Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Cream City Conversations with Leith St. John


I hope you've had enough time to digest Jennifer's interview 'cos there is a new player at bat. I met this next comics creator about two years ago through a mutual friend. I was pleasantly surprised to learn she had an appetite for comics and had even created some of her own. When the opportunity presented itself to publish some of her work - through the anthology Bud Burgy and I created - I jumped at the chance. I've been keen on female illustrator/writers for years... and now... I had the chance to put my money into promoting one.

Well, if you've picked up the first two volumes of Muscles & Fights, you already know this next lady of funnybooks has a very singular artistic voice. I'm sure some asylum somewhere misses her very much (consider yourselves warned).


CCC: For those who don't know, Name and location?

Leith St. John, otherwise known by friends and co-workers as "Lethal." And a current resident of beautiful Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

CCC: How did you become interested in creating comics?

Do you mean other than the time when I was 5 years old and my mom, thinking she had a child prodigy on her hands, sent in my crayon-colored super-hero drawings to Marvel? The lady had big dreams, I tell ya... I don't think it really struck me that the possibility of doing something on my own existed until, while attending school in Chicago, I came across an issue of "Love & Rockets" [for the first time].

By that time, I was feeling pretty burned out and disinterested in the entire super-hero genre and suddenly here was this whole new world of indy comics waiting to be discovered. That led to some initial attempts at doing autobiographical pieces that brought me to Gary Groth's attention and a subsequent internship at Fantagraphics in Seattle. Then, my own self-published title for a bit. But I had pretty much laid that dream to rest until that fateful night two summers ago when we met and hung out. You pretty much refueled my inspiration and getting involved with the "Muscles & Fights" anthologies has carried it from there.

CCC: What was your first published work? Did you self-publish that work?

I did a series called "The Furies" – put together via a rented copymachine and Kinkos. The main cast featured Lamb of God, a na├»ve Tennessean who could perform any miracle found in the New Testament (and precursor to Mary Margaret Marvel); Venus, a trophy wife who gained super-powers in order to achieve celebrity status; and O.W.A.C., the former WWII One Woman Army Corp and now retired angry lesbian trainer. Other characters included African American Eagle, Black American Eagle, Afro-American Eagle, Negro American Eagle and the Venereal Wart.

*Note: I told you so.

CCC: If you self-publish, what do you gain from that experience?

A rue awakening. Actually, the entire thing was an uphill learning experience – especially since I had subscribers and so despite whatever was going on in my personal life, I couldn't easily brush off deadlines. A lot of the stories would wind up to be depicted via stick figure drawings.

CCC: If you've been published by other publishers, compare the experience to self-publishing.

Working on the "Muscles & Fights" anthologies has been really swell because I only have to concentrate on getting my stories completed and email in the scanned files. Then, I sit back and wait for it to come out... so much less hassle than having to try and put together an entire project from beginning to end all on my own.

CCC: Give us a list of your published works (self-published or otherwise)?

*The Furies

*Muscles & Fights: Volume I, Muscles & Fights: Volume II, I'm currently working on a piece for the final M&F book

*and also a story about a teen-aged boy who suffers from Body Integrity IdentityDisorder attempting to amputate his leg. That one I'll have to put out on my lonesome, I'm sure.

CCC: Describe the art scene where you live. If you've lived elsewhere and were producing art there, compare those scenes.

There's an art scene in Milwaukee? I'm too much of an 'after work recluse' for my own good.

CCC: Do you belong to any online or 'real world' art groups? If so, list them and describe how that/those group/s benefit you.

Does talking to you, Bud Burgy or Alberto (Ponbiki) Rios count as group involvement? Of course, I like to drop by and harass Matt Chicorel (Night Light Comics) once a week or so as well. Which reminds me, how come I never get invited to a Drink & Draw? You're all a bunch of misogynists!

*Note: Not true... I didn't even know there was a Drink & Draw in Milwaukee. I'm sad, now. This means someone has been holding out on me.

CCC: What is your ultimate or immediate goal in creating comics?

My immediate goal is to have a creative outlet at hand. Which some might think a bit odd considering that I'm a writer at an agency for a living. But commercial creativity isn't... well... very creative. And making comics allows me to sit down and really let my juices flow. (Double entendre there? You be the judge...)

