ERIKA MOEN

Erika Moen made her splash in comics with DAR, an autobiographical webcomic that was a smash hit with fans and critics alike. These days she’s drawing BUCKO, a hilariously entertaining webcomic written by Jeff Parker. BUCKO starts out as something of an odd crime story but has evolved into something more in the vein of a strange romance. I had the opportunity to chat with Erika at Emerald City Comic Con back in March. Special thanks to Chelsea Freund for transcription assistance.

Marc: This is Marc Mason from the Comics Waiting Room, I am with noted webcomics artist Ericka Moen.

Erika: Hello.

M: Recently, you just started a new webcomic, “Bucko”. Tell us about it.

E: Well, it’s a dick and fart joke murder mystery, and written by Jeff Parker, which means it’s really well-written. He’s one of my favorite writers. I can’t believe he’s working with me, and I am just really having a good time doing something completely fictional, and I actually don’t know what is coming up with it. He gives me one page of script at a time, so it’s a surprise for me every single page. Like, what’s happening next? And for me to find out, I have to finish my current page so I can go on to the next one.

M: It’s also a little bit of a departure for you. You kind of made your name as an autobiographical comics artist. What sort of adjustments have you had to make artistically to do a murder mystery?

E: Well, I’m trying to draw better. I’m trying to be a better artist. ‘Cause now it’s not just, like, my story, like- shit, I’m working with somebody else, I’ve got to make this good. So I’m trying to improve my art and push myself artistically. It’s been challenging in a really good way, and I feel like I’m a stronger artist for it. Within the first 20 pages, I can look at it and see that my art is improved by the 20th page.

M: This weekend you’ve been selling a mini-comic, the first few installments of “Bucko.” How are people responding to it?

E: Really positively. I, honestly wasn’t really expecting people to buy a mini-comic of it, but they have been. I’m really impressed by how many people have bought the first chapter of “Bucko.” I mean, I’m really excited. Thanks, everyone.

M: Well, and they got a sneak peek ahead, because I know I took it home and I read it, and there are pages ahead of what’s been online, so that had to be an effective selling tool, right?

E: Yeah. I tell people, if you buy this, you get to see the future of the comic. Right now we’re up to page 12 online (Ed. Note: they’re past page 30 now!), and the comic gives the first whole chapter, so it’s 21 pages. So that’s quite a peek ahead. Although, there’s still something for the people that are online. If you put your mouse over the comic online, you get a little bit more. So you can still go read it online and get something out of that too.

M: Nice. I mentioned “Dar” earlier, your autobiographical comics. I bought those last summer, and I loved them a whole bunch.

E: Thank you.

M: Do you miss doing “Dar” at all?

E: Not really. I still have a couple auto-bio stories I want to tell eventually, but right now, I’m so happy to be doing fiction. I kind of… when you’re doing auto-bio, you’re really trapped your own brain, and everything is all about you, obviously, with your story, and your art. It’s very Erika, Erika, Erika, and I was really happy to have a chance to go outside of that. I feel like my skills always improve, and I feel more challenged and creative when I’m working with somebody else, because it’s an outside influence, and you have to think differently. So I really enjoy collaborating and working with another writer.

M: Was it difficult to put yourself out there in some of the ways that you did? I imagine that there’s a line that you have defined between talking about too much and not talking about enough, and keeping it real enough to keep your audience enthralled.

E: Yeah, it was an interesting balance. When I first started, I was not thinking in terms of that. I just thought, hey, this funny thing happened, I’ll do a comic about it. So things that I would have thought about doing a comic about before but not even thought twice about, suddenly, it’s like, you know, you don’t want to hurt peoples’ feelings. I was having to censor myself a lot towards the end of the comic, because you get in the public eye, which I could not have anticipated. Which sounds naïve to say now, but at the time, I didn’t know. So, yeah, it’s a delicate balance and I feel like in the 6 years that I did “Dar,” I got a nice, unexpected story arc to it. In the beginning I was very much a lesbian, identifying with that, and then I fell in love with a man, and had to kind of restructure my whole identity. And then in the end I get married to him, and that’s kind of a nice beginning, middle and end. So it’s like, you know what? I think this was a good place to end it.

M: You covered the three act structure pretty well on accident with your own life.

E: I know!

M: It’s more common than I think people realize; if they really look at their own lives it follows the rules pretty well.

E: Well, maybe that’s why we put it in literature so much.

M: Yes. We’re all universal stories.

E: There you go.

