definitive American Elf?

Kochalka: I do have a favorite. I can’t remember the whole thing, but it’s just a single panel one. I’m standing on the corner of Elmwood Ave. and North St., and Eli is in a little sling on my chest, and there’s a dead bird. And I’m pointing at the dead bird, and I say something profound. [laughs] I don’t remember exactly now. It’s something like, “Look, Eli. Death.” That’s my favorite strip. You’d think if it’s my favorite strip I’d remember it a little better, but…

Rovnak: …memory is unreliable, right?

Kochalka: [laughs] That’s right. Memory is not reliable.

Rovnak: That’ll be the title of this interview. [laughs]

Kochalka: [laughs]

Rovnak: I noticed you seemed to take some more risks artistically with the layout on some of the final strips. Was this a conscious choice? Did you find the pressure of what to do for the final strip overwhelming, or was it liberating because you were ending it anyways?

Kochalka: More deviations from the form? Well that was the great thing about American Elf. Because I drew it everyday, any individual strip didn’t really matter that much. So I felt like it was okay to try something else. I could have gone a lot wilder, I suppose. I just did it when I felt it. If I deviated from my standard format, it wasn’t because I was like, “Oooh, let’s experiment!” I did it because I just thought it would work to show whatever it was I was trying to show. I mean you could start a strip where you’re just going to do crazy experiments everyday, but that would be a different strip.

Rovnak: So if someone were to go to today, what would they find?

Kochalka: Well on the front page, you’d see the very last American Elf strip. But if you scrolled down, there’s a list of other strips on the site, and there’s a new thing now called ‘Little Paintings’. And everyday I’m putting up a little painting.

Rovnak: Now remind me, where are you in your tenure or term as Vermont’s first Cartoonist Laureate?

Kochalka: Hmmm, when did I become Cartoonist Laureate? I think I might be in the final year now. It’s a three-year term.

Rovnak: So what have you done during your time as Cartoonist Laureate?

Kochalka: What have I done? [laughs]

Rovnak: Yeah, what have you done?

Kochalka: [laughs] Well I’ve gone to teach comics at a few different schools and libraries. But you know, I did that before I was Cartoonist Laureate, and I’ll probably do it after I’m done being Cartoonist Laureate. It’s just that …

Rovnak: …you do it with a title. [laughs]

Kochalka: There’s no official duties. [laughs] It’s really just an honor.

Rovnak: Will there be another Cartoonist Laureate after you?

Kochalka: I don’t know. I imagine. I think they should. We have quite a few world-class cartoonists here in Vermont, and we’re getting more cartoonists all the time. As people come to the Center for Cartoon Studies, a fair amount of those cartoonists end up settling here in Vermont afterwards. And we’ve begun to attract other cartoonists who just think, “Hey, there seems to be something interesting going on over there in Vermont. Maybe I’d like to go to Vermont?”

All images © James Kochalka

Interview © John Rovnak

Order Today!!

