When I first interviewed Frank Santoro back in the winter of 2007, I was pretty excited about chatting with him, but a little nervous, since my understanding of the world that he was making my comics, was still lacking. I am a lot more comfortable with my knowledge of the Picturebox/post Fort Thunder scene now. At this point, the interviews that we were doing, were mostly one off conversations, that would be an introduction to the guest. Since then, I have had Frank on the show a number of times, and did a fascinating, if not maddening panel with him at TCAF in 2009.
Frank Santoro is one half of Cold Heat, his collaborative project with Paper Rad maestro, Ben Jones that has seem to have gone to spawn more spin off projects than the original series itself. I have a feeling it is still going to be a while yet until the series is finished, but is now a nucleus surrounded by some of my favorite creators chipping into its universe. Storeyville had just come out when we did this chat, so is a central element to the conversation. Future conversations that I have done with Frank seem to go off into wildly different directions. Frank’s writing for ComicsComics, is filled a kind of enthusiasm that seems to get folks super excited for comic making.
Many thanks to Squally Showers for transcribing!
Robin McConnell: Inkstuds, the radio show about comics, broadcasted out of CITR 101.9 FM. It is a gross, gross Thursday afternoon. The roads are covered in just like guk. It’s just like, I don’t know.
Colin Upton: It’s disgusting out there.
RM: It’s just filthy.
CU: It’s weird when the snow comes down but it melts on contact with the ground.
RM: Today our guest is Frank Santoro. His latest book is Storeyville as well as a bunch of other things. I’m going to bring Frank on. We got you there, Frank?
Frank Santoro: Hello, is that you, Robin?
RM: Yes indeed. I should have mentioned, I am joined by my good friend Colin Upton.
FS: Hello, Colin!
RM: Your latest book Storeyville is not your latest book. It’s one of your oldest books, I guess.
FS: It is. It’s really my first book. But I want to mention, it’s raining gross here in the rust belt of Pennsylvania.
RM: Colin was asking where you’re from and that’s what I thought …
FS: I’m from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. But I haven’t lived here in about 17 years. I visit or something, for summers or so, but I haven’t lived here since I graduated high school. So it’s pretty nice to be back.
RM: You’re mainly a New Yorker guy.
FS: I was actually in the Bay Area for ten years.
RM: Oh, okay.
FS: So I understand the rainy, wintery, the life that—I’ve never been to Vancouver but I can imagine …
RM: It’s pretty mild up here. We see snow and then we see it go. It comes down for a minute and then it’s gone. Maybe let’s start with a little biographical information about who Frank Santoro is and what got you into comics, because Storeyville, really ahead of its time as far as like what you’re doing with the comics. I guess, it’s from the same blood of some of the stuff that Mazzucchelli was doing and things.
FS: Mazzucchelli was a big deal for me because I was at the right age. I had a chance to speak with him about this and he said “You were the perfect age to follow me from Daredevil to Rubber Blanket”.
FS: Which I was, it was perfect. I was 18 when Rubber Blankets came out. So it was great. But definitely, there was a lot of stuff. There still is a really great comic book store in Pittsburgh that’s run by a gentleman named Bill Boichel. I always read comics when I was a kid, and I had a great collection. There was a great store here. But then when this other store moved into town near my neighborhood, he just had the greatest comics sense. His store was actually named after a Gilbert Hernandez story called “BEM.” [Laughter] So I mean, it was Love & Rockets posters were on the wall. So when I was 15, I was exposed to all this great stuff. He had long boxes that were just like “the Steranko Section,” “the Jeffrey Jones section” It was a crazy, there were couches! You could just hang out. You didn’t have to buy anything. It was the first place I saw Videodrome. Like all kinds of crazy movies. He would play movies. But it was a great store, so I had an interesting chance to get a different take on comics when I was a certain age.
RM: From what I can gather from your writing, you grew up as a superhero boy.
FS: Totally! Yeah. I mean I read everything. I read Spider-Man. I really loved all the … the Miller Daredevils were coming out when I was a kid. My grandfather had a corner store. It was a grocery slash magazine place where you got your lottery tickets, and stuff like that. My job after school was to wait on kids buying candy and comics. So I got to have whatever comics I wanted. There was Mike Zeck’s Captain America when I was a kid, and I read all that stuff and John Byrne’s Fantastic Four, whatever it was. When it moved into Dark Knight, I was again the perfect age. I was like 14 when Dark Knight and Watchmen came out, so I read all of that. Then my tastes changed and there was this comics renaissance that I was growing up in. It was really exciting, actually.
