Dylan Williams is the owner operator of Sparkplug Comic Books. I've known Dylan for several years and his display of passion, curiosity, imagination, principles and actions were a large part of what inspired me to start Profanity Hill. Dylan may be the premier example of positive publishing and distro practices of the small (and large) press world. – Jason T. Miles
INTERVIEW WITH DYLAN WILLIAMS
STARTED JAN 19TH
ENDED JAN 27TH
JASON: You wrote on your website:
I plan to eventually provide a career for myself that isn't drawing comics for a living or working the day job. This may or may not work but it is worth a try, for me.
It seems to me that a lot of people wouldn't include something like this in the "about" section of their website or company literature
What compelled you to write this?
DYLAN: Hah, Oh man. Well, hmmm. It was written about 7 years ago originally. I felt like I needed to explain my motives for starting and running Sparkplug at some point. I'm not quite sure why. I feel like part of why I did Sparkplug in the first place was that I wanted to show that you could do things like that. I just watched Handmade Nation (the craft documentary) and I felt like a lot of people on there talked about morals and goals in ways that most business people don't. I think that is a punk thing maybe. It is almost as important as becoming a gazillionaire, explaining why the man sucks so much dick. Hopefully you don't think less of me.
JASON: No way! The more we commiserate about this stuff the more I think of you (heh heh).
I've been reading that Maximum Rocknroll article "Is Business Killing Punk Rock?"
It's a fascinating read... and as someone who considers Punk or DIY to be nothing more or less than "let your freak flag fly," I was turned off by all the platitudes and the pedantic, cult like mindsets... how do you see Sparkplug in relation to Punk or DIY?
DYLAN: Oh man, that is a tough question. I did an interview about my punk roots at one point a while ago. I thought a lot about it. I feel like the "cult" or cliqueness of punk sucks but at the same time it sucks in all subcultures. I was just ranting with some friends about how dudes who ran conventional old school comic stores are the ones to blame for comics dying. They chased off all the women and most any culture besides middleclass white male suburban kids and now they are upset that nobody gives a fuck about them. They did it accidentally, and the truth is I love old comic shops (and miss them dearly) but they have a lot to do with why most people won’t go near comics.
Punk was actually incredibly inspiring to me and still is. I don't know that I ever saw myself as punk until I was older. I was a metal head but I listened to a ton of punk and had a ton of punk friends and read a bunch about it. I felt like I wasn't cool enough for it. But I never felt like they needed to let me in. Kind of like with comics, I felt like "fuck you if you don't want me, I'll do my own shit." And then as time went on I got to be more accepted and now I feel like punk and metal subcultures are such an important part of who I am. They are really welcoming to me now and zine shows feel so much better than comics shows. I feel like it is that freak flag, but the thing is that it is up to us to encourage that, and bring more freaks in, like with comics. People always draw boundaries and exclude people.
I think the DIY punk thing is bound to be exclusive and cultish but then the thing I get from that is that I need to do my own thing. It is how I treated comics too. I guess I just feel like W.C. Fields: I wouldn't want to be part of any club that would have me as a member. No, I mean, I just don't need people to want me immediately, I'm willing to wait and if they want me at some point then I'll join in.
The truth is the Punk DIY thing is SO SO SO amazing to me. I hate mainstream society in so many ways. Everything I love is usually done by nuts. Sometimes they get accepted like Herge or Carl Barks but most of the time they are just seen as nuts. And they have to do it themselves. I used to feel so self conscious of that, in that typical comic way where you think you suck cause nobody likes you or wants you to be part of their world. But then I realized that is the root of punk, that you can't "do it right" so you just end up doing it your way. And it isn't about getting to be a superrock star, it is about doing it your way, and being happy. Which ends up giving you everything you want in life.
I was actually really inspired by the Is Business Killing Punk Rawk thing because I could see through all the boundaries and see that each of those people was trying to do something their way, and though a lot of people need other people on their side to do anything you can still have a freak flag even if it is a cult (hello Charlie Manson territory, sorry).
