On any given week, reading Ben Towle’s Twitter feed or Oyster War Tumblr or his blog, I tend to take away some perspective of substance. And that’s what prompted me to do this email interview with him. Rather than explain what ground we tried to cover, I prefer to jump right into the interview, after thanking Towle for his time and thoughts. This interview was conducted prior to Towle’s Amelia Earhart: This Broad Ocean being nominated in the Eisner Best Publication for Kids category.
Tim O’Shea: When you started on Oyster War, did you expect that “publishers [would not]… be beating down my door to publish this weird, not-all-ages mashup of 20s newspaper comic strips and obscure (at least in the U.S.) French graphic novels“? Or has that been an unexpected, disappointing surprise?
Ben Towle: As far as my statement about publishers goes, I should clarify: no big publishing house is beating down my door to give me a publishing deal with a decent advance. And no, this doesn’t surprise me at all.
I guess I’ve gotten a reputation as a naysayer as a result, but I’ve always been quite dubious of the (in my opinion, very Pollyanna-ish) claim that the graphic novel as a literary/art form has “arrived.” I think if you look at what GNs for adults have gotten deals from big publishers, they’re almost exclusively very specific genres—usually memoir with some sort of an angle (historical, grave illness, identity politics, etc.)—-and that’s not the sort of thing I’m personally interested in doing comics about.
That said, I’m optimistic that once Oyster War gets to the point that it’s, say, 75% complete I’ll be able to shop it around to a specialty graphic novels publisher and find it a home. It would be nice if we got to the point that there’s a sizable enough audience for adult general fiction graphic novels to sustain the “living from advance to advance” model that successful prose authors can pull off, but until then, I’ll just continue to do what I’ve been doing: produce the work that I love doing and which I truly believe in, and hope to find some success with those projects on the back end.
Every so often I like to use this column to focus not just on the various American comics that have languished in uncollected obscurity for far too long, but to also examine great works found in other comics-loving countries like France and Japan that for reasons both frustrating and inscrutable have yet to arrive on our shores.
So this week I’m looking across the Atlantic to a 1997 graphic novel written by David B and drawn by Chris Blain, both French. Both names should at least ring a bell with the discerning indie reader, David B. having won well-deserved plaudits for his extraordinarily haunting memoir Epileptic, while Blain found his name on a number of top ten lists last year with First Second’s release of his revisionist Western Gus and His Gang.
La Revolte d’Hop-Frog is a Western as well, though it bears little resemblance to Gus, however, or to any Western I’ve ever seen or read. It’s more like The X-Files set in 19th Century Texas. Oh, it has plenty of gunfights for sure. And cowboys. And tons of Indians. The central plot, however, revolves around a number of talking teapots, guns, lamps,stoves and other inanimate objects gaining sentience and declaring all-out war on their previous owners.