RM: Many good things have changed from the old days of cheesy fromage of comics. But then it’s gone back to that recently. But I digress.
FS: Sure. So all that stuff was in the air. It was like breathing. That’s why I still try to either write about or think about now is what I’m doing, or what is going on in alternative or avant-garde comics, and what’s really happening in the mainstream of comics and stuff. Because it seemed back then we read everything. It wasn’t as “I read this but I didn’t read that.”
RM: Well, there wasn’t as wide a selection as what we’re dealing with nowadays.
CU: Were you aware of things like the Comics Journal?
FS: For sure! I read the Journal. Everything. I was aware of the Journal. Dan Clowes came to town early on when Eightball first came out. The Hernandez Brothers came to town in ‘91. My friend brought them to do a con here. It was really great, so … We didn’t think we were special or something, it was just that’s what it was. I was totally aware of all that.
CU: I remember being one of these people who read the Comics Journal and that built up this feeling of comic geek elitism.
FS: Right! Well, the best is when Storeyville got reviewed by the Journal, my friends who don’t read a lot of Fantagraphics stuff said, “Now you know you suck because the Journal reviewed you, haha.” [Laughter]
RM: What did you have in mind when you first did it?
FS: Storeyville really had been this like.., I had been doing these crime comics.
RM: These were the Sirk?
FS: The Sirk zines and then I was doing these minicomics. This was the Bay Area. I was living in San Francisco. I dropped out of art school and I was living in San Francisco in the early ‘90s. ’91, and ’92. Something that was a huge influence on me was Cometbus. Cometbus was a zine by a guy named Aaron. It was a Bay Area thing. Everybody read Cometbus! It was like the Internet for the Bay Area or something. It was a really great political zine, music zine, writing. He was able to do everything. So I saw these different zines and I was interested in—that was what I wanted to make, instead of paintings or sculptures in art school. I chose to make zines as that was what I wanted to do. There were no color zines. Things came together and I was making these crime comics. Then that turned into this idea of trying to do more narrative stuff then maybe what I’d started doing. I got really into Ben Katchor and I got really into Captain Easy and Roy Crane and all that stuff came together. I was really young. I was 21, 22. I was trying to figure out how I wanted to tell stories or write a story.
RM: What was your interest in being so anonymous with it? Because in the hardcover it mentions how you went by the moniker Sirk.
FS: It was really a couple of things. Like Bill Boichel, again, at BEM, the comic store where I hung out, he made these zines himself on the Xerox machine. He didn’t sign them. It was a BEM publication. They were these crazy abstract comics. He never signed them. He had these different voices and every one was a different title. That’s what I did with the Sirk thing. Every one was a different title. I wanted to be able to switch styles in-between magazines and not be pinned down to one thing. That was compounded with, like, I would go into Comic Relief in San Francisco to sell my zines and feel really nervous. I didn’t want to get rejected. So I would be like, “I work for Sirk Productions. Do you want to buy some zines? Yeah, it’s this guy …” and I would make up a story or something. It was this desire to be in the background and let the work speak and watch people’s reaction. I could see people react. “I love this stuff!” Or something. It felt like an easier way of getting out there and testing the waters. It worked. Then the same with Storeyville. I was just a kid. I was putting it out myself. I didn’t want to be beating my chest. I wanted it to be about the work, as corny as it sounds. That’s what I wanted. I wasn’t actually even going to put a return address on it, to be honest. There was a lot of that with Bobby Madness. You can call him a punk cartoonist. Bobby Madness, Aaron Cometbus. There were a lot of zines and papers in the Bay Area that were never signed. You didn’t know who did them, even though you knew who did them.
RM: If you knew, you knew! I’m going to talk about Sirk a little more, because I’m looking at these great covers. How did you print them?
FS: There was a regular Xerox machine that was introduced in the early ‘90s that you could take out the toner cartridge of black and put in a red cartridge or a green or a blue or a brown. There were stores in San Francisco that had them. I found out about them through a friend. Then I realized I could make stuff like this like a silkscreen or an offset. I could make them on Xerox. It was a lot less pretentious than a silkscreened comic! I liked the feel of it better.
RM: That’s what I was wondering, because it looks to me, looking at it. It looks like silkscreen.
It’s not. It’s on regular typing paper. It’s like a zine, but in two colors or three colors.
RM: You do one copy and then go to the other machine and do the other layers.
