Talking Comics with Tim: Bob Fingerman
When I learned that IDW was publishing Bob Fingerman‘s newest project, From the Ashes, I’ll admit I was pleassantly surprised, given that it seemed outside of IDW’s typical market focus. So when he recently agreed to an email interview I was eager to find out how it landed at IDW in addition to his thought process on this speculative memoir (as well as his latest Fantagraphics release, Connective Tissue). The first installment of the six-issue From The Ashes miniseries hits the market this Wednesday, May 13. Here’s the official snippet on the miniseries from IDW: “Fingerman and his wife Michele find out the apocalypse isn’t the end of the world in this hip satirical survival romp through Manhattan’s ruins. Think The Road, only funny!” My thanks to Fingerman for his time and to Emma Griffiths and Martin Wendel for facilitating this interview, as well as Chris Mautner for his help in formulating questions. If you happen to be in New York this Friday, May 15, Fingerman will have an art show/signing at Rocketship at 8 PM.
Tim O’Shea: Why did you opt to do this series as a mini-series, as opposed to a graphic novel?
Bob Fingerman: It wasn’t my choice. I’d have preferred to release it as a book straight off, but that’s not IDW’s business model. Still, they put out classy looking comics on good paper. And it will eventually get collected as a book.
O’Shea: You consulted with your wife, Michele, throughout the development of this story. But before embarking on this project did you tell her you intended this to be an “open love letter” (as you describe it in your recent Huffington Post piece) to her? Anyway you slice it, she clearly loves you a great deal to support a work that aims to capture your relationship with her and features “mutants, cannibals, zombies”.
Fingerman: Michele is the center of my life. She’s very supportive of everything I do. “Open love letter” is pretty corny, I’ll admit. But it’s honest. My consulting with her basically entailed repeatedly asking her, “Is it all right if I have you doing this or that?” She got final approval.
O’Shea: A couple of years ago you wrote a prose novel. Did that experience change your sequential art approach to storytelling at all?
Fingerman: Not really. But doing comics definitely influenced the way I wrote the novel. I’ve got another novel coming out next year called Pariah, from Tor. I’m super excited about it. Pariah was originally conceived as a graphic novel, but it’s way better as a novel. I got to go a lot deeper and darker in prose. Ideally I’d like to alternate between graphic novels and prose novels.
O’Shea: This year also marks the release of Connective Tissue, an illustrated prose novel. Did you work on both projects in parallel? If so, how hard was it to shift gears between prose and sequential art storytelling?
Fingerman: Connective Tissue was finished before I started From the Ashes, so there was barely any overlap.
O’Shea: The interior art for Connective Tissue and From the Ashes are both in a brown tint, what makes you partial to that approach with your art–at least with these projects?
Fingerman: Well, the color shifts from setting to setting. In From the Ashes I used brown for the post-apocalyptic wasteland scenes, a greenish gray for present day flashbacks and so on. In Connective Tissue the brown is the bizarre world stuff and the bluish tinted work is the “real world” (or is it?).
O’Shea: How has the editorial process differed for you at IDW versus your experience with other publishers? What attracted you to working with IDW?
Fingerman: My friend Scott Dunbier started there as an editor and I approached him in hopes FTA would appeal. I wouldn’t have thought of IDW without his presence because I mainly associated them with big licensed properties, like Star Trek and GI Joe and the like. But Scott is doing very different creator-owned things with them, so I made a sale. And he’s pretty much let me run riot doing FTA as I wanted.
O’Shea: You have done semi-autobiographical work before, but how ambitious and/or intimidating is it to attempt “speculative memoir” (as you describe it in that recent Huffington Post piece)?
Fingerman: It was ambitious in scope, I guess. Hard to say. I wanted to cover a lot of things, but I didn’t want to get preachy or overly dogmatic with the content. I wasn’t intimidated at all though. I was having too much fun for that.
O’Shea: Speaking of HuffPo, your typical sequential artist does not get a chance very often to promote him or herself in such a high profile forum. How did that come about and have you been buoyed by the response to that post?
Fingerman: I have a lovely and generous friend named Emma Griffiths, who very kindly did PR for me on this. HuffPo was her score, and it was a sweet one. Can’t say as to whether it’s buoyed anything yet, though. But I hope it will. It certainly can’t hurt. Emma and my friend Martin Wendel have been doing PR for me in tandem and they’ve been great. I’m very lucky.
O’Shea: One of the upcoming covers features an homage to Norman Rockwell. Can you think of any other pop culture homages you work into the story?
Fingerman: Well, I don’t want to leak spoilers, but Anthony Bourdain makes a cameo in issue #2 and a certain loathsome right-wing pundit has a pretty key role later. And Michele’s Hello Kitty knapsack is pretty cute.
O’Shea: As you point out at your blog, post-apocalyptic is a popular genre. How hard was it to avoid storytelling clichés in exploring such territory?
Fingerman: Well, I wanted to include some clichés, or at least pay them my respects if only in the dialogue.
O’Shea: You note the trend that “female interest in comics growing daily (both in the creation and consumption of)”–what about this story do you hope will spark the interest of female readership?
Fingerman: I hope to get everyone reading this, gender immaterial, but I think women in particular might respond to the way I portray both Michele and our relationship. It’s not soppy, but it is romantic. I think marriage sometimes gets a bad shake. Even though he’s one of my heroes, Bill Maher always dismisses marriage out of hand. Like, once the rings are exchanged you might as well be strapping on His and Her chastity belts. Anyway, the fact that Michele and I are friends above all would hopefully appeal. I have had readers of the XX-chromosome persuasion tell me I write strong, dimensional female characters.
O’Shea: Both From the Ashes and Connective Tissue feature female leads. FTA’s Michele and Connective Tissue’s Darla Vogel are vastly different people, but I’m curious if they have any shared traits or character elements?
Fingerman: Neither one of them are pushovers, nor are they stick figures. They’re healthy women who respect themselves and expect to be respected. And they’re smart. That said, Michele and Darla are pretty dissimilar. Darla is way snarkier.
O’Shea: There’s a moment in the first issue where your wife points out that in this post-apocalyptic scenario you are an artist with no paper. It struck me as a great little moment, how did you come up with that? And would that be truly hell for you–a world with no paper to draw on?
Fingerman: It would suck. Especially with no TV or videogames to distract me from reality. But cavemen didn’t have paper and they got by. I guess I’d have to scrape together the raw ingredients to make paint. It wouldn’t be an ideal way to work, but I’d make do. Or not.
O’Shea: Is there anything you’d like to discuss that I neglected to ask you about?
Fingerman: Nothing of any great consequence, but thanks for asking. Like a good laxative, you were gentle and thorough. Thanks!