Hi, teens. After a bit of a break, The Gravy Age is proud to present a very special in interview with Shannon Gretzon from Exspastic Comics! Follow me after the jump.
Shannon was kind enough to send me a few issues of The Disgruntled Avenger as well as the monster Completely Inaccurate (over 180 pages!) to check out. What impressed me about what I read, was not only there some fascinating history woven into the work, and a lot of social commentary, but that it was done without becoming too cynical. It’s not a matter of, “screw it we’re doomed,” so much as an invitation to wake up. I apologize for me taking things off to some weird places… I’m a weird guy, apparently. Shannon has lots to say, I’m not even lying when I say this is the best interview yet, come along, learn with me. Enjoy!
The Gravy Age: What can you tell me about The Disgruntled Avenger?
Shannon Gretzen: In 1998 I got picked up by a publisher from Las Vegas. The deal fell through. (The Publisher went out-of-business.) So, I self-published the book and have been doing so ever since. Issue #105 comes out in October and will be available via drivethru comics and indyplanet.com
As far as the book itself is concerned,– It’s about a guy named Bob who has a mental breakdown and decides to become a super hero. But, Bob’s primary concerns are social ills. Mass marketing,Globalization, Public apathy, Politics, Food additives. It’s social commentary. (Maybe for the Left-Libertarian reader.) It’s closer on the bookshelf to R. Crumb’s work than it is to say… Marvel Comics. On a certain level,– Super hero comics aren’t very realistic. Some of the comedy of The Disgruntled Avenger is generated from this. I mean… How do you actually save the world?
TGA: In the second issue, there is a sudden leap to a different story than what I expected after issue #1. The notes from the Editor went from a grin on my face to a full blown laugh as they kept coming. Was this a deliberate commentary on the seemingly endless nature of serialized comics where everything supposedly matters, or was it for shits and giggles?
SG: I never sent you issue #2. (Are you talking about issue #102 or one of the others?) [Editor’s note: D’oh! 102!]
One of the challenges of having a large back catalog is making everything available. I still have a few old issues around that are available through me. But, There’s a lot of stuff that has to be scanned… digitized so it can be made available on the internet. (Back in the day… Printers were sent physical copies of the pages.) I’m working on that. Issues #2 and #3 are scanned and will be online soon. But, scanning, cleaning up old art, editing, formatting this stuff,– it’s a tedious process.
Though, I try to make the stories in The Disgruntled Avenger easily accessible. –You don’t need to read every back issue. There are plenty of easy ‘Jumping in’ points.
As far as the ‘editorial notes’ It was both. I honestly don’t think you need to read all of those back issues to understand what is going on. (In fact, I know you don’t.) But, It was fun to do that. It’s nostalgic. It’s also sort of amazing to be in a position where I can actually do something like that. The Disgruntled Avenger currently prints 4 times a year and I passed my 100th issue last year. It’s a real milestone. I also think there’s a certain art to maintaining a long running series. It’s a trick. Everybody else just reboots their comics every couple of years. –There’s something to be said about doing a comic serial that run into the hundreds of issues. It’s sort of becoming a lost art and it’s interesting and challenging to explore.
I think Publisher’s reboot because they’re not willing/don’t know how to use their serialized comics to their fullest potential. They take the easy way out.
TGA: And speaking of shits and giggles, taking dumps seems to come up fairly often. I actually find it funny that your main character can’t even sit down to excrete in peace without literally being interrupted by a corporate conglomerate at the door. Is this there world we live in now, where even the one thing we do behind closed doors is a big business, with cartoon bears or flannel clad hunks selling us a better experience when we sit down to shit?
SG: Well, There are several other projects that I’ve been working on this year and it became necessary for me to do all 4 issues of The Disgruntled Avenger that will be released this year,– at the same time… so I would have time to work on everything else. I thought It’d be funny to open up every comic with someone sitting on the toilet.
But, Yeah… It’s not just a running gag. There’s a real commentary here, too.
I don’t watch television. I have a hard time watching it. Every single commercial is for a pill with side effects that may include heart attack or death. The phone at my apartment rings off the hook with telemarketers I never want to speak with. Every website, Every company… They want your social security number. Your telephone number. Your real name. Even when you think the commercial is over and now you’re just watching the ‘show.’ –They’re still messing with you.
Did you know that all the lighting in the film ‘Top Gun‘ is Red, White or Blue? That in Austin Powers… The beer labels always face the camera so you can read them?
Some of these things are done for artistic purposes. But, a lot of it is done to sell you things. Make you think a certain way. As propaganda. –I’m no fan of propaganda. I’d like people to think for themselves.