FS: Yeah. I would do an edition of like 200 or something, as many as I could. A lot of times, I was literally walking out of the copy store with them. I was doing my best to figure out how I could afford doing it. Trying to get by and put stuff out and then sell it at Comic Relief or something. But that was expensive. Even if I was able to get away with the two copies, then that was how—actually, I was working for, do you know the poster artist Frank Kozik, who did a lot of rock ‘n’ roll posters and stuff in the ‘90s and covers for bands? I was working for him. He was a silkscreen artist and he had a studio right beneath Last Gasp in Central East, San Francisco, and I was working for him and we started talking about different ways of printing stuff and he suggested the newsprint idea. That was sort of in the air, back then, just do a newspaper. There was this one that Mats Stromberg put out called Filth, that’s mentioned in Storeyville. There was a free paper called … I can’t remember. No, Filth was the free paper and Mats’ book was San Fransicko, which was awesome.
RM: All this stuff I missed by living in Vancouver.
RM: I’m out of this international loop! So Storeyville, this is your first shot at doing a really narrative story then?
FS: Aside from some other small minicomics or something, it was my first extended story.
RM: My big question after reading it is it’s the story of the guy going from Pittsburgh up to Montreal to find this other guy. Why go through Winnipeg?
FS: Actually, when I read about the train lines back then, there was no direct train that went up the East Coast. I wanted to be historically accurate. He had to go west.
RM: Oh, okay. I was wondering.
FS: There was a problem with the train line and especially for vagrants, it wasn’t possible from what I had read. I don’t know. I found this book by a former tramp and that was part of his diary and stuff. He was able to discern this stuff through these little hobo signs that were left on train doors and things like that. So he had to go to Winnipeg. Which I spelled wrong in the book. I’m so disappointed. The printer that printed Cold Heat in Winnipeg noticed it and said, “You spelled Winnipeg wrong!” [Laughter]
CU: Did you do a lot of research into hobo culture?
FS: I did actually. There was a great book called Really the Blues by Mezz Mezzrow. He was Louis Armstrong’s best friend back in the ‘20s and ‘30s. He was from Chicago. There was a lot of this stuff where jazz musicians were out of work in the Depression. They ended up riding the rails between Chicago and Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh had a big jazz scene. Just that kind of stuff. That stuff was there. Then the Wobblies. I was interested in that culture, but especially, I got this book of hobo hieroglyphics. I read this book by, he was the “nice” hobo or something. He wasn’t like a criminal or something. There were some other things I had read that were along the lines of a criminal gone straight and telling his story and a lot of crime magazines focused on stories like that. Really, Storeyville it is naively written as Chris Ware points out in the introduction. It was just a hook. It was a way of getting the reader into the story and telling the story about two characters. I didn’t set out to do a crime story when I wanted to do it. I was watching a lot of film noir. There were a lot of great movie theaters in San Francisco. I was able to … it was a way of using the story and halfway through, right at the middle point where the character Rudy is introduced, it splits. It’s a different point of view. It’s a different story. I wanted to switch it over into the humanistic side of it or something.
CU: You must have done a lot of visual research for the referencing.
FS: I did for Montreal. For Pittsburgh, that’s what it looks like. I drew it from life and from memory. For the stuff in the Midwest, I can fake that. For Montreal, there was a book of early photographs and stuff of the docks. So I wanted to be accurate but I would always draw from the photograph and then I would put the book of photographs away and then draw from my drawings. I always wanted to maintain a distance from photo referencing. I really despise photo referencing in comics.
CU: Did you use marker?
FS: Sometimes, on my separation, like the colors that are built in Cold Heat. In Storeyville there are a lot of markers and things, but the whole black line was half-toned, so there would be a grey overprinting yellow and between the three colors that were in Storeyville, there are probably 18 colors I can get through different tonalities.
RM: Your art school days, what focus did you have when you were there?
FS: I went to an arts high school and then I got a scholarship to a really conceptual school in San Francisco. It wasn’t my cup of tea after a while. I felt that it was more interesting to make comics as an artist’s statement than it was to do painting and sculpture and video and things, which is what I had been doing through high school and the first year of college before I dropped it. I liked it. At the same time I was going to school in San Francisco, there was Barry McGee. He was around and knew a lot a graffiti guys. There was a lot of different vibe in the Bay Area about what was art and what’s flowering now in terms of Paper Rad and this alternative arts scene within the art scene, that was happening a lot in the Bay Area then. You could feel it. So it felt like painting or sculpture or video was old hat in a way. Comics felt fresh. I don’t know if you guys remember, but zines, it seemed really natural in the early ‘90s to be doing that. It was this intersection of things, at least in the Bay Area.