Panel to Panel: Exploring Words & Pictures
Edited by John Rovnak

Featuring New Interviews With…
*MARK BODE: A 21st Century Renaissance Man by John Rovnak.
*GLENN DANZIG: Damn, It’s Danzig by John Rovnak.
*JIMMY GOWNLEY: Normal Guy to the Naked Eye by Rachael M Rollson.
*ALAN MOORE: The Magical Adventures of an Extraordinary Gentlemen by Jean-Emmanuel Deluxe.
*STEVE MURPHY: Comes Out of his Shell by John Rovnak.
*DAVE SIM: The General in His Labyrinth by Jon Mathewson.
*JIM WOODRING: A Touch of Madness by Daniel Barlow.
*BY JINGO: A Personal Meditation on the Comics of Jack Kirby by Rob Walton.
*MARVEL 14: The Incredible History of France’s Censorship of Marvel Comics by Jean–Emmanuel Deluxe.
*KEEP YOUR PANTS ON! The Rock Art of James Kochalka.
*BUDDY COPS in Full-Color by Mark Martin.
*BEAT PANELS: OR; IS THERE MONEY IN POETRY COMICS? by Stephen R. Bissette featuring the graphic poetry of Peter Money and Rick Veitch.
*ORGANIZING COMICS: How Comics Created a Community in Rural New England by Daniel Barlow.
*EUROPE’S KRIMINAL HISTORY: featuring MR. KRIME by Mort Todd with Jean-Emmanuel Deluxe.
*EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN: Re-Imagined Interpretations of Forgotten Characters of the Public Domain.
*MY SKETCHY SUMMER, or 5 Days Hard Labor at the Center For Cartoon Studies by Philip Charles Crawford.
*CLOVER FIELDS ON FIRE: The Intellectual Architecture of Robert Crumb and the Tyranny of the Masses by Experience Kring.
*Organic Comix presents JIM SIMON’S SHIELDMASTER.
*DEFT MASTERY: The Genius of Early 1960′s Archie Comics by Philip Charles Crawford, featuring Teenage Wildlife: an interview with Craig Yoe by John Rovnak.
*MEET JOE PRIEST: A Personal Reflection on Where Faith and Comics Meet by Fr. Chris Kulig, O.Carm.
*An archive of past interviews, from, featuring DAVID MACK, LARRY MARDER, LARRY HAMA, JAIME HERNANDEZ, JAMES STURM and STAN SAKAI.
* and more….

274 Pages, Full Color
(scheduled to begin shipping Aug/Sept 2011)

To Be, Or Not To Be…?

It’s been nearly two weeks since the Panel to Panel/Kickstarter fund raising campaign came to a close.  Although we did not reach our financial goal via Kickstarter, this project still continues to move forward.  After a couple days of needed rest and distance from the project, I returned to it with a simple email that I sent out to each of the book’s contributors.  That email, as I had hoped, sparked a conversation which not only helped to decide the fate of the project, but also captured a unique moment in time for Panel to Panel.  Publishing in the year 2011 offers many opportunities, as it does hurdles, and this book is no stranger to either of those.  With the permission of all those involved, I have compiled the majority of the emails which were exchanged over the last week or so, to share here on the blog.  It shows you, the reader and consumer, what steps we, as a collaborative group, are taking to make this book a reality and offers a “behind-the-scenes” look at our process.  It begins with my initial email…

John Rovnak: Hello everyone! It’s about time I came out from under my rock and talked to you all about the current state of Panel to Panel. I’d like for this email to spark a conversation amongst all of us, and encourage you all to reply (to all) and toss around our ideas. To start, as all of you probably know, our campaign failed. 🙁 Now, it wasn’t a complete failure… We did manage to raise quite a bit of awareness and potential sales, just not enough, and it wasn’t due to a lack of trying. I, for one, am exhausted from all the “trying” I did! So what does this mean? We have a finished product ready to go!! But where? We could go back to the print-on-demand avenue. It allows the book to get out into people’s hands, but at a higher cost. The book would retail for roughly $40.00. I’ve considered breaking the book up, maybe into three smaller volumes, and pricing them out that way. Any thoughts? I could also shop it around to some publishers, and see if something of this size and format would interest them. We could also solicit the book with Diamond and see what kind of numbers that generates. They have seen it, and will carry it! But then it still comes down to the juggling of orders and printing and MONEY! Bottom line is, I’m anxious to move on! I love this book dearly, but I’m really sick of looking at it. That’s not to say that I’m done with it. I just have a lot of ideas for another one!! REALLY good ideas that I can’t wait to share… But I really need to know what I’m doing with this one. These are all my initial/scattered thoughts, but I want to start getting back to it!

Mark Masztal: Like I have said to John recently, I don’t think we should break up the book. Dismembering it down to three volumes, in my mind, would cheapen the beautiful book we have now. I think trying to go through various publishers, like I’ve mentioned to John, would take the pressure off us to come up with the printing costs. It also means that some of the coin will have to go back to the publisher.