M: Well, thank you very much for your time, loving the comic. You’re doing a great job, and I look forward to seeing more of it.

E: Thank you. Yeah, and everybody else can go see us at buckocomics.com and follow along too!

M: Thank you. This is Marc Mason in the Comics Waiting Room with Erika Moen. See you next time.



EMI LENOX

Emi Lenox is a comics star on the rise. Her autobiographical webcomic EMITOWN saw its first trade paperback collection release last year to great acclaim, and she is now branching out into working on other projects as well. I had the opportunity to chat with her in Seattle this past March about her work. Special thanks to Chelsea Freund for her work in getting this transcribed.


Marc: This is Marc Mason from the Comics Waiting Room, and I’m at the Emerald City Comicon with Emi Lenox. Emi, hello.

Emi: Hello.

M: We were just discussing the fact that “EmiTown,” your trade paperback of your web comic, has sold out, and it is Saturday afternoon. How do you feel about that?

E: I feel like I wasn’t prepared, but you know, I think that’s part of the folly of having a 400-page book. You can only carry so much and bring it on a train. I only brought 20. Now I’m definitely prepared for next year.

M: Did you think a price factor of $25.00 would make it harder to sell, or….?

E: Yeah, I did, actually. I thought it would be harder to sell, but I think also maybe my location at Image has been really helpful as well.

M: That has to be a little bit of a bonus, yes. Going back to the comic itself, I think what makes your comic unique in webcomics and autobiographical comics is that you use a page a day. It’s representative of the dates and times. Some days it is literal, but you don’t do what a lot of other people do in autobiographical comics. Where did this sort of conceptualize for you?

E: Well, the whole train of thought when I draw is that it come naturally to me, for some reason. It started as a kid’s diary, so that when I drew it out, I was just drawing whatever came to mind at first, and then later on, it became more and more planned. But I feel more comfortable not having a structured panel layout. I feel like it is just a series of random things that happen; why not have it randomly placed on the page?

M: In doing autobiographical comics, how do you tread the line between saying too much and saying not enough?

E: I like to think that I use mixed metaphors, super heroes, or the Army Cats, by way to not cross the line. And I think I say enough that people, if they took the time, could probably could figure out what I was trying to say, but honestly, in the next book, it really could get a little more personal. I think I’ve gotten used to the fact that people are reading my life.

M: I know I do. I have it in my RSS feeds so I see when the new pages go up. The relationship stuff is going on; very exciting.

E: Well, it ended, which is why the book is going to be really cool.

M: Are we taking a dark turn in “EmiTown”?

E: It’s not dark. I have pretty positive parts in, but I just think it’s going to be good because that book will have a pretty linear story line with that release. And it’s the first time I have actually addressed the relationship forwardly, not using metaphors, really.

M: I remember in the first book, one of your metaphors is sailing a ship at sea, and I thought that was really effective.

E: Oh, thanks. I haven’t brought that back at all.

M: Well, and that brings me to one of the things that I think really stands out about the book, and about the work, is that you twist between styles very frequently. You have a very loose, cartoon-y style, but then you will turn around and you will have panels that are incredibly detailed and rich in the strokes and so forth. Do you have to open your mindset to make those changes, or does it just come very naturally for you?

E: Most of the time when I am drawing, I will draw that specific stuff if I feel like at the time. So, yeah, I guess, more or less, when I feel like it, I draw a certain way, but I did keep the cartoon-y style for just simple narrative stuff I did.

M: What’s it like to meet your fans who do feel like that they know about you from reading the strip?

E: Well, I ran into a couple today at the convention, and they were a little overwhelming at first, but I think I’m starting to get used to it. It makes me feel really good.

M: So, you’re doing “EmiTown.” What else are you working on right now?

E: Well, I can’t really say a lot. Right now I’m still trying to work on getting comics work, so I’m trying to survive without having to have, you know, a computer desk job again. I do have the Madman thing coming up next month, where I did an 8-page story, so I wrote it, colored it, and drew it. (Ed. Note: the Madman issue shipped, and Emi’s piece in it was regarded as a highlight.)

M: That sounds pretty exciting.

E: Yeah, I’m really excited. I mean, the Sweet Tooth thing came out this past Wednesday where I did a 4-page guest art (piece), so I don’t know what I’m going to do next.

M: Has the book opened up some doors for you?

E: I feel like it has. A lot of people seem to be really supportive of it. I’ve had Brian Michael Bendis here and he bought the book, and my brain exploded with the thought of that even happening. Yeah, I guess it’s definitely putting my foot in the door.

