Jeet Heer is a critic and scholar who makes me realize I’m incredibly ignorant of the comics medium on so many levels. Therefore when I had the opportunity to interview him recently, to say I was intimidated (even though it was via the comfort of email) is an understatement. We covered a great deal of ground in our email exchange, but it is so diverse while at the same time succinct, I have opted to split the interview into two parts. The second part (found here) focuses on Heer’s collaboration with Kent Worcester. My thanks to Heer for his time and thoughts.
Tim O’Shea: What is the labor breakdown between you, Chris Ware and Chris Oliveros in terms of editing the collections of Frank King’s Gasoline Alley? Who handles what on the projects?
Jeet Heer: I see the Walt and Skeezix books as truly collaborative efforts. With each volume, Chris Ware and I make a trip out to see Frank King’s family, collect material and decide what the theme is going to be. I try to shape my writing around the visual material: thus in volume 3, we had a lot of photos of Gasoline Alley toys and merchandizing, thanks in large part to Chris’s efforts as a collector. See those photos inspired me to write about King’s ability to spin off merchandizing based on is characters. Chris Oliveros, of course, handles the production end of things, which is a big part of the book’s appeal (and a big reason why Drawn and Quarterly books are so treasured). I’m less involved in the production decision, but I often eavesdrop as an interested observer and it’s fascinating to listen to the two Chrises talk about paper stock, the size of books, the color scheme of the covers and other details. For both Ware and Oliveros, book making is truly an art. This is important to bear in mind because until recently, book production wasn’t a big part of comics: most comic strip collection and comic books were shoddily put together. To be sure, there were exceptions like the Barnaby books of the 1940s, or Walt Kelly’s warm and inviting Pogo paperbacks of the 1950s. But the real revolution in comics came in the 1980s and 1990s thanks to four people: Francoise Mouly, Chip Kidd, Chris Ware, and Chris Oliveros. The four really taught us that to do justice to comics as a visual form, the book design had to be specifically tailored to show the art in the best light.