December 16, 2009
MK Reed nominated herself for the Antiheroine series via email. I said, "Send me your book, we'll see." Cross Country showed up in the mail a few weeks later. It’s about Ben, a nice, kind-of-indie guy on the road with his douche-dude boss. It’s not a buddy story. The boss seems hell-bent on screwing every small town piece of trash in sight. Ben just wants to make some cash. He’s wondering what he’s doing with his life. He’s thinking about some women from his past. He’s trying to keep his mouth shut. It's great! Sly, subtle, witty, and a little sad. Dry, dry, dry. Read it with a beer.
Reed did a two-week punk rock book tour to promote it. I’m pretty obsessed with road trips, and will be promoting my own new book, cross-country and back, during the month of March. In fact, I had been planning the tour for weeks right before I read the book. It was on my brain, the road, is what I am trying to say. I did not think MK Reed and I were soul mates. (Soul mates are hard to find, and who needs them anyway when you have the internet?) But I did believe we would have something to talk about. And away we go.
I write about the road because I love the road. I love the way this country looks, and I love meeting new people, and I love how everywhere you go, people are the same, but totally different too. What fascinates you about road trips? This book makes you sound like you don't quite love it, but I know you just went on tour recently and, according to your blog, you seemed to be having a good time.
The tour was totally amazing and life changing in ways that I always fail to describe adequately when talking about it, but you summed it up pretty well. I like driving and traveling and just staring out the windows in cars, but I hate being stuck in traffic. Cross Country is more like a commute disguised as a tour, born out of a hellish road trip to Ohio that would have been completely awful except that I had good company on the road to keep me entertained.
On the tour we covered a lot of the east, from New York to North Carolina, west to Chicago and back. We planned it mainly around places we knew people to stay with, and we took a few days to bum around different areas, like Detroit, which is amazing to see how many people have left it and let it crumble, despite it's former days as a center of wealth.
Although my favorite part of the tour was when we tried to go to Dollywood in Tennessee, because it was right in between two stops, and we all secretly really wanted to go. We got there late, but our hotel had water slides and a tube river, so we geeked out on those until they shut down for the night, and then ended up getting drunk at a sports bar across the parking lot that was that was the only place to eat after ten. Then we rolled down a hill at four in the morning wasted, and had to book it to Louisville the next morning, hung over, but were only five minutes late to the show.
My favorite part to travel through might be the Northwest, but I haven't seen much besides Portland the past few years. When we were kids, my mom took my brother and me through Oregon and Washington, through all the parks, and it's the prettiest area I've been through.
This past year, combined all together, I've traveled for about two months to various comic shows and trips. The tour was only two and a half weeks of that, but it was really liberating to get out of the city after spending the summer cooped up in my studio trying to finish the book.
You wrote Cross Country from a male perspective, which I found admirable. Writing from a male perspective is hard! I can only do it successfully every so often. Were there any challenges with that?
I'd written two other comics about teenaged girls before then, and I wanted to do something totally different. I hang out with enough dudes and enough women who are as far from girly as you can get, so it's not as hard for me. I have two male friends who see a lot of my scripts before I start drawing, so they correct anything that's not true to male behavior, and my brother was in a frat in college, so I consulted him on a few things.
Now you're working on a book (Americus, forthcoming from First Second) about conservative Christians banning books. What have you got against conservative Christians? Is there any connection to them in your life or do you just read the newspapers like the rest of us?
Argh, those guys. Fortunately I haven't had to deal with them too much in the real world. Mostly I read a lot of book-industry news where the library stories come up a lot. A creepy number of them are these really awful homophobia cases where people seem to think that the books are going to turn their kids gay, which is completely ridiculous. In defense of the Satanist Harry Potter series, most of the people I know who read them have their hate way more in check than the conservatives do.
You’ve done some reporting for Publisher's Weekly, covering the Swedish Small Press Expo. I was in Sweden once, in the 90s. Everyone was gorgeous there. I remember the drinks were really expensive, but that also I bought some sort of marshmallow-y treat from a vendor, then dropped it on the ground, and the vendor just handed me another one immediately. So my impression of Sweden is that everything is either extremely expensive or totally free.
I think living in New York has warped my perspective on what's expensive. But yes, everyone is gorgeous, and free health care!
When I went it was April, and they'd just started to have like fourteen hours of sunlight a day, so everyone at the show was really excited about comics and really happy to be out in the warmer weather. They made it sound like February and March were the official suicide months of Sweden, where if the people from the north come down to Stockholm, they can only grunt answers into their beer.
It was a lot like American indie shows like MoCCA, in that there's a bunch of manga kids around, and then a group of really weird art comics that are draw from this Ingmar Bergman-esque undercurrent there. Jeffrey Brown was there, and he was like, the king of all comics. But they're turning out all this stuff now that's like Moomin on acid.
You live and work with a lot of other comics folks, including Liz Baille, with whom you share a studio. Is it fair to say you're pretty obsessed with comics?
They just seem to have taken over my life somehow. Other comics people understand how your mind works, and that you have to leave your normal job or whatever and go home and draw stories instead of going out drinking. Or, if you're going out drinking, you might also have to be productive at the same time.
What got me into this situation was, one of my best friends asked me to move in to this really tiny closet room because he got dumped and was really lonely. I was looking for any place to move into. He drew comics, and one of our other roommates also drew comics and had a girlfriend who went to SVA, and then the third guy living here moved in with his girlfriend so we replaced him with another SVA girl who had just graduated. And I was working at Forbidden Planet for a year, and yes, my whole life pretty much became comics. I do know some normal people, but I know a disproportionate number of cartoonists.
A few years back, I was going for my MFA in writing at the New School, and working this terrible bank teller job in Jersey, and at the end of the semester, I was like, "Fuck this, I really just want to draw comics." So I dropped out of school, and then a few months later I quit the job, and just stayed unemployed for a while and wrote.
So your advice to other cartoonists is to just say, "Fuck this, I just really want to draw comics."
Yeah, but also make sure you're improving your writing and art. You can always be better.
We have now arrived at the Largehearted Boy Mini-Music Questionnaire portion of the interview. Do not be afraid.
What was your first rock show?
My mom took me with her to see Billy Joel when I was ten, if that counts as rock
What was the best performance you've ever seen?
A free David Byrne show in Prospect Park this summer.
What albums do you listen to while you work?
I have to listen to podcasts/audiobooks usually or I get too distracted by music. A lot of NPR. Sometimes surf rock is okay if there aren't any words.
What music did you listen to when you were growing up?
Buddy Holly, oldies, and then some embarrassing teenaged stuff, until I got into punk.
Did you ever date anyone in a band?
Yes, but he got kicked out, I think for being on heroin.
And, if you count jerking off, I'm in a band with Liz Baillie, when we actually have time for it.
MK Reed links:
also at Largehearted Boy: