I have been following Dane Martin's cartooning career since first befriending him on Facebook some 5 years ago. I was quite blown away by his style, the beautiful poignancy of his characters and prose. These would haunt my memories for days afterwards and still do – in a good way.
Dane has been good enough to take time to answer my questions which I have always wanted to know the answers to.
Banci Wright: dane thanks for taking time to answer my questions. So with the release of gagger 1 how well has it been received so far
Dane Martin: You're welcome! I feel sort of strange doing an interview because I feel like I am just now beginning to draw comics, even though I've been doing it consistently for most of my life. But I will try to answer your questions sincerely. Gagger #1 is only twelve pages (eight pages of story), so I don't know if there is enough material for anyone to form a real opinion of it. It's just the very beginning of a complete story. I've received some nice words, though. Cartoonist Charles Forsman is kind enough to print Gagger through his Oily Comics publishing empire, which I think is a beautiful endeavor and the sort of thing I'm always hungry for. I'm going to subscribe myself once I have two sawbucks to rub together, and I think everyone should. I love how he consistently puts out small books that add up to something large. Comics do that in such a perfect way. At first, I was mildly struggling with the pacing of an eight-page story on a “quarter-sheet,” because, with comics, I'm used to drawing out everything luxuriously and obnoxiously, making simple conversations and travels last for entirely too long. Now, though, I'm really enjoying trying to figure out how to make the pages work. To use famous Jim Woodring terminology, I haven't really been showing the characters going to the store... I just show them “at the God damn store.” I feel like I'm doing proper comics for the first time, in a way, just because of the way the action is broken down. Get out the ideas quick. Keep 'em laffin'. Gagger will be six issues.
Banci Wright I am always amazed buy the amount of comics you create on a daily basis how do you manage to do this
Dane Martin: It always seems to me that I don't make nearly enough. I don't think cartoonists' output should be judged by the page count. It's all just so different from cartoonist to cartoonist. So many cartoonists put much more time and labor into one page than I do into twenty. It's just a series of choices. I'm still a long way away from making as many proper comic stories as I would like to. I often get stuck in the sketchbook doodle doldrums, which is an activity I dearly love, but it can also eat away at your desire to make actual pages on bristol, which is what it's really all about. I love the entertaining struggle of making endless drawings and doodles, and just trying to figure out how comics and paperlines work, but I think that in the immediate future, I need to focus on making pages. But it all adds up to something, I'm sure of it. The false starts and horrible mistakes and erased-too-hard paper and failed gags always end up feeding into the comics. It always deeply surprises me when people say I make a lot of comics, because I honestly, deep in my heart, know that I have hardly made any at all.
Banci Wright you have allot of strong characters in horror of the gag and all of your comics that reoccur quite often how did these manifest them selves.
Dane Martin: Well, I guess my “style” came out of my limitations. I have no ability to actually draw. I can't sit and draw real things. I never have had this ability. But my entire life, I have been obsessed with cartoon imagery, and I would just draw in a cartoony way over and over and over, obsessively, all through elementary school and junior high, even though I knew perfectly well that I don't have a natural drawing ability. Something about comics made sense to me and it was (and is) one of the few things I felt like I understood. My drawings have looked like Jim Davis, Akira Toriyama, and Dr. Seuss, in chronological order. In late junior high and early high school, I discovered old comics like Felix the Cat Sundays and Krazy Kat and Barnaby and Polly and Her Pals and Seuss' short-lived “Heiji,” and of course animated Fleischer cartoons and Van Beuren cartoons and Bob Clampett and Frank Tashlin and that whole world. That interest quickly fed into seeing the comics of people like Crumb and J. Bradley Johnson and Kaz and Dan O'Neill and Al Columbia and Gary Panter and Tony Millionaire and Ron Rege and Marc Bell and Chris Ware and Kim Deitch, and all the other usual “good” cartoonists, and my comics and doodles just naturally picked up all of the mannerisms I was seeing in these comics I was deeply in love with. “Characters” were slowly developing, just by accidentally making shapes in a certain way. There was never a conscious effort to develop any particular characters or way of drawing... it all comes out of mindlessly doodling and not knowing how to draw. When I went to the Center for Cartoon Studies right out of high school, I felt a pressure to try to make the characters I was drawing into a true “cast of characters,” each one with an extended back story and legacy, but I could never quite find a comfortable way to do that. It always just goes strip by strip. I think that cast is slowly developing in some way, but the characters are never necessarily