RM: Colin’s right from that school of …
CU: Yeah, I had a very similar experience in Vancouver.
FS: Oh, that’s cool. I wanted to ask you guys, because some of the stuff that I really like in Canadian comics is like, wait, I have one here. Regal Beast and Michael, how do you pronounce his name?
RM: Michel Rabagliati?
FS: No. Michael Comeau.
RM: Probably a Montreal person. I’m not sure.
FS: Oh maybe. I don’t know. I met a few guys at TCAF that were … like Peter Thompson I met at TCAF finally. I was able to get a few things from there that were like the same things in terms of the zines I knew in the early 90’s.
It seems like that’s flowering now again, and it’s pretty nice to see.
CU: The zine scene in Canada was very regional, so people that were doing zines in Toronto or Montreal might not be familiar with what was going on in Vancouver and vice versa.
FS: I see, yeah. Well, talking to Marc Bell was interesting, because he was telling Mark Connery stories, who I got to meet in Toronto. That was really interesting. We don’t have that scene in the States it seems. It was nice to see. It was a different kind of parallel universe that I wasn’t aware of. The regional aspect of it seems pretty interesting.
RM: I’d say in Vancouver you’ll find more crossover with Seattle than the rest of Canada. Especially like the proximity. Seattle is like, a three hour drive?
FS: Yeah, because it’s something we talk about in the Bay Area. People in the Bay Area at the time, they know exactly what I’m talking about. But then for … if you missed it, you missed it. It was before the internet, really. These were just the things that we traded and were around.
CU: So much of it depended on the mail. If you weren’t actually living in the city.
RM: The Factsheet Five days, Colin?
CU: Factsheet Five. Comics F-X.
FS: Is Marc living in Vancouver still?
RM: On and off …
RM: He is …(Marc has since moved away, but Vancouver misses him)
FS: I saw him in San Diego. Talk about a talented mofo!
RM: Oh, I know! And who in the most recent Comics Comics mag, where you have your wonderful article about Kevin Nowlan’s coloring work has a nice big old huge huge Marc Bell piece.
FS: It’s very nice.
RM: It’s very nice.
FS: The great thing about Marc is he can do that first take and it’s done and it’s beautiful.
RM: I know. You watch him do it and he just draws away.
FS: We would take requests for him at San Diego because people would come up to the table. He would get sick of waiting around and nobody would come up to the table and get a sketch when he had a signing. So he’d go have a smoke break. We would have to take orders. Like “Oh wait, give us your cell number. He’ll call you when he …” [Laughter.] But it worked! He did a couple of sketches. It was funny. San Diego is such a madhouse. Mark soldiered through it. It was awesome.
RM: I couldn’t imagine going down to it.
FS: Have you ever been?
FS: Oh man, I hadn’t been since like ‘98. I went this year with PictureBox and it was insane. It was so over the top insane. There was a life-sized Jabba the Hutt.
FS: Yeah, exactly. But it was just insane. It’s such a spectacle.
CU: I stopped going to San Diego sometime in the late ‘90s but I would go to APE instead.
FS: Yeah, I miss APE, actually. Because it was always just down the street.
RM: Your latest book Cold Heat, four issues out and you guys stopped putting out the separate issues in favor of an eventual collected edition, I guess.
RM: Bummer! “I went and bought these comics and now I’ve got to go and buy it again?”
FS: I know! Thank you to all the subscribers and everybody who bought the issues. Thank you. Thank you! I’ll make it up to you with the rest of the material. I’m bummed out about it. There was just an economic—there was nothing we could do about it. The budget we had for it … Dan, really, he tried so hard and we tried so hard and we were getting great reviews and stuff, but the numbers—Diamond Distribution is just the devil!
CU: They’re not making it easier for the smaller publishers, are they?
FS: No! There’s a cutoff now. It’s like if you don’t sell 600 copies an issue, you’re done, it’s over. People say “So what? Diamond this, Diamond that.” It’s not “so what.” It’s the only way to get into comic stores and there’s a lot of people who, if you got into the comics stores, they’d check it out. So it’s like, I mean, yk …
RM: Oh, I completely agree. We’ve got two good comics stores in Vancouver. One of them only gets stuff from Diamond. But this other one mainly gets its stuff from Last Gasp and distributors like that, which makes me happy and actually directly orders from PictureBox, too. Lucky’s.
FS: It’s great. It’s changing, but it’s still, you know …
RM: Yeah, most of the comic stores will deal with Diamond, because it’s easy.
