(Alternative Comics Group)
Interview with the Artists of 9-11: PART II
In December, PopMatters Section Editor A. David Lewis conducted an interview with some of his fellow contributors to the upcoming disaster relief graphic novel, Alternative Comics Group’s 9-11: Emergency Relief. However, just as the interview with Dean Haspiel (Opposable Thumbs), Neil Kleid (Rant Comics), Renee French (Grit Bath), Jen Sorensen (Slowpoke: Café Pompous), Donna Barr (Stinz), and a tardy Laurenn McCubbin (XXX Live Nude Girls) was set to conclude, Too Much Coffee Man‘s Shannon Wheeler appeared. So, Neil and Jen stuck around to take part in a much more informal session dealing with Laurenn and Shannon’s thoughts on the fictional and factual world since September 11th.
(Just after Dean, Donna, and Renee leave, in walks Shannon.)
A. David Lewis: Shannon?!
Laurenn McCubbinn: Shannon is late, like me!
Shannon Wheeler: I finally made it in—that is, woke up.
Neil Kleid : Wow, talk about fashionably late!
LMc: Shannon, I really love your magazine.
SW: Thank you. What did I miss?
ADL (still laughing): The interview. But, considering that I also love TMCM and considering that I’m editing the holy heck out of the interview anyway…Why don’t we get some comments from you as well, Shannon?
LMc: Yay! Second chances!
ADL: I always believe in them.
SW: Sounds good to me.
Jen Sorensen: I bet you were up late doing comics, weren’t you, Shannon?
SW: I was up late talking to an FBI agent—
SW:—at a party.
LMc: Oh, phew.
ADL: Let’s play back some of the questions I posed in the first part of the interview, yes? For both you and Laurenn.
Who do you generally see as your audience, and, if at all different, who do you see the audience for 9-11: Emergency Relief being?
SW: I didn’t see much of a difference between my normal audience and the audience for Jeff’s book. I do most of comics for free weekly newspapers which go to a wide spectrum of people. Same as this book.
LMc: I think that people who might not ordinarily pick up comics will pick up this book, because of the charity aspect.
NK: Agreed. Heck, I bought a poster the other day sine it was for 9-11 charity… and I never buy posters!
ADL: Do you think 9-11 goes any further, audience-wise?
SW: I did feel that I needed to be sensitive to the victims. There were so many people that were directly affected. I didn’t feel that I could be cynical as I usually am.
ADL (grinning): You, Shannon, cynical?
SW: Cynical. Paranoid. Sarcastic. Optimistic. Hopeful. Happy.
LMc: Yay, happy!
SW: I hope that this book reaches new people. I think comics need to be more relevant. This book is a good step in the right direction.
Almost all of the pieces from 9-11 come from the auto-bio genre of comic storytelling. Outside of this particularly example or charity works in generally, where and how do you each see this formatting fitting?
LMc: I think that it’s important to have a personal reaction to this tragedy, as opposed to trying to hide behind a character. I mean, there wasn’t anyone who wasn’t touched by this.
JS: I agree about the relevance. Maybe I’m biased, but I particularly like comics that address cultural and political issues. Not that political stuff has to always be hard-edged and serious.
NK: Which is why none of the stories are fiction, precisely what Jeff pushed for.
LMc: If you can hear someone’s actual story, it anchors you in the moment. You can relate, because you were there too, as opposed to Superman, who was nowhere to be seen.
SW: It’s odd for cartoonists to do auto-bio stories, most cartoonists lead pretty boring lives, really.
LMc: Speak for yourself, buddy!
ADL: Some artists, though, like Dean Haspiel, specialize in auto-bio. And I have to imagine there’s some personal experience in TMCM?
SW: TMCM is mostly personal experience.
NK: Yeah, but in a sense Shannon is right—not everyone leads the roller coaster of a life Dean has.
SW: Hang on. I’ve got to live the cliche and get a cup of coffee.
(Shannon shuffles out.)
LMc: Small stories are good too—not everything has to be huge to make a good auto-bio.
ADL: True. I just wrote a story, only about two pages, of my embarrassment in meeting actor Bruce Campbell.
LMc: Just looking out from your own experience can be rewarding, and create empathy.
JS: You can get a lot of great slice-of-life stories out of even the dullest existence. It’s important to tell the story with a sense of humor… it’s all in the telling, I think.
NK: Jen, I agree. That’s what I’m doing with mine. But no one knows about a book by looking at the cover. They need to buy the book to get that sense of empathy.
(Coffeee-in-hand, Shannon returns, trading seats with Jen who must depart.)
SW: I’m back…
ADL: Shannon, I was asking earlier about contributions to the 9-11 book. Could you summarize yours?
SW: My contribution was mostly a reaction against the capitalizing of the tragedy. I was astounded at the selling (and advertising) of flags and things patriotic. I felt it was inappropriate. My strip was a reaction. I figured everyone else had the ‘I’m horrified’ aspect covered. Don’t get me wrong, though: I was as horrified as the next person.
LMc: I needed to talk about the contrast between how life was, sitting watching TV, and being out, being with other people, afterwards. The contrast between the hopelessness of the networks, and the hope and compassion of actual people.
NK: Isn’t Tom Hart’s about something like yours, Shannon? About how this won’t change our need to shop or mass-produce?
LMc: Ugh—especially when we are told that if we don’t shop, “They’ve won.”
SW: “Be patriotic. Shop here.” I put that in my comic because it was an actual sign that I saw. Totally offensive.
NK: Shannon, that’s terrible.
LMc: Horribly. It belittles what happened.
In the aftermath of September 11th, how has your writing/drawing.stories changed, if at all?
LMc: A strange change for me. I am actually doing more work, because, who knows what is going to happen next? I have lots I want to say, and I feel a need to get it out, quick.
SW: Yeah, more work. I hear that. I try and be more relevant. There are some real problems that I’m trying to address with my comics. But I guess I was doing that before. Fear has reentered my daily life. This fear is a little better than the existential dread I was getting from my fear of nuclear war.
LMc: Shannon, I used to have nightmares in the ‘80s. Now they are back, thanks to the end of the nuclear treaties.
ADL: Not the most heartening note to end things on, but certainly an honest one. Folks, let me thank you again for logging in and taking part. I’ll conclude my reminding people to go to indyworld.com/relief/ for a listing of 9-11: Emergency Relief‘s 18 signing event stops, where they can meet some of the contributors who took part in the book and in these interviews. Thanks, again!