the same twice. I love the idea of contradicting myself and just molding each character to a particular situation. It's like an old Disney cartoon... the duck might be a farmer in one cartoon, maybe he works at an ammunition factory in the next one. The next time, he's a prison warden, or a stay-at-home dad with bastard nephews. I'm slowly figuring out how to make “characters” work, but I'm deeply uncomfortable with a true “universe,” or “Dane Martin's wacky world.” I hate thinking about things in that way. It makes me ill when people do voices for the characters. I get most excited when making things that are vague and sparse, which I guess is just a matter of preference. Some people hate that, but I love that it's perfectly doable in comics. I still haven't really figured out the balance between story and non-story, but it's fun trying to figure it out. My comics are always fueled by words and I am never really consciously thinking of things visually. Each panel really is a struggle and I feel like a slave to wherever the line goes, but it's a fun struggle. I have started naming my characters the last few years, though, and I vaguely think of them in an Osamu Tezuka star system way, but if I linger too much on thoughts like that it becomes much less interesting. Wise Old Bird (boy duck), Debbie (girl duck), Chancellor Cop, and Chancellor Dog seem to be my main characters at this time. Two sets of two lovers. I don't think cartoonists necessarily owe their readers a consistent story. When I was in late elementary school, my brain popped when I read that 40s Krazy Kat book at the library (with the e.e. cummings introduction), and I realized that the ket was both sexes. I'm sorry, that is entirely too long of an answer but I feel really strongly about characters because I am simultaneously deeply in love and confused by the idea of them. I remember checking out that Krazy Kat book and a Drew Carey book on the same disgusting Fall Saturday, when I was plump and prepubescent.
Banci Wright on your tumblr account (tumblr address) I find it interesting that you up load comics and even workings out but I find that fit together perfectly is this intentional
Dane Martin: I think I know what you mean. I don't sit down and plan out exactly what I'm going to draw and post, or think about it in any way, but there is some deal of awareness of succession. I guess I know that people are (in theory) going to see it, so I try to make things lead into the next in a vague, barely aware sort of way. For instance, maybe I drew a four-panel comic with the duck, so now it's time for a four-page comic with the dog... now maybe I'll do a four-panel comic with the duck again, referencing the four-panel comic with the dog. Anything to keep going. I feel like comics do that well—vaguely hint at a story by sloppily referencing previous events or ideas. Pretending there is a larger world that isn't really there. (Or maybe it is there.) I selfishly, in the moment, draw almost entirely for myself, but I guess I have to admit I always need to have some artificial idea of an audience in order to just keep producing things. I love that about master cartoonists' sketchbooks, how they always seem to be aware of some sort of audience. The drawings bleed into each other as if they were meant to be printed. Sometimes I like to think I am working for a manga magazine or a perverse New Yorker, and I'm just getting my week's worth of garbage in. I love those stories of Saul Steinberg sending the New Yorker giant packets of scraps and doodles every week. As I said before, there is power in scraps and doodles (maybe a guilty power), and the way Tumblr is set up seems to be especially great for that sort of thing. I love how it is contextless and wordless. Just a stream of nonsense that people can always count on appearing. I have mixed feelings about comics on the internet (why does it change the way they read so much?), but I do love how it allows cartoonists to immediately share their work outside of being pressured to present a story. It's also nice to not wrestle with the often cumbersome world of print, which I dearly love but am often frustrated by. I'm not an arts n' crafts kind of boy. For years, I've been an avid follower of cartoonists' blogs, and I think it's a more important and satisfying thing than people like to admit. Maybe I just feel that way because I can't afford to buy books, which are my very favorite objects in this cold world.
Banci Wright do you plan to bring out a book of “horror of the gag” once you have a certain number of them
Dane Martin: I think so. Probably. I'm thinking of just self-publishing a Lulu book, on demand. A Horror of the Gag collection might be the first book I try to make that way, once I get 200 strips or so. I have 52 at the moment. I started drawing them on July 4 of this year. At first I thought I would never collect them because they are sloppily drawn, usually in less than ten minutes, but I'm starting to feel like they read okay. We'll see. I might just end up making minicomics with them, too. I draw them in a sketchbook, so in a way I am thinking about how they will look printed. Sometimes I'm thinking in terms of the way comics look next to each other or how one story or idea sets up the next. A part of me still loves comic strips more than any other form of comics. The format is just so appealing to me. Get in, get out. I'm imagining large margins.