Rob Walton: My only experience here is in publishing Ragmop. I explored every avenue, including printing overseas (a considerable savings and better paper and binding, but little guarantee of shipping). Going through Diamond was frustrating, and as I mentioned to John before, caused me to inflate the price to 29.95 because Diamond ends up taking 70% of the cover (60% plus another 10% for shipping and early payment). If this is a not for profit effort, that’s fine, you’ll probably break even if you don’t do an overrun like I did. BUT, this is far more marketable than Ragmop, so… Solicit and see?

Craig Yoe: It’s such an incredibly beautiful book! Publishing is so darn difficult these days. I think a publisher might be hard to find, though Twomorrows Publishing comes to mind. May be worth a try and see what interest there is, and what kind of deal there might be. Don’t get discouraged, John! It’s a great publication, just a very tough time for publishing.

Mark Martin: I say it is time to make that book actually exist, for people who are actually willing and able to actually buy one. Anybody else can go piss up a rope. 1. Get a cost-per book to print 100 copies, digital print-on-demand 2. Round that up, and add on whatever it costs to pack and ship. Come up with a price that you can live with. 3. Advertise that cost on your website, facebook, comics websites, Craig Yoe’s forehead… Everywhere you can think of. Tell folks to SEND MONEY NOW, and they’ll get the book in a couple of months. ANNOUNCE A DEADLINE for taking orders. Give it about a month. Anybody that does not order in time will have to wait til next time – if there ever IS a next time. 4. Give yourself another week after the deadline, to tie up any loose ends. 5. ORDER THE BOOKS from the print-on-demand printer. Even if it is only 100 books 6. Get the books, pack the books, ship the books 7. Hold your book that actually exists in your hands, love it, cuddle it, hug it 8. Move on. GO GO GO!

Rob Walton: Now there’s gumption! Hard to disagree. Another thought is offering an ebook. I’ve heard places like Costco do incredible ebook sales. I’m old school, in that I like to hold a book like this in my hands to love, cuddle and hug like Mark, but younger generations enamored with technology might prefer a digital option as well. Could this be formatted for the iPad? Put it on your website and start selling downloadable copies now until you can figure out print options! I think Mark is correct though. We need to make this exist. A print on demand edition could conceivably go a long way in securing a wider popular edition through either Diamond or an existing publisher (D&Q?). The buzz has already started through Kickstarter. Don’t lose it.

Mort Todd: Here’s my 2¢: First, basically do what you did through Kickstarter via a PayPal contribute button. That way there would be no immediate deadline, or minimum or limit what you can generate. Offer premiums similar to what you had for Kickstarter, which would be sent out 4 to 6 weeks after the contribution (so you can get the right number of things manufactured) with a set release date for the book (Fall/Winter?). You could also take book preorders without the premiums. Go through a POD, sell it through their web store and via your websites and Diamond. From past experience I think it’d be better to go DIY rather than work through an existing publisher. That said, if you did go with a publisher, Fantagraphics may be a good bet due to P2P’s content and Fantagraphic’s audience and distribution.

Jean-Emmanuel Deluxe: Yes you can do pre-sales. I do it for record projects of mine for my music label. An idea right?

Rachael M. Rollson: From the quiet front, I say – git’er done. I like Mark Martin’s suggestions – I want a real live book in my hand to save and collect and pass on…I want to tote that tome around with me and look cool on a park bench and everybody to say, “ooooh, what cosmic loveliness would be worth dragging around like that, I gotta get me one”…now, I don’t know anything about POD, I don’t know anything about iPad’s and I don’t know anything about current publishing trends – but I know this book should be real. I have no advice to offer, just absolute support…

Philip Charles Crawford: I agree with the others – I think it’s time to make the book available in a printed form. Perhaps the first 100 copies could be a limited edition collector’s edition limited-run, variant cover, etc. That would provide those who want a copy now the opportunity to buy one. This would give you a little time to also shop it with publishers or to get advertising for subsequent printing. Also, once you sold enough to go into a second printing then you could do some Stan Lee type publicity: Because You Demanded, Back in Print, etc. It is such a hard time to get published, but once you’ve got an initial product out there in some capacity, it may be easy to shop to publishers or get advertising. You have my support on whatever you decide.

