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John Martz, creator of drawn.ca, talks books.

John Martz talks about abstract comics...

READERSVOICE.COM: What was involved in organising the party in early December for the Canadian chapter of the National Cartoonists’ Society, and how do these societies and events benefit comics artists?

JOHN MARTZ: The chapter has a party every year, and this was the first year that I, as the new chapter chair, was charged with organizing it. Chapter members are invited, of course, as well as several associates and friends of the NCS. It has always been a modest get-together with a rather small community, so this year I invited several cartoonist friends who are outside of the usual local NCS blanket.

The NCS is an interesting entity in that while the comics scene today is alive with activity and growth, it’s moving away from the newspapers and into graphic novels and onto the web. Young cartoonists today don’t aspire to be on the newspaper page, but the NCS, even though it’s open to animators, illustrators, and cartoonists of any shape and shade, is still rather newspaper-centric and victim to a certain disconnect, I think, between itself and the new breed of indie and web-based comics. Perhaps it’s always been like this, and I’m just closer to it now. Ultimately, though, organizations like the NCS are beneficial in that they breed a sense of community, and offer a venue for networking and getting to know other creators.

Plus, considering how many cartoonists work alone all day, getting out in public for a drink or two is always a good thing to preserve one’s sanity.

RV: I liked the nearly-80-page high school year book you drew, Excelsior, featuring more than 1000 heads of students. Can you talk about how that idea came about, and your interest in abstract comics?

JM: One of things I struggle with most as a cartoonist is simplicity and restraint. Some of my favourite cartoonists are those whose work is deceptively simple and facile — Seth, Jean-Jacques Sempé, Patrick McDonnell, Tom Gauld, Lewis Trondheim, Ivan Brunetti. So the idea to recreate one of my mother’s high school yearbooks as a series of drawings was done as an exercise in abstraction and in trying to better develop a style that allows me to work quickly and simply.

Could I draw 1000 caricatures, essentially, and develop a simple visual vocabulary expressive and versatile enough to make each head unique without too much effort? As a personal project it was entirely rewarding and successful. Whether it’s readable or enjoyable to other people is another matter. Other cartoonists seem to love it, and really get it, but the general reaction has been mixed. As for abstract comics, see the next question.

RV: What influences went into Machine Gum #1?

JM: We’re all products of our influences, and I guess that’s where my interest in abstract comics comes from. Today’s new cartoonists are schooled by Scott McCloud, Pixar, and other champions of storytelling, and while I think that it’s doing wonders to the maturity of comics as an artform, sometimes I think it’s okay to throw maturity out the window.

I’m not talking about Johnny Ryan-style gross-out gags, I just mean that until I have a story that I really want to tell, I am more than happy to just play around with comics as comics, and have fun with pictures, wordplay, and sounds.

Machine Gum #1 is the output of someone who was schooled by the Muppet Show, Sesame Street, Looney Tunes, MAD Magazine (especially MAD Zaps the Human Race, the collection of MAD pieces penned by Frank Jacobs), Peanuts, B. Kliban, The Far Side, Bennett Cerf, Dr. Seuss, the Marx Brothers, Krazy Kat, Hanna-Barbera, NFB animated shorts, Roz Chast, Dennis Lee’s children’s poems, Rankin-Bass specials, the experimental poetry of Christian Bök, Jack Ziegler, Richard Scarry, and Adam West’s Batman.

RV: Can you describe the Hotel Canzine event, at the Gladstone in Toronto? What works were you showing there, and what were some of the sorts of zines you saw?

JM: It’s an annual zine fair with loads of local self-publishers. It seemed to be a bit of a craft show as well, with plenty of 1-inch buttons and knitted this-and-thats. It was fun because I was there with my friend Aaron ( http://www.aaroncostain.com) who was selling his comics as well. The atmosphere was perhaps a bit too hipstery for my tastes, or for the success of my sales at least. With a room laced with so much irony, there’s not much luck for a book of talking animals and puns and silly rhymes.

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