Banci Wright whats your process for writing comics do you plan by script or do you go straight to comic format
Dane Martin: I wish I could say I wrote things out and thumbnailed them and made comics in a proper, layered Kurtzman way, because that's what I went to school to learn how to do. And I do approach comics in a way that is slow and methodical. But I have never been able to draw a page multiple times or conceive what it will look like ahead of time. I am too addicted to the spontaneous thrill of failure. I have been typing things out more and more, pieces of dialogue or reminders of what I want to draw. I really do think in words first, but they are usually words I memorize in my head, or they are just hints of words that no one will ever know. I rarely just draw something and compose a comic around that, but I don't write scripts or anything. I guess I consciously think of actions (but thinking more verbally than visually), and how to translate them into panels. “How do I break down the way the bird will lick this tree?” This is probably standard. But I can't thumbnail it out first or it ruins the whole strip. I'm not sure why.
Dane Martin: When I was a kid, I was obsessed with reading Carl Barks' Uncle Scrooge comics and Sonic the Hedgehog comics, and any and all comics I could find. Mark Trail. Slylock Fox. I was scared of superheroes, though. I've wanted to be a cartoonist since I could remember... it seemed natural and unavoidable, even though my parents and other assorted adults kept telling me I couldn't draw. I repeatedly got F's in art. But I somehow always knew that cartooning was a profession, and it made full sense to me. It seemed like a noble act. I was obsessed with a picture of Dr. Seuss at his drawing table, and I clipped it out when I was eight. I still have that picture. It wasn't until I was in junior high and high school and I discovered weirder comics that I realized you didn't necessarily have to draw in a slick way, and could also be mentally damaged and wouldn't necessarily have to think of proper jokes. And it was appealing to me that most people who drew comics were poor and it was this obsessive, intense activity. Calvin and Hobbes kind of makes me sick to look at now for various reasons, but I was always obsessed with reading his notes on the strips in that anniversary collection. It's the first time, at an early age, I was aware that someone was going through a thought process to create these things and they were not coming out of a machine, or forty people and ink and paint girls. I was really haunted by a line by Mr. Watterson that said something like, “You can draw gut-splattering violence, you can call it a 'graphic novel,' but comic books are still incredibly stupid.” It made me feel like crying.
Banci Wright is there any one in particular that has been a big influence on you
Dane Martin: I sincerely love so many comics. I named some cartoonists earlier. It would be daunting to try to think of my main influences... they are almost separated into categories. I guess it's typical, but seeing the movie Crumb and then his comics when I was in eighth grade really made sense to me. I saw Dan O'Neill and Sherry Fleniken and Kim Deitch and Bill Griffith and George Hansen and Victor Moscoso and other underground comics around that time. They made perfect sense to me because, more often than not, they were based on or inspired by traditional comics and I understood the references. O'Neill was particularly powerful and brain-changing because of my life-long obsession with Disney. The wonderful old man at my local smalltown comic book store showed them to me when I was 14, in hushed secrecy. The way they broke down events and the “sloppy” way everything was drawn really appealed to me. You could draw comics based on real emotions and you could draw them on disgusting paper without really thinking about it. It's not a huge revelation but I lived in southern Michigan and I didn't ever know a single person who drew or even read comics until I left for the Center for Cartoon Studies in 2006. So I had to figure it out slowly by myself, as most people do. I guess my primary influence will always be old cartoons and just that whole feeling of the “cartoon swoop.” Thanks to the internet, I quickly discovered the larger world of comics, and I fell deep in love with it all. Tony Millionaire struck me in the most violent way, and his influence is still a huge part of my comics. Doug Allen, Rory Hayes, Jim Woodring, Glenn Head, Walt Holcombe, David Sanlin. I've always been drawn to cartoonists who have a very human, cartoony line and speak of life's horrors. Outside of comics and cartoons, I love the classic prose humorists from the 20s and 30s like Don Marquis and Robert Benchley and James Thurber and S.J. Perelman and Irvin S. Cobb, etc., etc. I feel like sometimes I am writing like them, in a watered-down way. I love slightly antiquated language, and making up language. I guess when I sit down to draw a comic I am often thinking of non-comics things. It makes things easier and frees up the brain. But comics are my very favorite things and they inform every single aspect of my personality and life. I also love putting poetry into my comics, even though I know nothing about it. Comics are great for working through things you are vaguely interested them and pursuing them exactly how you want to.
