Smash Pages Q&A: Sami Alwani

The creator of the award-winning ‘The Dead Father’ discusses his latest work for Fantagraphics’ ‘Now’ anthology.

Sami Alwani is a Toronto-based cartoonist and illustrator who, by his own admission, works slowly, but in the past few years has produced a number of comics for Vice, Broken Pencil and other publications. He received a 2018 Doug Wright Award for his comic The Dead Father.

Alwani has a new comic in NOW #8, the current issue of the Fantagraphics anthology. The Misfortunes of Virtue isn’t just a good comic, but I would argue it’s Alwani’s best work to date. We spoke recently about life during lockdown, working slowly and where that title comes from.

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Smash Pages Q&A: Magdalene Visaggio

The writer of ‘Eternity Girl,’ ‘Vagrant Queen,’ ‘Kim & Kim,’ ‘Morning in America’ and more discusses ‘Lost on Planet Earth,’ her latest series from comiXology Originals.

In the span of just a few years, Magdalene Visaggio has shown herself to be one of the most original, dynamic and inventive writers in comics. 

She’s written books for different companies from Marvel (Dazzler: X-Song) and Valiant (Doctor Mirage) to IDW (Transformers vs. The Visionaries) and Humanoids (Strangelands). The Eternity Girl miniseries from her and Sonny Liew is simply one of the strongest (and strangest) books that DC has published in recent years and I think the best book to come out of the very impressive Young Animal imprint.

For the most part, though Visaggio has written creator-owned miniseries. That in and of itself is hard to do, but the wide variety of what she’s made is impressive. To name just a few, Visaggio has written three Kim & Kim series, Calamity Kate, Morning in America, Quantum Teens Are Go!, Sex Death Revolution, two Vagrant Queen miniseries. Yes, the same Vagrant Queen that was adapted into the current SyFy Channel TV show.

So much of her work is about change and about the emotional journey of transforming ourselves, growing up and finding a new path, rejecting what’s laid out for us when it would be easier to accept it. In a medium that specializes in stories of transformation and adventure, Visaggio has found a place for queer stories and misfit stories that break so many molds and expectations, crafting something that is different, sometimes startlingly so. Her stories reject grand narratives, hero journeys, chosen one sagas, for something messier, something harder. Something a little more realistic and relatable. They are stories about the lives that we build and shape ourselves, with the emotional and psychological stories far more important than the larger narratives.

Her current project is Lost on Planet Earth, the second issue of which comes out from Comixology today. A collaboration with Claudia Aguirre, the two have worked together often over the years. The book and its themes come out of a lifelong obsession with Star Trek (something we both share), but the story that she’s written is uniquely hers, something that one doesn’t need to be a Trek fan to understand or relate to, and something truly unique. 

Visaggio and I met last year at the Queers & Comics Conference, and we spoke recently about working with artists, the Federation and more, while comiXology provided a preview of the new issue. 

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Smash Pages Q&A: Claudia Aguirre

The artist of ‘Lost on Planet Earth’ shares some early character designs for the comic and discusses her process for creating characters, working with Magdalene Visaggio and more.

Claudia Aguirre has been working in comics for years as an artist and colorist on books like Morning in America, Hotel Dare, Kim & Kim and Open Earth. She’s one half of Boudika Comics with Eva Cabrera. Her new project is the comiXology Originals series Lost on Planet Earth, which she made with her longtime collaborator Magdalene Visaggio.

The slice-of-life science fiction tale launched last month and with issue #2 coming out on May 19, I asked Aguirre a few questions about how she works, and she provided some character designs to show how she thinks – and give a first look at a character appearing in the new issue.

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Smash Pages Q&A: Kevin Huizenga

The creator of ‘The River at Night’ discusses insomnia, his process, endings and more.

In Kevin Huizenga’s book The River at Night, his main character Glenn Ganges has insomnia. One of Huizenga’s great gifts as a cartoonist is the way in which this is the entire plot of the book, but it’s not the point of the book, as Huizenga uses this scenario as a way to explore memory, our experience of time, death, deep time, the writing of John McPhee, how we experience change and those moments where people are able to step outside of themselves for a moment.

Huizenga has always been a formalist. He’s been compared to Chris Ware, but the two have very different interests in how they work. Huizenga is interested in consciousness and the subconscious, with perception and understanding, with finding ways to explain and understanding how the world works and how the mind perceives it. Glenn has been the protagonist of much of Huizenga’s work, but he uses the character as a way to explore ideas and experiences and we spoke recently about some of these ideas and trying to explore and depict these ideas visually.

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Smash Page Q&A: Alex de Campi

The prolific creator pulls no punches as she discusses her brand-new Panel Syndicate comic, ‘Bad Karma,’ and a whole lot more.