FS: And who can blame them? I mean, you can’t really blame them. But then it’s just murder for the small publishers, it’s murder. When I did Storeyville, I sold a thousand copies without even trying! There were three distributors back then. There was Capital, I think Bud Plant, Diamond … it doesn’t matter. It was really easy to make alternative comics up until about ’98 and then it was over, and it’s just gotten worse, so …
CU: I found my copy of Storeyville in a comic shop, the newspaper one.
FS: Yeah, great. It’s exciting when I hear that people like actually did have it back in the day. It makes me really happy.
RM: Yeah, Colin’s got his here right in front of him.
RM: He’s always got to show off in front of me.
CU: I’ve just been around longer, that’s all.
Robin: We interviewed Pete Bagge and he brought in his copies of Comical Funnies.
RM:I actually did manage to get one of those, though, so I’m happy. So Cold Heat. Drawn by you, written by Ben Jones.
FS: Of Paper Rad.
RM: Of Paper Rad fame, I was going to say. What did you have in mind? What was the nucleus of “Let’s make Cold Heat?”
FS: I think for Ben it was just an old thing that was kicking around and for me it was some old images that had been kicking around. I don’t know. We had some really casual conversations about it, really just emails and stuff. We had hung out at SPX 2005 that year and Dan and I had been talking about maybe doing like something where Ben would write stuff for other people. Ben and I were kicking some ideas around but it wasn’t anything very solid. When Dan and I suggested these other people that maybe Ben would write stuff for, Ben said, “Nah!” He said to me, “Frank, let’s just you and I do something.” I said, “Cool! Alright, sounds great.” We kicked around a few ideas, but it was really, Ben just delivered the first issue after this vague concept that he’d developed and Ben just hammered it out. It was crazy. Within a month of talking about it, we were on the schedule. It started to happen. Then we put it out and then it was happening. I remember when we got the first issue back from the printer, Dan put his head back and laughed and said, “It’s the most retarded thing I’ve ever seen!” [Laughter] It really was that. It worked! Holy shit, it worked! Oh sorry …
RM: Ah, we’re in Canada. It’s ok.
FS: Okay, great! Yay! But it was like, “It worked! Oh my god, I can’t believe it.” So we just ran with it! Ben laughed. The message from Ben when he got the first issue was so encouraging. We knew what we could do, but we didn’t know if we could pull it off. Then each issue was just pulling it off.
RM: What is it you’re trying to pull off on us?
FS: Just this like take on, I mean not like … Everybody’s like, “It’s this take on a genre or something.” I don’t know if that’s what it is. For us it’s realer. I mean this is America. I mean, the crap that we had to sift through as kids, it’s atrocious. It’s part of me, it’s part of us. I feel like I’m just getting through all my influences and everything. I think Ben is too. We’re getting rid of this stuff inside us.
RM: Well, that’s something with Paper Rad. It’s very much obvious that they’re going through the whole milieu of ‘80s retard chic.
FS: Totally! But it’s real! And that’s what people don’t get. The copycats don’t get how real it is and how much it connects to people. It’s just weird. They’re just tapping into this larger consciousness and as corny as that sounds, it’s true. People flip out over Paper Rad who don’t read comics, who like come up to the table at Picturebox and are bananas over Paper Rad. It does something! It just goes over these boundaries. Whether you like it or not, whether it’s your cup of tea or not, it’s a formidable force.
RM: Is Cold Heat like you and Ben taking like ‘90s culture and compressing it and putting it through a machine?
FS: I wish it was that clear. It’s not. I’m going through all my influences and I’m trying to do something that scares me. Cold Heat is funny but it’s scary. I don’t want to say that it’s like Twin Peaks or David Lynchian or something but sometimes the best things that are terrifying, that are scary, are a little funny, too. For me, it’s all that stuff. It’s not campy. It’s a sincere statement. People used to make fun of me about that for Storeyville, too. It was too sincere. I think our take on this Cold Heat thing, whatever it is, Ben’s humor is sincere, but it takes the edge off of either what we’re referencing or what we’re trying to do. I think it makes it new. I can’t explain it. For me, it works. It feels very contemporary. It’s like Storeyville is cool, but it’s this old timey thing. It’s really fun to be doing something that’s of today and is happening now and feels right for now.
RM: And you feel like there’s a seed of something that’s left over that needs to be regurgitated? I don’t know if that’s the right terminology.