TGA: You also touch on Corporations As People, with the CEO of PhredMart going door to door, and presenting itself as a mohawked punk girl, when it is in fact the 80 year old head of this giant company. Where did all this come from?
SG: It’s symbolic. Many Corporations that are 100+ years old (or whatever) try to rebrand themselves for a younger audience. And,– That doesn’t actually mean that their attitudes or how they think about the world changes in any respect.
We live in very weird times.
It’s been awhile since I looked the statistics up. But, Last I remember… about 75% of the economy is service sector. i.e. Fast food, Wal-Mart, Gas Stations, retail. Some studies suggest that within the next 10-20 years over 65% of our economy will be highly mechanized. That means… self-checkouts at Wal-Mart. Self-Checkouts coming to McDonalds. Google’s self-driving cars coming to bus stops and taxi services near you. Self-driving Farm equipment. Semi-trucks. Internet services like amazon replacing more retail stores. More people getting their music, TV and movies online. 3D printing, Print-on-Demand books.
They have a machine that can make nearly 400 burgers an hour.
A large chunk of Germany’s energy comes from solar and renewable.
Don’t get me wrong,– I’m not a utopianist.
But, a lot of the world’s current issues seem to be derived from this same source. Retail chains going under, a stagnant economy, overstatements by large corporations about the effects of piracy, wars about oil, arguments and lawsuits with people who do not want to use oil.
When you tell some people that it’s possible the 40 hour work week *might* disappear in the next 10-20 years… They look at you like a deer in the headlights. Same thing when you talk about entire industries and sectors of the economy just up and disappearing.
I could be totally wrong here.
But, I think a lot of other people (corporations, etc.) have sort of figured out what’s on the horizon,– and they’ve become totally vicious about it. So, Now they tax the living $#!% out of you in some states if you use solar panels. They chase everyone down like they’re a pirate. Everybody wants your phone number and real name. The telemarketers are always calling. May cause dizziness.
It’s all blow-back and maybe the death knell for some industries.
Like I said, I’m not a utopianist. But, I’m not a doom and gloomier either. These days… I think when my writing isn’t focused on out-and-out goofiness,– It tends to dwell on this sort of thing.
The current story arc certainly does.
TGA: Throughout everything, the art and the storytelling, there is an element of psychedelia, even in black and white, the textures, lend themselves very much to a vibe of “If I had some ‘shrooms and the right music, I could just stare at these swirls and crosshatches,” is there a part of you that was going for that effect? Or is that me projecting? [Ed: It’s me]
SG: Well, If you’re asking about my influences,– I’d say R. Crumb, Erik Larsen, Moebius, Jack Kirby, Jack Cole, Wally Wood, Scott McCloud.
I live in a small town and there’s not much in the way here for ‘real’ art supplies. I also tend to do things on a tight budget. So, There’s a very DIY athestitic to everything. Sharpies and 11 by 17 copy paper. Partly because of that, I’ve tried a lot of weird things over the years and have experimented a lot. It’s lead me to some rather strange techniques. Also, Time tends to be a factor. So, There’s always a process of trying to learn how to do things better and faster.
Lately I’ve been using a template. It’s 8 boxes that get printed off on an 8.5 by 11 piece of paper. Each box is about 2.5 by 4 inches. I go in with a sharpie and treat each box like it was a full comic book page. Then I scan it and blow up each box to 10 by 15 inches. (The size comic book pages are normally drawn at.) Then, print it out and do most of the finishes by hand. Scan the end result back into the computer and do the final work there.
It’s a really fast way to create comic book pages and It’s very portable. When a 24 page comic is 3 pieces of 8.5 by 11 paper,– you can really work on it anywhere.
If time’s a factor,– It always helps if you can take your work with you. It’s fun to experiment. With both the artwork and the writing. There’s a danger doing that though because it’s easy for things to go wrong. It can lead to a lot of awkward comics and storytelling. Hopefully though, The end result is at least fun and if things do blow up… They do so in an entertaining way.
TGA: Tell me a bit about Completely Inaccurate? This started as some sort of 24 hour comics project that you kept running with?
SG: Completely Inaccurate was a weekly improvisational comic I did. Every week I’d draw a few pages in a tiny notebook and finish them off in the computer. Similar to Scott McCloud’s ‘The Morning Improv. In my case,– I did this improv and If I didn’t know where to go with the story… I’d reference Joshua Norton. (Emperor of The United States of America and Protector of Mexico.) Norton was a real guy who live shortly after the Civil War. He went insane and thought he was the Emperor of the United States Of America. Thing is,– People in San Fransisco just went along with it. They treated him like he was an Emperor. He was friends with Mark Twain. There’s a religion (Discordianism) That claims him to be a patron Saint. He met Pedro II of Brazil. –Just a fascinating guy.
