Sam Szabo’s(aka BrainBooger) comic, PermanAnt, is featured in My Pace 02, debuting at TCAF as we speak! Playful, funny and perceptive, Sam’s comics are always a joy to read–check ‘im out!
1. We love the immediacy & spark in your comics. Do you do a lot of writing and plotting before you sit down to draw? Do you do much editing? What is your process like?
I don’t know if I really have a single answer to this question. I try to diversify the kinds of stories that I tell, and each approach comes with its own process. A lot of my work is written stream of consciousness, with no penciling or writing whatsoever done beforehand - just straight up free-styling. That’s how I worked for my first couple of years as a cartoonist, and even in my current output, that’s probably where my “sparkiest” comics come from. Sometimes I’ll look back at that stuff and it’ll feel like it came from some other universe.
Nowadays, though, if I have an idea of the kind of story I want to tell, I put a lot of thought and labor into the writing. Typically, I’ll let the idea germinate in the back of my head for a few days. Then, when it feels right, I’ll scribble out a completely incomprehensible draft as quickly as I can. After that, I’ll leave it to rot in my room for a few weeks (or months) until I have enough distance that I can bear to look at it again. Then I spend a really long time staring at my draft and overanalyzing every sentence I wrote. Then I corner a more talented artist and get them to explain basic concepts like shading and perspective to me. Then I pencil and ink it as fast as I possibly can. Then I’m done.
2. What sort of comics community do you have access to?
I tend to be a pretty solitary worker, but I’ve been lucky enough to have access to comix folk from day one. I started drawing in college - a few friends and I took a class on comics together, got really charged up, and wound up starting a collective, the Oberlin Comics Collective. After that, a bunch of cool artists came out of the woodwork - most of us were new to comics and self-publishing, but we were all really earnest and supportive. We put out a bunch of anthologies and collaborations, and there was a lot of skill sharing going on - I learned how to edit on photoshop, how to operate a risograph, how to write legibly, etc. The OCC is still functional, as far as I know, and putting out incredible work.
After I graduated, I moved out to Portland, OR because it had a reputation as a Cool Comics City and because I had friends there who said I could crash on their couch. It took me a little while to find the scene, but sure enough, this place has a really supportive, diverse community of cartoonists (not to mention other zinesters and visual artists). I’ve made a lot of awesome friends. I’m in a sick-ass drawing group - shout out to the Wreckin Cru. I print all my zines at the Independent Publishing Resource Center, a nonprofit that exists to provide accessible printing resources to the public. The employees, volunteers, and patrons of the IPRC have been great to me and bestowed me with a lot of practical artist know-how. Lots to do in Portland, lots of opportunities to interact with your peers. The cartoonists in this city work unbelievably hard to keep the scene lively - there’s festivals, performances, galleries, and book releases all the time. I feel lucky. Every time I go to a thing, I have to work really hard to play it cool and not freak out over how good everybody is at comics.
3. You’ve written auto-bio, gags, short stories and epic operas - is there a story length /form that comes most naturally to you?
I think the most natural mode for me is that stream-of-consciousness style that I talked about earlier. For me, the most natural way to draw comics is to draw four panels on a page and just fill ‘em in without giving any thought to what came before and what came next. They’re usually gag comics, in some sense, whether they’re abstract or literal or autobiographical. I like to start the page with a weird premise, then follow it where it goes and see if I can organically land on a punchline (or a non-punchline) by the last panel. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but that’s the easiest groove for me to slip into.
In terms of my more premeditated writing, I tend to gravitate towards one-one dialogues. Long, talky scenes. Usually awkward, mumblecore-y conversations between people who have their guard up. I like it when nobody really says what they’re thinking. In terms of story length… As I get more competent at making comics, my story structures have been getting longer and more complex. Sometimes they collapse under their own weight, and I get exasperated and give up. Usually, a story line winds up being twice as long on the page as it is in my head. Right now, I’m finishing up the last chapter of a graphic novel that I started a year ago called “A Fresh Start On A New World.” I wanted it to be twenty pages and it looks like it’s going to be a hundred. Yikes.
I’ll tell you one thing, though. Four panels. Four panels, in a messy grid. That, to me, is the most perfect, most natural, most creatively fulfilling comics page that anyone can draw. Nobody can tell me otherwise.
4. Who are some of your comics contemporaries whose work you are most interested in?
Hmm. Feels weird to call anybody my contemporaries. Here’s some people have been blowing my mind lately: Andy Burkholder is doing some amazing stuff with deconstruction, repetition, animals wearing sunglasses, etc. Sometimes I’ll draw something weird, and I’ll be really proud of myself, and then I’ll realize that Burkholder already did it in a cooler way. Patrick Kyle is very next level. Olivier Schrauwen, Simon Hanselmann, Matt Thurber, Julia Gfrörer, all amazing. Noah Van Sciver truly is some kinda old school craftsman and he’s been one of my primary sad-boy role models for a while now. Edie Fake is awesome, taking some deep exploratory dives into the architectures of the soul and the body. I met this one dude, Miles Wintner, at Portland Zine Symposium last year, and his zines made me laugh harder than just about anything. Daria Tessler is one of Portland’s superstars. Her work is just visually bonkers every time. I think she may be some sort of wizard. She just put out a book with my friend Matt’s risograph distro, Perfectly Acceptable. I’m extremely psyched for that one. In addition to being an ace printer, Matt Davis is one of the most inspiring artists I know. I wish he would draw more comics. MJ Robinson, too. Do yourself a flavor and check out MJ’s work. Matt and MJ are two of the college friends that I was talking about earlier - we all started doing comics around the same time. I’ve learned so much from them.
5. Other than comics, what are some of your passions/interests?
I’m obsessed with professional wrestling. The culture surrounding it is really complicated and fascinating. I really wish there was more academic discourse on the subject. It’s cool to see the comics community finding its foothold in academia, but I’d much rather see more people writing papers on the ontology of wrasslin’. My pipe dream is to quit comics and go back to school to get accredited as a wrestling announcer, or maybe a referee. I enjoy the hip hop music. I like stand up comedy, and I get up at open mics whenever Im feeling an excess of self-confidence. I have a morbid fascination with early American history. I’m very passionate about my pet toad, Dave Matthews Toad. I have strong feelings, mostly positive, about 7/11 tacquitos. Other than that, comics. Just comics.
Sam Szabo is a decent kid from coastal Massachusetts. He moved to Portland, Oregon in 2013 to pursue a career in the janitorial arts.
So…In 2014 I participate in this competition, IRPC, with this poster that I named “King`s Music” and I won 13 place. It was a great experience, mostly because I am from Cuba and here is kind of hard find opportunities like this one and even participate some times. It was so rewarding that inspire me to find a way of put my work out there, and chare more what I all about. That is really the motive behind this blog, and I really hope that you will enjoy it. Thanks. P.S.: If you want to know more about this contest or see other wining posters you can go to this link http://www.reggaepostercontest.com