FS: Maybe. Yeah! Maybe, I don’t know. I hope people like it, but we’re not trying to really please people. We’re trying to do our thing. If you like it, great. If you don’t, that’s okay.
RM: I’m going to be honest. It’s a comic that there’s like a dialectical thing with it. You either love it or you look at it and go, “What the fuck?”
FS: Sure, yeah. I mean, there’s plenty of people who have been straight up with me, like “It’s not my cup of, I don’t really like …” I’m like, that’s cool, that’s cool.
RM: But I guess that’s something you guys are going for, doing a story that you want to be honest with?
FS: Yeah. I mean, it‘s just fun. It’s fun. Comics to me can be fun and should not have to be fun, but it’s like there’s so much of comics that’s not superheroes or whatever, but it’s this kind of vibe and I want to do that. Part of my repertoire, I want to be able to do that. I don’t necessarily want to be the guy who does Storeyville and everything I do is about freight cars and hobos and shit. Oh, sorry!
RM: It’s okay, I already swore, too. Now the artwork, a lot of influence, I guess Tezuka was a big influence for the lot of the faces in it.
FS: Yeah, totally. But unconsciously. Really from absorbing, distilling Tezuka through cartoons, Speed Racer and whatever. Those Tezuka books that are out now, weren’t out when I started doing Cold Heat. I remember when I did the first issue of Cold Heat and I showed it to Dan, he said, “Oh my God! Tezuka! Look at that!” I laughed and I thought, “I guess, you’re right.” But it wasn’t, it was so unconscious.
RM: Is that something that you developed in later issues? Because the faces develop I think a little more as it goes along …
FS: Yeah, I wish I could…I’m just not capable. I’m not like a cartoonist, I’m not capable of doing it the same thing each time. I could, but it seems boring.
CU: Actually, what came to my mind, looking at it, was Frank Stack.
Right on. That’s cool! I’m trying to take everything. It’s like if there’s something that’s in there that people like or see, I encourage that. I’m happy letting it come up or go down in terms of focus and clarity and detail. I wanted to be able to change pace. In Storeyville, there’s certain sections where I let it go because I want to speed you up as a reader and slow you down with the detail. It’s really conscious, but I’m trying to make it look offhand-ish. Some people love it, some people hate it.
CU: I’m intrigued by Chocolate Gun. It’s a noise band?
FS: Yeah, it’s a noise band.
CU: That all the kids are into?
FS: Yeah. It’s a noise band that’s like Castle’s favorite band. But it’s everybody’s favorite band, so whether you’re a jock or a Goth or whatever, everybody loves Chocolate Gun. The references are obviously there to certain bands or whatever. It’s like a noise band, but that’s the beauty of comics or whatever—you never get to hear it. The Wipers references are my way of referencing Cobain because Cobain covered it, the Melvins covered it. A bunch of people covered that song. That’s a great Pacific Northwest song.
CU: Are you a fan of noise yourself? Noise …
FS: For the most part, yeah. I don’t live in Providence or anything, but Lightning Bolt is definitely one of the greatest bands I’ve ever seen. So is Kites. I love it. But that was Ben’s … I remember when Ben said, “Oh, a noise band.” I just laughed. It felt so today.
RM: I’m a fan of noise.
FS: Right on.
RM: My first concert was the Melvins.
FS: Nice! The Melvins lived in San Francisco in the early ‘90s and they worked in Round Table Pizza on Geary and I bought t-shirts off them. [Laughter]
CU: That’s not noise.
RM: You haven’t listened to the Melvins then.
CU: I’ve heard some.
RM: I remember the last time I saw them, “Parts of this show you’re all going to love and parts of the show you’re all going to hate.” So they did two sets. The first half was poppy whatever and the second half started with white noise and this guy …
FS: Have you seen them with the two drummers?
FS: Oh my God! I’ve heard it’s amazing.
RM: Well the one drummer by himself is pretty damn good, so …
FS: Yeah, Dale is incredible. Yeah, so I don’t know. Pittsburgh has a … Don Caballero is from here. I went to high school with the drummer from Don Caballero. He’s a pretty great guy and Ian is in Battles now. I’m aware of all that stuff that’s going on. When he made up Chocolate Gun it was like I think he was referencing Cobain on one hand, Providence on another hand, but Pittsburgh at the same time.
RM: Our guest last week was Brian Ralph, so …
FS: Yeah! It was a great interview, He’s amazing. They’ve known about it, but the kids that he teaches are the most amazing kids you’ve ever seen. The Closed Caption Crew. They showed up at SPX and just ruled it. It was incredible. Those kids are great.