Alex de Campi made a splash writing the 2005 miniseries Smoke and ever since then, she’s been a creator who’s been hard to pin down. Some of that is simply because she’s so prolific. De Campi is a writer who’s worked on My Little Pony and Judge Dredd, Josie and the Pussycats in Space and two Archie vs Predator series. She’s created series like Grindhouse, Kat & Mouse and Agent Boo, comics like Mayday and Bad Girls, Bankshot and Semiautomagic. She created the digital comic Valentine and wrote, edited and lettered the Image Comics anthology Twisted Romance

One theme that has run through much of her work is responsibility. De Campi does not write moralistic stories, but many of them revolve around people taking responsibility for who they are for what they’ve done, only to be forced to understand that doing the right thing is often harder than they ever considered. Omar famously said in The Wire, “a man’s gotta have a code,” and so many of de Campi’s characters live similarly. Or finally make a stand and choose to live by a code, only to find that decision often becomes their undoing. Ethan and Sully in Bad Karma did not return from war better and stronger and more successful, but when they learn that someone is on death row for an assassination they carried out, they decide to do something about it. Their road trip and what follows are dark, funny, incisive and some of the best work de Campi has ever written.

Bad Karma from de Campi, Ryan Howe and Dee Cunniffe launches on Panel Syndicate today, with a new chapter coming out next month.

I joked with de Campi that she’s always working on a dozen different projects, and this year is an especially busy one for her. She’s editing and working on the comics anthology True War Stories, she’s collaborating with Erica Henderson on Dracula, Mother f**ker! and she’s writing Madi, a collaboration with filmmaker Duncan Jones that she can’t talk much about, all of which come out this fall. Meanwhile she’s serializing a graphic novel on Patreon, and her debut novel The Scottish Boy comes out the beginning of June from Unbound.

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Smash Pages Q&A: Robin Ha

The creator of “Cook Korean!” talks about her latest graphic memoir, “Almost American Girl.”

Robin Ha’s graphic memoir Almost American Girl came out earlier this year, and it’s a stunning work that recounts not just her own childhood, but her mother’s life in South Korea and why they emigrated to the United States.

For those who knew Ha for her book Cook Korean! which began life as a cooking blog, to spend time with how she draws, with the ways that she plays with color and tone, is to understand just how good an artist and storyteller she is. And reading the two books together make it clear that she’s just begun to show what she’s capable of doing.

I reached out to Ha recently to talk about the book and her career, about trying to make projects that are very dissimilar from each other, and trying to focus on the emotion of the story.

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Smash Pages Q&A: Jason Platt

The creator of “Mister & Me” discusses his latest graphic novel, his creative process, heist movies and more.

Jason Platt had been making the webcomic Mister & Me for years before he began making graphic novels. His second, Middle School Misadventures–Operation: Hat Heist is just out and is his best work yet.

When Newell’s favorite hat gets stolen at school, and then confiscated by the principal, he and other students stage an elaborate heist to take back, well, every hat the principal has confiscated over the years. Also, the plot hinges around the character’s love for The Captain, a science fiction TV show about a World War II bomber pilot thrown halfway across the galaxy.

Platt and I spoke recently about heist films, color, and trying to make each of his books completely different.

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Smash Pages Q&A: Victor Martins

The cartoonist behind the most recent issue of “Ley Lines” discusses Virginia Woolf, the Hello Boyfriend comics collective, goats and more.

Victor Martins is the cartoonist behind the most recent issue of the Ley Lines anthology, a quarterly comic series where in each issue a cartoonist looks at a work of art. The result has been one of the very best comics projects of recent years, as each artist has yielded something distinct, not just from each other, but often it involves them trying a new approach in these “essayistic” comics.

In the new issue titled Cabra Cabra, Martins looks at Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando, the story of a character who changes sex and lives for centuries, a character inspired by Woolf’s lover, the writer Vita Sackville-West. Martins re-read the novel and had a different response to it, and the resulting comic is a thoughtful look at the differences.

Martins is one quarter of the comics collective Hello Boyfriend, which has produced Doki Doki High and Archie Fancomics Digest. Martins has made a number of comics and minicomics, including You Don’t Have To Be Afraid Of Me and Stay. We spoke recently about Virginia Woolf, trying to grapple with our feelings toward disturbing and problematic work, and prioritizing the emotional arc of a story.

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Smash Pages Q&A: Erin Williams

The creator of ‘Commute’ discusses her latest project for “The Believer,” her nontraditional approach to page design, the long-lasting effects of trauma and more.

In the February/March issue of The Believer magazine, Erin Williams has a new short comic “Dust and Doubt” which builds on the ideas and concerns of her acclaimed debut book Commute. One of the best books published last year, Commute was a look at Williams’ day but also at her life, at the male gaze, at taking up space in the world, about alcoholism and trauma, and how we dissociate in order to survive. It’s about what it means to live in a culture that tries to monetize this trauma, promising a “cure” for the trauma the society causes.

Reading Williams’ work, one sees echoes of other creators who have used the medium in nontraditional ways to try to convey these physical  understandings of how being in our bodies, the complicated interactions of mental and physical pain of the aftermath of trauma and finding not just new ways to consider this but depict and convey that experience. In both this short comic and her book, it’s clear that Williams doesn’t think in terms of a comics page or that formatted structure of paneled designs, instead using the openness of the page to explore how the words and the images can interact. We spoke recently over email about her work.

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