In very early November 2003, I interviewed 28-year-old Portland cartoonist and illustrator Craig Thompson for my column in the Seattle alternative publication Tablet, Ink and Pixels. I’m running the transcript here in nine parts. Craig’s web site is here. He is published by Top Shelf.
In Part One, I’d just observed that Craig had traced a series of interests in a variety of media that form a downward-sloping financial trend: film to animation to comics. He’s responding to that observation, below.
CT: I guess that comes from having come from a working-class background too. I know there’s something very working-class about comics, and uh…
M: That’s an interesting perspective. Elaborate on that idea for me a little bit.
CT: Well, uh, I don’t know if I’m entirely right about that… I kinda think of film sometimes or the idea of breaking into film is sort of like the suburban white kid’s NBA. Like uh, it’s a sort of elusive, alluring world that these kids who actually come from a privileged background dream of attaining. And fortunately, I’m glad I haven’t concentrated my energies towards that. And very soon, I knew I wanted to have, like, full control over what I was creating, and once I realized that I could do that in comics, that it was in some ways more simple, acceptable form at least for a creator, I actually started to really fall in love with the form itself, and respect it more than those other films, uh, other forms.
Uh, I like how black ink looks on white paper, I like the uh, the object, or “the fetish quality”, whatever Dan Clowes calls it. And just that you can hold it in your hands, take it at your own pace, and it’s just you know, a very intimate medium, the conversation going on between the creator and the reader.
M: That’s interesting. In my conversations the theme of ‘sole control’ definitely comes up with creators. That seems to be a real specific issue.
CT: Yeah, I hope that isn’t because cartoonists are power-hungry! [laughs] Rather than it’s because we want to see a vision though!
M: Yeah. I shouldn’t be telling you what my opinions are – but I’m going to anyway!
I think it has to do with a certain kind of, almost a misanthropic bent in a lot of cartoonists. Where, uh, social contact is difficult and kind of uncomfortable for a lot of people that are drawn to the form; and by working alone, the challenge of negotiating the social atmosphere that would go along with working on a film or something, you sort of short-circuit that.
And that’s not always the case, I don’t think; but I think that’s a real important part of the temperament of people that are drawn to working in the medium. And then later, they complain about it, because they’ve spent twenty years without developing, you know, the kind of social networks you get from working, even in an office, sometimes.
CT: Yeah. No, I wouldn’t – I mean, personally that seems to make sense, but that doesn’t fit for me personally, because I do crave that sort of interaction, and that’s such a hard thing with being an isolated cartoonist. But I don’t know…
Did you see, uh, Lost in La Mancha?
M: No I haven’t yet. I’d love to see it though.
CT: That’s a perfect example of, you know, [laughs] witnessing Terry Gilliam in that film, there is a part of you that just wishes that he was a cartoonist – a full-time cartoonist just sitting in his own studio and realizing his own visions instead of dragging everyone else into it…
M: Sorta the ‘note to self: do not make a film’ kind of movie?
I’d love to see it actually. The cuts from it that I had seen looked funny and tragic, and I love Terry Gilliam’s work, anyway.
And now I’m almost at the end of my standard six. I’ve been more chatty than I should be.
CT: Oh, okay.
M: Um, what do you listen to while you are working on comics?
CT: I’d have to confess that I’m on a big NPR kick lately. It depends – there was times in [working on] Blankets that I was listening to lots of music, but then I don’t know. In the last year, I’ve been really NPR oriented.
I pencil in the morning, and then have lunch, and then by the time I’m inking it’s time to kick it around – Fresh Air time – [laughs]
Did you hear the one – oh geez, it was the Fox News talk show host guy – [pause, can’t dredge up the name] ah, forget it.
CT: Oh yeah, yeah I did hear that, it was hilarious. I can’t think of his name.
M: I can’t think of his name either right now. The Mumble Factor. O’Reilly Factor, that’s the guy.
CT: I’m sure my parents love the guy. Or they would love him.
M: They would love him.
CT: They like Rush Limbaugh.
M: Alright. So now I’m gonna move on and ask some – I guess they’re forward business rather than literary-type questions.
Have you started any new projects since completing Blankets?
CT: Yeah, I’m in that crazy, brainstorming-slash-sketching-doodling-researching part of the next book. And I probably’ve got about ninety percent of it outlined, actually. Although I’m far from actually writing it out. Should I try to describe it?
M: Sure, absolutely!