Eventually, I made a graphic novel out of it and it’s available on Amazon.
TGA: What is next for Exspastic Comics?
SG: The Disgruntled Avenger #105 will be released in Oct. through drivethru comics and indyplanet.com Issue #106 will be out in December and the ‘Phredmart’ storyline in general should be wrapping up by early 2015.
I’m working on a book with David Brown (of 5th Dimension Comics) called Chewler. We’re currently considering the best way to release it and may do a kickstarter for it. Stylistically/ Artistically, It’s different from The Disgruntled Avenger. The Disgruntled Avenger is maybe more 60’s underground comix… While Chewler is maybe closer to the super hero genre in general. (But, I drag my weirdness with me on whatever I do.)
I’m excited about the book. All of it is done. I think the end result ended up being very funny, epic with a lot of surprising twists and turns. –Look for that… soon.
I’m also working on a sci-fi graphic novel that’s sort of… ‘What if Jack Kirby worked for Heavy Metal Magazine in the 70’s– filtered through me.’ It’s pretty outrageous stuff and a lot of fun to work on. I’m not sure on the exact release date… But, That’ll probably be out sometime in 2015.
I have several other projects that I’m currently working on/ Shopping around. Unfortunately, I’m not in a good position to talk about any of those yet,– Needless to say… I have a lot of comics in the works.
TGA: Where can people find you?
SG: In the Northwoods of Wisconsin. I usually only come out at night.
On the internet…
I guess I could answer this question another way too,–
My comics are available at:
(for trades and graphic novels)
TGA: Any advice for people out there that want to make their own comics?
SG: Advice tends to be a tricky thing. It’s easy to confuse it with simple opinion.
Here’s a thought experiment. You get a script from the writer. It says:
Panel 1: A grizzly bear and a raccoon french kiss in the front seat of a 1978 delta 88 Oldsmobile. The hood is wide open on the car and we can see the engine inside, etc. The bear is in the driver’s seat and the raccoon is in the passenger’s seat. The bear speaks first…. The raccoon speaks second.
Well, Can you even draw a grizzly bear? Can you draw a raccoon? Can you draw 2 people french kissing? Can you draw these 2 animals french kissing? Can you draw a car? The hood’s open on the car. Where are you going to place the ‘camera?’ We need to see the hood open and the engine… plus, Be able to see the animals in the front seat kissing. The bear is in the drivers seat and he speaks first. People read left to right. That means the placement for the word balloons is going to suck. The Bear’s word balloon ‘needs’ to be on the left side of the page. –Because he speaks first. (But, the bear will likely be on the right side of the panel in the driver’s seat.) Meanwhile, the raccoon’s word balloon needs to be on the right side of the page… But, the raccoon will probably be located on the left side of the panel. (The tails on your word balloons will cross if you can’t figure this out.)
This is why you shouldn’t just sit there and draw pin-ups of your favorite super heroes. Comics are a story telling medium. Write stories and draw sequential art. People grossly, horribly underestimate the amount of work involved. Exactly just how challenging it can be at times. I’ve heard people say,- ‘Comic book artist X isn’t very good and I could draw better than that.’
Don’t listen to them. Most of them are completely full of crap. –They couldn’t draw the example I just gave. (At least,– Not well enough to be thought of as a ‘professional.’)
When you actually start working on sequential artwork,– You’re going to have to figure out how to draw EVERYTHING and draw it well. (And, If you can’t draw it… You’re going to have to learn or figure something out!) And, Every page will be like that. Draw 3 point perspective. Draw a dog. Draw buildings. Draw a guitar. And, If you really want to work professionally, Many recommend that you draw 2-3 fully completed pages of art everyday. (If you want to work on a book that prints monthly.)
If you want to make comics… You should be making comics already. There’s absolutely nothing stopping you.
It’s ridiculously easy to get your work out there on the web. If you want to see your stuff in print…
look into print-on-demand. These are companies that can print very limited quantities of books. If you literally just want one copy of your book… They will print you one copy for you. You simply have to read the instructions and send them what they need.
You can go on youtube and find dozens of artists behind the drawing board (or at the computer…) pouring out invaluable advice like there’s no tomorrow.
But,– Don’t expect to get rich anytime soon. It’s notoriously difficult to be profitable doing this.
Many thanks to Shannon for spending some time with us. If you would like to check out some very interesting stuff outside of the whole ‘tights n’ fights’ field, go check out Exspastic Comics. Thanks for reading, and keep your eyes peeled. More interviews on the way very soon, and a new podcast will be coming shortly.