M: Well, the long-time readers on my site know that I love it. It’s fantastic. You’re incredibly talented. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us, and I look forward to seeing more “EmiTown.”

E: There will be more to come, I promise!

All images copyright Emi Lenox.

EMITOWN

EMITOWN
Written and Drawn by Emi Lenox
Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Marc Mason

While superheroes may dominate the sales charts these days, the most interesting and impressive growth (genre-wise) in comics these days comes in autobiographical work. That said, a good chunk of it is unreadable and unpleasant. But not all of it- some artists are doing remarkable stuff in the autobio realm, and Portland-based cartoonist Emi Lenox’s first full collection of her work shows that she is among the very best.

What sets Lenox’s work from others is a combination of things that grant EMITOWN its distinct style. The greatest autobio comic of all time- Eddie Campbell’s ALEC- is done in chunks of long-form storytelling. Lenox, however, produces her work as a daily diary. One page = one day in her life. While your initial reaction might be that it would be difficult to achieve a lot of depth in such a short piece, you’d be wildly wrong. Through a combination of varied storytelling techniques, she uses changes in artistic style, layouts, tone, and color to prevent the pages from feeling static and to carry you through her mental and emotional processes.

That helps immensely in making her relatable. She touches on her day job just enough to universalize her experiences. Her approach to a relationship going south isn’t to over-share the details, but to shift her style and tell us what is happening by turning herself and the guy into comic book characters and excerpting “panels” into the diary that slyly show the decline between the pairing. That, I think, is a real strength- she knows when to step on the gas and bury her reader in details, but also when to wrap and cover herself and protect her privacy while still being candid. It’s a fine line, and you have to be very talented to pull it off. Lenox is just that.

EMITOWN covers a year in the author’s life, four-hundred pages of work, and displays the work of an amazing young talent. I have little doubt that we will soon be seeing a lot of other work from Lenox, both in books she creates and from publishers snapping her up and putting her to work. Judging from her work here, I’ll be on the lookout to read it.

MULTIPLEX

MULITPLEX VOL.1: ENJOY YOUR SHOW
Written and Drawn by Gordon McAlpin
Published by Chase Sequence Co.

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Take one ten-screen movie theatre, add a cast of hilarious employees, throw in some bad movies and hideous customers and you get MULTIPLEX, Gordon McAlpin’s long-running (and damned funny) webcomic. This first collection brings together the first 100 or so strips from the site, and adds in a new story done solely for the book, making this a must-have for fans of the strip and a should-buy for those looking for a new graphic novel to enjoy.

What makes MULTIPLEX work is that dead-on combo of interesting characters and milieu. People thrown into any sort of customer service crucible inevitably bond over their hatred of their jobs and hatred of their customers, and McAlpin’s people are no different- the movies hold them together while the rest of their job tries to tear them apart. But that’s where the comedy comes from- whether it’s most of the cashiers refusing to sell tickets to a Larry The Cable Guy movie as a form of protest or dumping the nastiest bathroom cleaning ever on an underling, you understand immediately who these people are and why they do the things they do. There’s a universal work experience going on here.

But ultimately, the strip wouldn’t have lasted as long as it has if McAlpin hadn’t found each character’s voice and given them a vibrant life apart from their jobs. There’s romance, treachery, pranks, longing, sex, religion… you stay with MULTIPLEX because the creator has given you something to get behind, a strip full of people to root for. That’s no easy feat- plenty have tried and failed. ENJOY YOUR SHOW? I did very much, thanks. You will, too.

OCTOPUS PIE

OCTOPUS PIE: THERE ARE NO STARS IN BROOKLYN
Written and Drawn by Meredith Gran
Published by Villard

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Eve Ning and her roommate Hanna live seemingly normal lives; Eve works at an organic grocery store, does her best to control the roiling frustration with the human race that lurks in her soul, and does her best to maintain some standards when dealing with the opposite sex. Hanna is a massive stoner that spends her time baking actual pastries while she’s high so that she can call her product “Bake’n’Bake”.

Together, they do not fight crime.

Instead, they do their best to get along, have a little fun, and deal with the little aggravations that come their way. Whether it is the return of a childhood rival, an ethical stand about public nudity, or a visit to a renaissance fair, it seems like the duo just can’t have a nice, quiet day. That turns out to be a very good thing for readers of OCTOPUS PIE.