CT: It’s sort of an environmental allegory. It takes place in a pseudo-Middle East. And it’s an allegory in the sense that it takes some of the stuff going on in that climate, in that region, and simplifies them; makes them sort of fairy tale-ish. I focus a lot on the water crisis there and it’s sort of this New Ottoman Empire.
My main characters are child slaves – one’s a prostitute and one’s a eunuch and there’s a romance that develops between them. And that’s about as much as I can describe right now.
M: Hm. Interesting.
Have you seen Megan Kelso‘s thing that she’s working on lately?
CT: Artichoke Tales, yeah.
M: Yeah. Is it sort of a similar flavor?
CT: I love Artichoke Tales, but I don’t know what comics I’ve seen thus far that has the flavor of what at least I am envisioning in the next book.
CT: I kind of get into a state in the beginning stages where I’m like, ‘Ohhh, I wanna consume’, you know, other comics and other books and stuff that have a similar flavor, and I haven’t necessarily found what that is yet.
M: Well, uh, maybe Tintin, you know.
CT: Princess Mononoke, maybe to some degree?
M: Huh, that’s interesting; sure, I follow that. All righty.
And um, when do you expect to see publication with this?
CT: If all goes well, Summer, 2005.
M: And are you gonna do it like Blankets, have it all come out at once like that or are you gonna serialize it?
CT: I’m leaning towards all at once again.
If it starts growing, like to incredible lengths, I might break down into a trilogy.
M: This is from a man that just published a five-hundred page comic book. Go ahead and define ‘incredible lengths.’
CT: If it’s climbing over five, six hundred pages, then I’ll break it down into smaller volumes.
CT: But I’m envisioning it more as like a three-hundred page book and not as a big, six hundred page one.
M: Do you have any plans to do a book tour in support of Blankets?
CT: I did through most of the summer, um, all over the place. New York – all the comics circuit, New York, San Diego, San Francisco, Chicago, I went to Minneapolis. And I’ve done a bunch of things near Portland. I’ll probably make it up to Seattle too. And I’ll be doing some more things, yeah, next year.
Actually, ideally, I’ll be in Europe in the beginning of the year –
M: Oh, for Angoulême?
CT: I don’t know if I’ll be there early enough for Angoulême but I’ll be there for, um, a show in Milan in March and hopefully a show in Barcelona in May. And then I’ll head back to our nation, to our lovely nation, to for sure, San Diego, where I’ll be a guest. And then MegaCon or WonderCon or one of those southern shows.
M: Are there any translation deals in the works for Blankets?
CT: Yeah, that’s why I want to be in Europe. Uh, Spanish and French editions come out in March of next year.
M: Fantastic, that’s great news. Uh, you should learn to read French, because you’re going to have some interesting critical work that’s generated by it, I bet.
Um, are you selling original art from Blankets?
CT: [emphatically] No!
M: [even more emphatically] NO! What are you doing with the original art?
CT: Right now I’m just holding on to it. I’m not like in a crazy rush to sell it. I have it all contained like nice and tidily.
M: How – well, we’ll get into the technical stuff in a bit, actually… Like, looking at the size of the work, I was just thinking, ‘where in the world did he even keep the originals, man?’ But anyway.
So nooooo selling the original art from Blankets.
CT: Not yet.
M: Legions of fans will be disappointed.
Alright. so. Not yet. Okay.
Okay, now we get into, sort of like, more talking about the work.
And um, I’m gonna give you background stuff that sorta leads into the questions to illuminate the thought process that generated the questions for me.
Blankets contains a great deal of reflection on your adolescent Christianity. The book itself is published in a ‘brick’ format that is not unlike some editions of the Bible. Is this intentional? Did you plan for this as you embarked on the project?
CT: No, I’m afraid not. I thought the book would be about 250 pages. And the same thing happened with [Goodbye] Chunky Rice where it basically doubled by the time it was finished.
It was someone else who first remarked when it returned from the printer, “It’s as big as the Bible!”
M: Well, how do you feel about that? Does it make you uncomfortable to have that immediate external reference drawn to the book?
CT: [chuckling] No, it’s awesome, I think it’s great. What a great, uh, gimmick.
M: “What a great gimmick.” Are you gonna publish an onion-leaf edition with, uh, gilt?
CT: Yeah! I would love to do that!
M: That would be pretty cool.
CT: With the little, uh, whatever you call those, with the marker, uh, bookmark.
M: Yeah, absolutely. You could have a concordance and a vocabulary and stuff.