Daniel Barlow: I’m with Mark Martin on this! Get the book out, gain a reputation in the industry for doing this kind of book and start moving forward with the second one. Such a great book needs to get out there ASAP!

Craig Yoe: This book is awesome and hopefully will find an audience that appreciates its greatness!

Steve Murphy: Sorry for the delay and while it seems moot at this point, here are my two cents: I’d break the book up into 4 parts/”issues” and publish ’em quarterly thereby establishing an ongoing presence in the marketplace, meanwhile beginning work on issue 5, etc. I just think the current cover price for a single volume is way high. I know I couldn’t justify the single-shot expense to my wife given our family’s low “disposable income” budget.

John Rovnak: Way to throw a curve ball, Murph!! 🙂

James Kochalka: Honestly, I probably wouldn’t even buy a copy for myself at the price I assume it’s going to be.

Mark Masztal: It’s actually not a bad idea.

John Rovnak: Um, Mark…. I suggested this the day after Kickstarter ended, I I believe YOU were the first to shoot it down. 🙂

Craig Yoe: It’s very difficult, I think, to sell a publication/book that is a smorgasbord/anthology these days. People like single subject books on something they really like, and even that’s getting very, very hard in today’s economy. And at the same time there’s so many good things coming out in competition. Sorry for this negative note. I really do love what you have put together, but it’s a tough world in publishing these days, always has been I guess, but now more than ever. I’ll do what ever I can to support whatever direction you decide to go, as I’m sure will everyone here. You obviously have a lot of people that like you and what you’ve put together. This is much to your credit and all the talented people that have been helping. Rooting for you…

Mark Masztal: I did, just because of the extra work and having to find new cover art etc. It does get us in the affordable market place. I’m just worried about the covers and where they will come from. We could use my Danzig piece as a cover with some editing and then maybe one of Rick Veitch’s and Peter Money’s poetry pieces. Maybe use Mort Todd’s T-Shirt design or maybe see if we could plead with Mr. Bodé for a piece??? I have to agree with James. Tight market place, tight economy and a $40 price tag will equal no sales. Specialty markets maybe, but it will be a low sales percentage. Anyone got a rich uncle or grandparent? Where’s Kevin Eastman’s uncle when we need him???

James Kochalka: This is actually a fair argument for doing the big book as “print on demand”. Only the people who really think this is the book for them will buy it. And that’s fine, right?

Rob Walton: I will say this, going back to my experience with Ragmop: After the failure of the graphic novel, the hearsay was that I should have republished it as a run of 12 issues and then collected it. It all comes down to what you want to hold in your hands at the end of the day. There’s no right answer in publishing any more. The market was screaming for graphic novels in 2006 so I gave them one. Turns out, what they really wanted was TPB collections from Marvel and DC. Just roll the dice.

John Rovnak: At the end of the day I want to hold in my hand the same thing I’ve wanted to hold in my hand since I dreamt this silly thing up, a massive collection of my favorite things!! I will explore the multiple volume thing a bit more while I’m waiting on that final printing quote, but I think I know what the answer will be. The one thing I envision if a multiple volume package were to happen would be a handy-dandy slipcase to hold them all. But I’m getting way ahead of myself here.

Mark Martin: Just do something. If you can do it and not LOSE money, you are way ahead of the game. Stick with the book plan.

Mort Todd: I opt for the book over the segmented series. Screw being accessible to those that might buy this instead of Ultimate Spider-Man. Make it the Necronomicon of comics that many know of, few have seen (unless they got $40)!

