MOME Interview 4: Jonathan Bennett

jonathan bennett: I started working on my first comic stories. I made a couple short ones that have since been thrown away and were never published. Then I went to MoCCA [in the summer of 2002] and was introduced to so many more minicomics and other books and stuff like that; I didn’t have a table, I just wandered around at that one. But I brought my first Esoteric Tales to that.

gary groth: Because you were something of a designer and because you studied printmaking, you could publish your own comic.

{mosimage}jb: Yeah, yeah, I think so. I think I just started buying a lot of minicomics around New York at bookstores and comic shops and stuff so I figured out that there was a big community of people making these Xeroxed books and things that were printed on their home printers. I had been working on my own comics from October through June, so I’d been working for like eight months at the time, and threw out a lot of comic strips that didn’t come out well, but had practiced enough and gotten confidence enough that I was able to put together a book’s worth of material — that first issue. I made that a deadline for myself when I had learned about the show when it was first announced, people were talking about it on the message boards, so I said, “OK, well, I’ll make my first comic and I’ll hand it out to people at MoCCA.”

I can’t get anything done without a deadline, so that worked, miraculously. I just started using all my free time, I got out of music, stopped being in band and stuff. My last band broke up badly, and I just put all my creative energies into comics instead.

gg: There are only two issues of Esoteric.

jb: Yeah, pretty much; there’s also those two really small minicomics that are sort of Esoteric Tales also, they’re just smaller.

gg: They’re just really really esoteric tales.

jb: Those are also self-contained short stories, whereas Esoteric Tales is more of a couple of stories in each book. It took a lot longer to produce. I would do those little miniature books in like two weeks, and Esoteric Tales, those would take me forever to do because I was just slowly working on random comics and didn’t know what I was doing. Eventually, when a comics convention would come up, then I would say, “Oh, I better start finding stuff I can print.”

So I didn’t really have a plan of what would be in it until I found out there was a comics show coming up and that I have to fill up 16 pages.

gg: It seems like those first two issues were a learning experience; I can kind of see where you’re learning how to develop an inking technique, for example.

{mosimage}jb: Yeah, definitely, I was trying out all those different things like brushes for the first time. I’d used nibs before, several kinds, and never well, and finally started using different things and trying lettering professionally and buying an Ames guide and all that stuff. Trying to learn how to make things as well crafted as possible and I really was trying really hard even though I look at them now and cringe at a lot of this stuff, but I really tried hard to make them look as professional as I possibly could.

gg: There seems to be a real break between Esoteric Tales and all the work you’ve done in MOME — the first story you did in MOME is not dissimilar stylistically to the fourth story you’ve done in MOME. there’s a stylistic coherency to all the stuff you did in MOME which is quite different from what you did in Esoteric Tales. Was that shift a conscious decision or a gradual evolution that looks abrupt?

jb: I guess you could call it a conscious decision, it was more of a…

gg: A very deliberate refinement?

jb: It was just fear; I was afraid, I had never been published before by anyone, so when you guys contacted me about it, I just freaked out and I didn’t feel like anything I had printed to date was good enough for a real publisher to have published. I was already very critical of all that stuff, even though it was only a couple of years old. I just made myself work extra hard at trying to make everything better. I was just really freaked out by the whole opportunity that you guys had given me. [Groth laughs.] I felt a tremendous amount of pressure.