The first two years of Meredith Gran’s smash webcomic are collected in this thick trade paperback, and it’s easy to see why comics fans have taken to it; Gran’s characters are fantastic fun, her dialogue sparkles, and her cartooning has a simple look that manages to add depth and complexity to the work that you don’t necessarily realize are there right away. Indeed, I think that the secret of Gran’s success is in just how relatable the material is; everyone, no matter their gender or background, can discover a bit of themselves in the stories told here. That’s no mean feat.

The mark of a good book is to get to the finish and want more. This first collection of OCTOPUS PIE most definitely left me wanting more.

SPLENDID MAGIC OF PENNY ARCADE

THE SPLENDID MAGIC OF PENNY ARCADE
Written and Drawn by Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins
Published by Del Rey

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Put two geeks in the same room and one of two things is likely to happen. Either the two will compare notes on their favorite hobbies, discover they are kindred, and bond for life, or the pair will compare notes on their favorite hobbies, discover that the other person believes opposite of them, and declare themselves enemies for life. When scenario one happens, the duo occasionally comes together to get find their fortune, as Krahulik and Holkins have with their long-running webcomic PENNY ARCADE. When scenario two happens, they usually bitch about it on the internet.

Either way, it still usually turns out as a win for guys like Krahulik and Holkins.

PENNY ARCADE was one of the first webcomics to gain a measure of genuine popularity, thanks to its sardonic take on gamers and gamer culture, and after over a decade of strips, it has become the vanguard of comics on geek culture. Focused on gamer buddies Tycho and Gabe, the duo play games, read comics, watch movies, and generally eviscerate the things that nerds hold dear. Yet they do it in such a way that allows them to be in on the joke and not alienate their audience. Not an easy trick.

This over-sized hardcover isn’t so much a collection of the strip as it is a historical document on the rise of the creators and their strip. Indeed, what we have here is mostly text, illustrated by the pair’s output. Each man offers up his take on the growing pains of their strip, the history of their friendship, and more. Plus, you get essays from some of the folks behind the scenes helping keep their empire together and functioning. There are some strips reprinted, allowing for commentary from the pair, but it isn’t anything I would describe as overwhelming or mind-blowing.

The book itself would be a huge treat for a fan of the strip, of that I am certain, and is likely a must-have. But for anyone not a fan of PENNY ARCADE, I suspect it might be a bit of a disappointment. Someone new to the comic would be far better off starting reading one of the books that’s solely a collection of the online strip, allowing them to determine if the characters hold any real interest to them. This tribute edition isn’t really going to help much in that way.

NIGHTMARE WORLD

NIGHTMARE WORLD
Written by Dirk Manning, Artwork by Josh Ross, Jeff Welborn, Len O’Grady, Austin McKinley, Jason Meek, Rene DeLiz, Ray Dillon, Erich Owen, Dustin Miller, Kristen Perry, and others
Published by Shadowline Web Comics and Image Comics (in the fall)

NIGHTMARE WORLD is collection of thirteen seemingly disconnected tales that, upon publication of the full fifty-two compliment of stories, will reveal themselves to center around a main premise. Already there is some unification apparent in the stories currently available via Shadowline’s Web Comics, such as repeat appearances of characters and common themes, and though several seem to be stand alone stories, nearly every single one of them is a highly enjoyable trip down “What the fuck?!” lane.

The breadth of stories contained within NIGHTMARE WORLD are about as varied as any you will ever see in one collection of comics. They cover numerous plots, such as unfaithful men finding their comeuppance in a way they never imagined, demons locked in a domestic dispute, psychotic murderers professing their love, dead men making amends and creatures from a Japanese horror film finding something in common. The themes range from darkly disturbing to black comedy to just plain comedy to completely random, so undoubtedly there is something for everyone. Another advantage of this multi-tale format is each story is only eight pages long, therefore if one story is not to the reader’s liking, it won’t be long before they are treated to an entirely new story with different characters and artwork.

Several artists were recruited for the creation of this comic, adding yet another advantage to this amazing book. Each artists’ work seem to fit flawlessly with the story they were paired with, and each artists’ style is utter unique, ensuring the book remains fresh throughout its two hundred pages. One story was told in stick figure format which really heightened the hilarity of the content, another was leaning more towards the creepy, mystical side, a feeling which was bolstered by the hazy, pastel look of the art.

Props must be given to Shadowline for their easy-read web comic format, allowing the stories to shine, but naturally most of the accolades go to Manning for his expansive imagination and his bevy of artists, each of which more than hold their own in this diverse and massively entertaining collection of comic stories.

Avril Brown