Stephen R. Bissette: It’s not my or our money, but my philosophy these days, given the screwed market, is if I’m going to do a book, DO THE BOOK. It’s one of the reasons I did Teen Angels as the whole 400+ page monster. If it’s going to exist, at least make sure—profit, loss, or draw—it’s the book you want it to be. It may be the only shot you take or get. Have no illusions about sales. It’s a long slog promoting, even when you GET distribution in place. No one is going to promote it for you; any who do, it’s a boon and a charity, but it won’t be singularly effective, even if it’s Entertainment Weekly you score points with. It’s WORTH doing. DO it.

Craig Yoe: Well, Stephen is a smart guy, and while there’s a part of me that is cautionary in practice, I’m doing exactly what he’s doing. The market is shit, people don’t have or don’t spend money, but I’m just going to do the best damn books I know how to do and damn the torpedoes full speed ahead!!!

Steve Murphy: Putting the issue of cover price and personal disposable income aside… I don’t think one can compare Ragmop and Tyrant to this P2P book. The former are comic books, whether in periodical or bookshelf form, while P2P is overall a piece of collected journalism (and thus, in my mind, capable of being sliced up and served in smaller chunks). Another potential way to frame this can be via the question “What are your long term goals as a publisher, John?” While it would indeed be very cool to be known as the guy who published this (potential) one-hit wonder of mammoth coolness, perhaps instead chopping it up in order to become an “ongoing concern” via periodical publication would better serve your long term goals (by perhaps creating a steady cash-flow that you can build upon). Besides, the world needs a, uh, comics journal that is more unique, fun and constantly evolving than the self-serving yawn known as the Comics Journal

Stephen R. Bissette: People buy $40 books every day, especially art book and graphic novels. Teen Angels retails at $30. It’s high, but POD and having to price for Diamond Dist. discount required it; it’s 400 pages, if people balk, screw it. We can’t give away the farm begging for sales that may never come anyway—and if you do, and the sales don’t manifest at $9.99 or $14.99, you end up with just a portion of what you intended in print, and likely pulling the plug in frustration, WITHOUT the book you wanted existing, or ever existing. Just my two cents… It’s a gamble whatever you do. FYI, Taboo was a gamble, at a time when we were always broke, had two kids, and were struggling monthly to meet rent. At least, if only one issue had existed, I could know it was the best I could edit, package, and make exist, with no regrets. That had sugardaddies. Without ’em, I compromised on Tyrant, never doing a collected (told to wait until I got to the magic “six issues collectible” format), and regret it—and there IS no Tyrant book edition. Thereafter, with every experiment (POD with Green Mtn Cinema, then five volumes of Blur, then Teen Angels, the latter with the distribution I couldn’t get on the former), I made sure whatever the book, however modest or grandiose, it was the book I wanted to exist, and nothing less. It’s all a gamble. You break it up, you lose. You cut bait, you lose. You fish and lose, with the whole package, you win: you have the book you wanted to exist in existence. Just make sure you don’t gamble more than you can afford to lose, $$ wise.

John Rovnak: Going back a couple comments, I tend to agree with Mort Todd’s email, and I’d like to expand on it. “Screw being accessible” is right, to a degree. I agree with a more punk rock/DIY attitude (although this book may appear a bit more New Wave). I myself would buy this, no questions asked. It appeals to my tastes as a consumer on so many levels, and I know I can’t be alone here. Yes, times are tough. Yes, print is dying. But I spend a lot more per page for books that pale in comparison to what we’ve made here. I know I want it to be printed. The whole reason I dreamt this thing up was because posting reviews and interviews online was so unsatisfying. I couldn’t hold it, I couldn’t physically share it, it seemed cheap. Comics to me are about the printed product; the smell, the weight, the fragile spine which holds the whole damn thing together. Think of some of your favorite comics. I’ll bet there’s a treasury edition or giant-sized something on that list. Those huge publications were always the coolest. Imagine them broken down into cost effective books that matched everything else on the shelf. They wouldn’t stand out. They wouldn’t be memorable Now think of some of the price tags you’ve ignored over the years because the content and packaging made it irresistible to you and your better sense. Do you think back and regret the purchase? If the content is shit, yes. But that’s not the case here. I guess I’ve convinced myself… I believe in a big ‘expensive’ book…