RM: I’ve only been to SPX once. Not the most recent one, but I went last year and I’m hoping …
FS: Did you like it?
RM: I loved it! I probably spent like $600. [Laughter] It didn’t help buying the box of Ivan Brunetti artwork.
CU: I was there in 1998.
FS: Nice! Old school! It’s great. It’s nice because it’s the same people you see at every other convention but there’s a different vibe to it. TCAF is really great. I don’t know if you guys ever get a chance to check it out.
RM: The Toronto Comic Art Festival.
FS: Yeah, I’m sorry. I’ve never been to it before, but it’s just remarkable. I really must say, it’s remarkable.
RM: It looked great, like they had just everyone there. A whole panel with Joe Matt, Seth and Chester …
FS: It was fantastic! The vibe was really nice, too. I think for everybody that did the show who was at San Diego, which was right before it, it was the perfect antidote. I think Darwyn Cooke’s walking around. It’s just funny.
RMNow, we’re getting close to the end of our—well, not close. We got ten minutes, about 10-15 minutes left. So I wanted to jump into your writing for Comics Comics mag and Comics Comics blog, or ComicsComicsMag.com, which you can also check out at PictureBox, is it PictureBox.com or …
RM: You’re kind of exploring your early tastes with what you’re writing about.
FS: Yeah, I think so. In the last Comics Comics issue I wrote about Ronin by Frank Miller. That was a great comic. It was a seminal comic for a lot of reasons, for the direct market and everything. Kevin Nowlan, the artist, I talked to him about color and things and I wrote about that in Comics Comics 2. I think a lot of alternative cartoonists dismiss a lot of older, mainstream stuff. I think for the most part, history begins for them with Chester Brown or the early ‘90s or something. People aren’t looking at the late ‘80s and what became the ‘90s. I think a lot of the stuff that really still influences me is stuff from that time. I find myself rereading Elektra Assassin or something like that and thinking it’s great.
RM: Mm. It’s a little maddening.
FS: I just want to share that, because I don’t think it’s pretentious or weird or anything. I just want to share that, my enthusiasm for those projects.
RM: Well, I got to be honest, I love seeing an article about Kevin Nowlan because to me my roots are, I’ll be honest, they’re superhero. I got my superhero comics. Kevin Nowlan is one of those guys who stands out because it’s such a different style comparatively with everything else, but at the same time, he’s deep in the middle of the superhero genre. What was it to you that made you want to focus on doing an article about his coloring?
FS: One of my favorite comics of all time is The Outsiders Annual No. 1. I know that sounds ridiculous, but it’s a Batman comic, Outsiders Annual No. 1. There was a new coloring process that had happened in the ‘80s. He was really the first person to master it. He just nailed this comic in terms of the color. It was all hand separations. We spoke about it and I wrote this article. I felt like these things are overlooked in comics history. Everything’s the same for a hundred years and then it changes, whether it’s Photoshop or whatever. Then there’s people around who don’t even remember the stories anymore of the ways we used to color. They talk about it, but they forget. I wanted to write about that and explore it, because that’s what I’m dealing with right now. I learned the hard way that printers don’t want camera-ready originals anymore. They want .pdfs. I was doing that up until 2005. You can give the printers your originals and now they want you to give them .pdfs. It’s over. A certain way things are colored is over.
RM: That’s how you color Cold Heat, though, isn’t it? You do the layouts twice …
FS: If you look on the ColdHeatcomics.com website, there’s a little film where you can see the way Cold Heat is made. It’s like I draw everything on cheap Kinkos 11×17 paper and I just have, there’s about eight separations per page. It’s pretty crazy!
RM: It’s a little labor intensive.
FS: Yeah. Jon Vermilyea, who’s a fantastic cartoonist who works for PictureBox doing a lot of production stuff is the guy putting it together. He’s always cursing me under his breath. But it looks great. John does this fantastic job of getting it all right. Because it still has to be files for the printer.
RM: When can we expect to see the ending of Cold Heat?
FS: This summer. It just needs to get to the printer by a certain date. We’re finishing, putting the last touches on it and everything. Should be the summer of this year. I’m pretty excited. I’m nervous because there’s something about the pamphlets, it’s cool it gets out there. But the graphic novel, it’s a commitment. It’s like I liked issue 4! I didn’t like the other issues, but issue 4 was good. But with the graphic novel, it’s got to be really good for people to shell out 20 bucks or whatever.
RM: What else do you have coming out?