My ultimate goal? That would be to actually do this sort of self-expression and make a living at it. Maybe that's more of a dream-goal than an ultimate one...

CCC: What do you think is lacking from the underground art scene? If you had the power, what would you do to address that void?

Lots of hot, single men at conventions would be a good start... What I find most disappointing personally is just the lack of...exposure? The market seems totally saturated with these wretched formula-riddled comics that are ultimately published and controlled by giant multi-media corporations in order to drive further sales via their other owned marketing channels such as movies or games.

Having worked in the advertising industry for nearly 10 years, I can only imagine all the many 'big wigs' that touch upon every project... driving the content and decisions and how frustrating that is for the artists, writers and other folks that actually do the work. But those are the books that get the attention and publicity.

When you're looking for a new indy series to add to your reading list, you really kinda have to dig around and make a conscious effort to find it.

CCC: Do you blog? MySpace? ComicSpace? If so, what kinds of things do you communicate through it and what is your ultimate goal in using that site?

I've considered re-activating a blog again and pushing my work there, but every time I start down that path. It just seems to take up a ton of time and I wind up attracting psychos. Maybe I shouldn't splatter my nude shots all over it, though...

*Note: I warned you quite a few paragraphs ago. Don't blame me.

CCC: Do you read any other creators' blogs? If so, what do you think of them?

I check out Matt's from time to time, mainly in order to sniff out some dirt to tease him about at a later date. And, of course, there's Bud's site ( But, admittedly, I'm usually just seeing if a reviewer has something to say about me. It's all about me, ya know.

CCC: What kinds of books do you enjoy reading?

Banana Yoshimoto is a favorite author. And, dare I admit this, I'm also a Storm Constantine fan. I've been trying to plow my way through an A.S. Byatt novel lately, but she's just too damn smart for me. I have to keep a dictionary and notepad nearby while reading her stuff.

CCC: What kinds of standards and/or expectations do you place on a comics purchase?

These days I just hope I'm not going to finish reading the damn thing and bitch for an hour that I actually spent money on it. And comics are getting way too expensive to just be throw-aways.

CCC: What is your favorite indie publisher?

Fantagraphics is still at the top of my list. Lately, thanks primarily to the "Wet Moon" series by Ross Campbell, I've been spending time on the Oni Press website.

CCC: What is it about that publisher you find unique?

I like that Fantagraphics offers titles from foreign creators that I probably would never come across otherwise. That's how I discovered Gabriella Giandelli and Gipi.

CCC: Who is your favorite creator/writer/illustrator?

The Hernandez Brothers. Jaime's drawings just totally blow me away, but I find Gilbert's stories to be more compelling. It was a sad day when I found out that they're only going to publish "Love & Rockets" on an annual basis going forward.

I used to be a big Grant Morrison fan, but have been feeling a little on the fence towards him lately. I think he's bought into his own hype and that's really starting to come through in his recent work.

CCC: Give us a short list of indie creators you believe are sort of shaping the future of comics (indie and/or mainstream)?

Hmmmm... That's interesting because I'm not so sure it's actual creators that are shaping the future but, rather, the manner in which the material is delivered. Graphic novels and collections really seem to be attracting a new audience via major booksellers like Barnes & Noble. That's the primary reason why Fantagraphics chose to go with the once-a-year publishing plan for "Love & Rockets." Since they've serialized the series in those small collections, sales have really taken off.

And I have friends who insist that they don't read 'comics,' yet, they buy and collect 'graphic novels.' It's all in the marketing, I suppose.

I'm also intrigued by the new growth of young female readers who have honed in on the genre because of manga. I'm anxious to see how that plays out as they get older.

CCC: If you could change one thing about the modern comics 'industry'what would it be?

No more super-heroes. Anyone who wanted to read a super-hero book would be relegated to searching through the dollar bins.

CCC: Give a shout out to any site and/or underground comic you thinkpeople ought to be checking into.

Thanks, Leith... erm... Lethal!


Wow! Lots of great info from Jenn and Leith... believe me... there's more to come. Next up, I've decided to take a slight departure from what you've been reading so far. There's another side to this independent art scene I feel we can only benefit from aligning ourselves with. You'll have to come back to find out what all that 'nothing' actually meant.