Banci Wright do you have a group of cartoonist friends, do you find this is beneficial
Dane Martin: I do have a group of comics friends. This never would have been possible without the Center for Cartoon Studies. Up until I graduated high school and left for White River Junction that summer, I had never spoken out loud about any of these cartoonists who had completely shaped me. It was all an almost religious secret. Then, suddenly, I was surrounded by people who knew this religion, and I was completely overwhelmed and amazed. I loved every second of it. I am deeply influenced, in so many ways, by the great people I met at the school-- Jeff Lok, Sam Gaskin, Brandon Elston, Kubby Bear, Chris Wright, the list goes on and on. These cartoonists in particular drew in a way that I deeply, deeply bonded with and understood. Then, after I sadly left the school, I met a group of Chicago cartoonists that have continued to influence to me. Some Chicago cartoonists kindly let me live with them for a while, while I escaped the grasps of southern Michigan, and they are also producing some of my favorite comics in the world. Leslie Weibeler, Andy Burkholder, Max Morris, Nick Drnaso, Edie Fake... it's dazzling. I also feel a kinship with friends like Scott Longo and Blaise Larmee and Jesse McManus. A great painter and cartoonist named Katherine Poe has been a huge influence on my comics and life. I do think there is something healthy about drawing comics alone and not letting it become too much like a game or puzzle or any sort of competition, but it sure helps to be surrounded by people who do the same thing as you. It's only human. It's nice to find a good balance between comics' solitary ways and the social ways. I firmly believe you have to go through the solitary woods before even dreaming of the social stream.
Banci Wright the content of your comics are they auto biographical or completely fiction
Dane Martin: They are completely autobiographical, filtered through random language and cartoon gags. But they are autobiographical in a scattered way that is mostly lies. But the feelings the characters vomit out are often my own feelings, only exaggerated and made more extreme and disgusting.
Banci Wright what’s your take on the comic industry these days
Dane Martin: I don't really know if I'm in a position to say. I guess I'm disappointed that it's sometimes all about the $25 books. Every cartoonist is. But I am not fixated on any particular format. I love $25 books. I guess comic book stores always disappoint me, but I am much too excited about comics to focus on their marketing or anything like that. I am too unrealistic. I think it's far better than it could be, or how it seemed to be even ten years ago, when I was just starting to be exposed to comics. I do hope that in the future the boundaries between all the different comics camps will continue to break down. I can only think it is healthy buying a Picturebox book and a John Stanley book on the same day, and putting them in a sloppy pile next to your bed. And it's nice to see them next to each other on the shelves. I really do believe that comics are comics. I hate the idea of people thinking they are doing art that looks like comics. That might seem irrelevant, but I feel like I am sometimes surrounded by that attitude. (Even though it's sometimes a healthy way to think of comics, depending on the cartoonist.) Calling comics “comics” makes everything so exciting and pure to me.
Dane Martin: I'm not really sure. I'm just starting out myself. I guess the only thing I would say is to make sure you have a dedicated drawing space--some sort of table--and just spread everything out and work constantly. Put ten pieces of blank paper on the table and try to fill them in a few days. Just keep the momentum going. Do not feel pressured to follow the ways of the comics world, or mold your comics to fit in anthologies or some sort of imaginary “weird comics” canon. Also, it helps to step back and figure out who you are ripping off.
Banci Wright what’s your favourite quote
Dane Martin: “I used to run six miles a day, and at my most maniacal, would sometimes draw up to 80 hours a week, keeping track of every minute as if some stern, invisible time clock was watching over me making sure I didn't slack off.” --Kim Deitch, Shadowland collection
Banci Wright what are your plans for the future
Dane Martin: I'm working on Gagger #2, the constant steady stream of Horror of the Gag strips, a new 32-page “one-man anthology” comic called Salt Mines Digest #1, and a few other assorted comics that people are willing to print. A 24-page color comic for France. I hope to get much more focused on making comics for print, and make many more pages than I do now, and just getting more organized with comics in general. I'm starting a new job sitting twelve hours, five days a week, in an internetless empty room while an elderly lady sleeps below me, so I am hoping that will give me the intense focus I've been craving lately. Comics are beautiful. No guilt.