FS: I‘m really just focusing on Cold Heat right now. I have this idea about these other projects and maybe doing these parallel universe Cold Heat things for different artists with their take on Cold Heat. But not just doing a pin-up. Like people who are actually really interested in collaborating. Jon Vermilyea did a fantastic Cold Heat special. It’s great. A friend of mine, Chris Cornwell, did one that’s really awesome. The idea that instead of doing pin-ups, everybody does a pin-up or something in the back. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted them to riff on Cold Heat and maybe bring in like … I think it’s an idea. Ben loved it. We talked about it but then it was something that just I did with Jon on my own. Ben loved it so much that we might do some other things.
RM: You wrote that one?
FS: I wrote that one, and I laid it out. But really it was just like I bookended it with layouts and then I told Jon to go nuts and do his thing. It’s all Jon. He’s fantastic.
RM: I look forward to seeing it!
RM: And we’ll see more articles at ComicsComicsmag.com.
FS: Yeah, it’s great. It’s fun. It’s great to get response on that. It’s fun to engage the comics audience with something different than just the work.
RM: Yeah, oh totally. One of the articles I liked, you wrote the one about the Studio book.
FS: Oh right. You liked that? That’s cool!
RM: I love that stuff. You look back and yeah, it’s a little cheesy, you know, a little bit of the Dungeons & Dragons-esque warriors and stuff.
FS: But it still has this place in your heart.
RM: Oh yeah.
FS: Yeah, totally!
RM: I have this wonderful crappy old issue of Wonder Woman with this Jeff Jones cover.
FS: Oh yeah, man! That’s awesome? I love that!
RM: You know the one I’m talking about where she’s chained to the wall?
FS: I know exactly what you’re talking about! That’s the funniest thing is Dan and Tim just sort of, we all make fun of each other, the esoteric knowledge of comics that we have. But it’s pretty great. Between the three of us I think we’ve got a great mix. Tim’s a great writer and Dan, he has the chops. He’s just so busy with all these other things. We’re trying to get the next issue out.
CU: I was wondering with Comics Comics, it’s a newspaper printing. I was wondering why you chose to do that instead of just the website thing like everybody else.
FS: We just wanted it to be like a zine at first. I think we had this idea that we were going to do something like Arthur magazine, before it … it’s in a different incarnation now, but originally Arthur, we just thought it could be in comics stores and be free and then have ads. Then of course, nobody takes any ads out. We just wanted to still be in print and we liked the idea of still having, we found this printer and you can do these large things and we got Justin Green to do something, Marc Bell did … so you can have this giant page and somebody can do stuff. So it’s an extra bonus.
RM: Without shelling out however much that next Kramers Ergot is going to cost.
FS: Or the comic art. I love those things, but … we try to balance it out. We have a lot of nice high-end things and then there’s a three-dollar. You’d be surprised at how many people come up to the table, they look at everything and then they buy Comics Comics.
RM: I loved the fact that you had Sammy Harkham interviewing Guy Davis.
FS: I know! That’s cool, right? Because it like ties into Kevin Nowlan and it covers all the bases. It’s fun.
RM: All these great pseudo-mainstream, they’re so interesting and inspiring to look at their stuff, they don’t get the attention they deserve because they’re so odd for the mainstream crowd that the …
FS: Absolutely! The same kind of critical attention, you mean.
FS: Yeah, I agree. So it’s fun. I mean, we all read this stuff. I just want to acknowledge, at least for me, we’re not trying to take this arty slant on things. It’s more like a genuine “This is what we like.” We’re trying to talk about it without being too self-conscious about it or something. It’s fun!
RM: And that’s what comics should be. Fun. Well, thank you for taking the time to join us today, Frank.
FS: This is awesome. Thank you.
- Portrait of Santoro by Dustin Harbin
- Storeyville cover by Frank Santoro
- Rubber Blanket #2 cover by David Mazzucchelli
- Captain America #276 cover by Mike Zeck
- Image by Ben Katchor
- Example of Sirk zine cover
- Frank Kozik poster
- Cover to Really the Blues by Mezz Mezzbrow
- Photo of Montreal Roadwork
- Cold Heat #1 cover by Frank Santoro
- Paper Rad DVD cover
- Random Speed Racer image
- Chocolate Gun logo by Michael Deforge
- Spread from Ronin by Frank Miller
- Outsiders Annual # 1 cover by Kevin Nowlan
- Cold Heat Special silkscreened cover by Jon Vermilyea
- Wonder Woman cover by Jeffrey Catherine Jones