The beauty that is Inkstuds

It didn’t take me this long to read Inkstuds (Conundrum Press, 2010) because I found it tedious; on the contrary, I wanted to savour these interviews and read them in small doses, interspersed with the ongoing consumption of comics—many created by artists featured on the radio show. Kudos to McConnell: with all of the interviews he’s conducted, I don’t know how he decided which ones to put in this volume. I suspect that’s why there’s a “1” on the spine of the book!

In the introduction to Inkstuds, comics scholar Jeet Heer remarks, “McConnell takes a deceptively casual tack, winging his way like a student at an oral exam who is willing to make up for in gusto what he lacks in preparation (6).” This may be especially true when listening to McConnell’s show, but one feature of reading the interviews that I found interesting was how once transcribed on the page, these conversations take on a new life. Now edited, gone are the traces of improvisational filler, instead leaving only a fluid path of ideas.

I usually listen to the Inkstuds podcasts at work, when I’m doing some task that isn’t totally labour-intensive. Even so, I still can’t invest all of my attention in them while I’m working. To revisit these conversations in book format means the conversations can be absorbed with crystal clarity; this is especially so since text is much easier for me to process compared with oral language. The combination of listening to, in addition to reading the interviews strengthens the Inkstuds experience. Even though I probably wouldn’t go back and listen to a podcast again, it’s easy to pick up this book and read any interview I’ve already heard. Reading Inkstuds reminds me what I’ve learned and reinforces connections. And now if there’s ever information I’d like to refer back to, it’s that much easier to find.

The one regularly recurring theme that I found present in the commentary of so many cartoonists in the Inkstuds volume is the commitment to craft—whether that be in terms of pencils, inks, paints, or (dare I say it?) Photoshop. Many of the featured artists have a formal background in visual arts, with a wide array of experience outside of the comics realm, in particular print-making and other commercial illustration. Without exception, what McConnell brings to his show is the cross-section of a vast array of individual styles, each with its own idiosyncratic strengths.

There is lots of great Canadian content in Inkstuds, such as exchanges with Jeet Heer, Seth, Chester Brown, David Collier, Jillian Tamaki, Billy Mavreas, Jeff Lemire, Marc Bell, Marv Newland, Joe Ollman and Kate Beaton.

In McConnell’s interview (accompanied by the illustrious Colin Upton) with Jason Lutes, Lutes comments on teaching at the Center for Cartooning Studies in White River Junction, Vermont:

I mean, comics is a medium, like I’ve been saying, and you guys are also believers. It’s a medium like any other medium. It’s a way of expressing yourself and whether it has commercial potential is a whole other question separate from what you can do with the tools. It’s the thing that you want to express yourself through and it might as well be puppetry or poetry. It’s just a way, and if you feel moved, you do it. The greatest thing about the school, the thing that’s really had the biggest impact on me, is that it’s a place where people who feel that way, people who feel that draw, that powerful resonance, this is a place for them to come and pursue it full time (168).

In much the same way, Inkstuds is a place where the comics-converted can be exposed to the minds of great artists working in the field. Jeet Heer mentions in his introduction, “For me, my love of comics is inseparable from my love of hearing cartoonists talk (5).” Personally, I couldn’t agree more.

The radio show interviews are not just with cartoonists, they also involve many discussions with people involved in the comics industry and comics criticism, including Dan Nadel (PictureBox and The Comics Journal blog), Jeet Heer, Tom Spurgeon (The Comics Reporter), Gary Groth and Kim Thompson (Fantagraphics), and Chris Staros and Brett Warnock (Top Shelf), among others.

Were it not for the Inkstuds radio show, my discovery of Mome, Kramers Ergot, Fort Thunder, Tom Devlin and SPX might not have occurred. For all of these reasons and more, I thank you, Robin McConnell. I love your site.

All this rich conversation for free: back when I studied at UBC, I listened to CITR radio shows on jazz, blues, punk and heavy metal, reggae and everything in between. Adding comics into the makes me even more of a champion of student-run, free, public independent radio.

Among my favourite interviews aired on Inskstuds are the marathon sessions with comics veterans Gary Panter, Kim Deitch, George Metzger and Jerry Moriarty—each in his own way equally unique. So I was happy to see that at least Gary Panter and Kim Deitch found their way into the book, even if Metzger and Moriarty did not. But one ought not criticize what the book isn’t, since this is an unfair attack: rather, let’s concentrate on what Inkstuds is: nearly three hundred pages of comics goodness, brought to you by the good people at Conundrum Press.

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