Rachael M. Rollson: Alright, I need to elaborate on the “live the dream” fragment I posted before… I don’t have a lot of money either, but if I get to choose a quality treasure once in awhile then I don’t think that $40. is too much to ask – this IS quality, it is also quantity, and it is ours… I am not sure what the market is professing at this time, either, but I know that I like variety – and since I am a consumer (as well as a contributor here) I should be counted, too – and I like big books with lots of different artists and topics – I don’t always have the time to seek out new and exciting things so this is a great feature of some new and some tried and true’s. I might actually learn something and go seek out more of it (fancy that). It might be a long slow climb uphill, but then if it is what you wanted without compromise then it will stand on its own… I believe in it – make it happen.

Rob Walton: Big expensive book! Big expensive book! This fool and his money are ready to be parted! One copy sold!

John Rovnak: A perfect example, and an idea I think is comparable, is McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern. Look at the prices they fetch for an insanely varied product.

Stephen R. Bissette: Bottom line: people GIVE AWAY product online daily (myself included with the blog). The market is screwed in part because of that. Many of us pay $$ for special books we want. If we miss our window of opportunity, given the tiny print runs on many books, they are then hundreds of $$ IF you can find them at all. Case in point: Beating the Devil: The Making of the Night of the Demon by Tony Earnshaw. I missed buying it when it was new. Now, it’s $100 and up, and it’s only a year old. You want your book just read, give it away, online, or as a nominal-charge PDF. You want this to exist, publish it. Nobody is going to do it for you. Pursuing that will just delay it longer, and you’ll end up having to publish it yourself anyway, I fear.

Rob Walton: Going back to Ragmop one last time. A day doesn’t go by when I’m not proud to see that 400 page sucker on my self or to feel the heft of it in my hands. It lost money, and I can’t give it away, but I’m damn happy I did it. No regrets!

Mark Masztal: Sounds like we’re doing a big book.

Jean-Emmanuel Deluxe: …a well crafted book is needed more than ever ! So I don’t mind paying 40 bucks, if the book is worth it.

Rick Veitch: I think Murphy’s got the best take here. If your goal is to build up P2P so you aren’t forever plagued by undercapitalization issues, then offer it in as many formats and platforms as you can. Have you considered going with Image? They can do floppies, collections and digital. Their preorders on floppies will be better than if you solicit it yourself.

Mark Martin: Sell it to the Comics Journal!

Jean-Emmanuel Deluxe: You can try Fantagraphics, but also Top Shelf, Drawn & Quarterly and Image too right?

Stephen R. Bissette: I wouldn’t waste the time, but that’s your call. You’ll piss away a year or more searching for a publisher, and may still end up empty handed (speaking from experience)…

Mark Martin: No no, I meant the “conversation” here – Sell that to TCJ. Sell out, man! Go for the big bucks! Buy a yacht!

Rob Walton: It seems to me that a lot of people were willing to pay $40+ for this project on kickstarter. If those same people transfer their support to a POD edition it might go a long way to raising you sales. For that edition you don’t need EVERYONE to buy, only some. Then you print additional copies to send to targeted publishers for a potential popular edition OR a second volume. Offer them the second volume with the rights to republish the first. Two birds with one stone? Get the book out to those who demand it, and then shop it around with less pressure.

Keep Your Pants On!

Things are still moving ahead here at P2P central.  It’s getting very, very close to being wrapped up and completed.  It’s looking like the final page count will be 268 pages!  Have I mentioned that non of these pages are ads?  That’s right folks, 268 pages of full-color with NO ads.  And it’s all looking really nice, if I do say so myself.

32 of those pages are devoted to a single cartoonist.  A cartoonist who already wears a number of hats, and just recently added another to his hat rack; he was recently named Cartoonist Laureate for the state of Vermont.  That’s right, I’m talking about James Kochalka.  Panel to Panel is proud to be bringing you 32 pages of Mister Kochalka’s rock poster art, and here’s a sneak peek: