This interview presents a conversation with Ignatz award-winning cartoonist Noah Van Sciver (Fante Bukowski, Grateful Dead: Origins, Disquiet, Please Don’t Step On My JNCO Jeans, One Dirty Tree, Blammo, Saint Cole, More Mundane, Constant Companion, 1999, The Hypo: The Melancholic Young Lincoln) about his life, art and work.
Jeffery Klaehn: In addition to winning an Ignatz award in 2016 for your autobiographical mini-comic, My Hot Date, you were nominated for multiple Ignatz awards throughout 2010 to 2016 for Outstanding Comic (Blammo #6 and #8), Outstanding Artist (Saint Cole and Disquiet), Outstanding Graphic Novel (Saint Cole), and Outstanding Minicomic (The Death of Elijah Lovejoy). You were nominated for an Eisner Award in 2016 for Best Writer/Artist (Fante Bukowski) and A Perfect Failure: Fante Bukowski Three was nominated for an Eisner in the Best Humor Publication category. How do you define success at this point in your career, Noah? What does it mean for you?
Noah Van Sciver: Success in comics to me is a publisher and readers that have faith in you and the stories that you want to tell. A publisher that is happy to help you put your ideas together no matter what they are. Those aren’t things that come easy, and you’ve really got to earn them!
JK: Your The Complete Works of Fante Bukowski released earlier this year from Fantagraphics and is available in both hardcover and digitally via Kindle. It’s 450 pages and collects all three volumes of your Fante Bukowski graphic novels, with extensive bonus material. What inspired these works and how might you describe them to potential new audiences? Is it fair to say the story is darkly comedic, laced with very real world, relatable observations of people and the human condition?
NVS: Well, Fante Bukowski was a character I made up in 2014 while working at a used bookstore in Denver, Colorado and coming into contact with many young men who were self-styled poets and alcoholic writers. When I started to travel around doing zine festivals and readings for my own mini-comics and graphic novels I still met many people who were like Fante Bukowski in the small press. So in my sketchbook I began to draw an amalgamation of all of them. Which, if I’m honest, included myself and my own desperation as well. I posted the comics about this new character on social media and it really took off! Everyone seemed to know a person or people just like Fante Bukowski. The character is funny, and I’ve noticed that many of the people who haven’t liked his comics are reacting to it hitting a little too close to home.
JK: What led you to become a cartoonist, Noah?
NVS: When I think about it, I’ve always been a cartoonist. I was always drawing my own comics as a kid, and besides a time in my teen years when I decided I’d try to be a painter, I have continued drawing cartoons. I can’t help it, the line that my hand makes is cartoony!
JK: Your work is often awesomely funny. How do you see humor playing into your work, sensibilities and art?
NVS: I laugh at most things other people find terrible. Because I grew up in a poor family and starved and dealt with embarrassment from childhood, I developed a pretty dark and tragic sense of humor. A lot of the jokes I write are about people saying awful and frightening things. Haggard people. I think that may be a reflection on my own life story and what I think of myself sometimes...
JK: Please tell me about your Grateful Dead: Origins graphic novel, published with Z2 Comics. How did the work come about, what drew you to it, and how long did it take you to produce?
NVS: It’s a very exciting project to work on! Obviously, being a fan of the 1960s and 1970s Underground Comix scene, the Grateful Dead seemed like a soundtrack to all of that LSD-fueled comics mayhem, and that’s what inspired me to take on the book, and what I tried to bring to it artistically. I’m not an artist that can illustrate a documentary on paper but I can portray real events through my own filter and create a graphic novel that fans and comics readers will get something entirely new and different out of. The writer on the book was Chris Miskiewicz and the task of boiling down those early Warlocks and Grateful Dead years into 125 pages was an immense feat, and I think he did a wonderful job.
It took me about a year to finish the drawing and it was a pretty intense year of work!
JK: A collector’s deluxe edition of the work will be available on June 12th and a standard edition will follow on June 19th?
NVS: That’s the word on the street. It was supposed to have come out in April, but the Covid crises halted everything, of course.
JK: Thanks so much for the interview Noah!! Please share what you can about what you’re working on at present.
NVS: Thank you! At present I’m still chugging along on a graphic novel called “Joseph Smith and his Mormons” all about the origins and foundations of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. It’s a history that I’m personally invested in learning, after being partly raised in the church (and later leaving). Also, I’ve started a YouTube channel to have cartoonist-to -cartoonist conversations about process and comics history! It’s been a blast and everyone should subscribe!
Author Biographical Summary
Jeffery Klaehn resides in Canada and holds a PhD in Communication from the University of Amsterdam and a PhD in Sociology from the University of Strathclyde. His interests include pop culture, music, storytelling, comics and graphic novels, digital games, game design, and interactive fiction.