The thing is, if people are going to exclude you then fuck them. Do it your way. And if you are ever in the position to exclude others, try not to. Encouraging people is like the greatest feeling in the world. It gets rid of all that selfish shit that just ends up hurting everyone. I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm a bitter old asshole but I feel like I fight it at every turn.
JASON: I'd like to back track and ask why you dont want to make a living drawing comics?
DYLAN: Well, a long time ago I realized that what I wanted to do and what people would pay me to do weren't the same and wouldn't be for a long time to come. So I decided (about the time I did the first couple Reporters) to stop trying to get jobs and submitting to everyone. Sadly, it makes me feel like a loser and seem like one to a lot of people. I've had a hard time with it over the years. But in the long run, I'm so much happier than I was in my 20s.
I still get pissy and feel like the world owes me a living but then I do stuff with my friends and get to draw whatever the fuck I want and I'm so so happy. It helps to have known a ton of cartoonists who are trying to make a living. Seeing how hard it is on them. Seeing what companies do to you. Then having friends like Jason Shiga and Tom Neely who do their own shit makes me so happy. I don't think I could ever be a self-promoter. I hate doing all that stuff, so that is when Sparkplug started after I'd gone back to work at a day job in 1998 and was doing comics for fun and then, after four years at that, realizing that I'd rather make a living in comics than working at a bad job. I couldn't do art for money and nobody would pay me to work for their comic company and I didn't want to write about old comics any more, so the only option was something like Sparkplug.
Being an artist and running a small company has helped so much though, I have so much more sympathy for both sides now. I don't think I object to somebody paying me to do Reporter but I'd never be willing to make even the slightest compromise to make that happen (famous last words) so I'm just trudging along. A while ago I submitted Reporter #3 to Gary and was talking with Brett at Top Shelf about it and I remember having this totally shitty feeling that I hated every single bit of input either of them had. Not that their input was wrong or anything, just that I can’t deal with other people having any say in my art, and I find that become more so as I get older. That was sort of the straw that broke the back for me trying to have a publisher.
Anyway, I kind of knew what awaited me. I've been through so much of this (22 years of making comics this year) so I know what to expect a bit, but I'm constantly surprised. People in their early 20s blow me away all the time, even people in their 50-60s who do their own shit.
JASON: Profanity Hill has only been open to the public for 2 weeks now and I've been immediately surprised by a couple of things...
The first being a reintroduction to Punk and DIY politics/ethics beyond just myself and the second being what I guess I'll call a dilemma of terms and definitions. Namely, the terms "zine" and "mini comic." I've had many people tell me they're interested in zines but not mini comics and vice versa... and to me I dont really see the difference. Ultimately I see both trying to do the same thing (communicate the organization of experience) in a different way. But it appears that, similarly to Punk and DIY, these terms are more akin to a lifestyle or a set of politics/ethics that end up excluding other people and groups. Have you encountered this and if so what's your take?
Coincidentally I've been reading Newave! The Underground Mini Comix of The 1980s and I'm surprised how focused the aesthetic and approach to mini comics is by so many different cartoonists... it would appear they all had a collective definition of what a mini comic should be.
DYLAN: I don't think it is true that they all had a collective definition. That smells like a writer who talked to a few people or something. I was around back then and buying minis and talked with most of those people. The thing is: FUCK what other people tell you a zine or mini comic is. You know what it is for you and listening to other people is good but that is also part of punk, not getting beaten down by the consensus. Change it or call it zines and minis or whatever you like. People will get mad at you no matter what you do, but if you do it with good will and positivity in mind, then you aren't to blame for their hang ups. Being considerate is also important, but not without consideration.
I've gotten that too. I'm on the organizing committee for the Portland Zine Symposium. They don't fully understand art comics. But they didn't know much about the nuances of comics, just as casual readers. Not realizing that it is just as complex and nuanced as the zine world is. I love them though so I don't tell them to fuck off, but I explain how I think people making art in comic form for the love of it are making zines. Mostly just try to empathize. Even in the way some zines are professionally printed. I don't push Sparkplug stuff on them but I fight for self published comics. The other people on the committee have been amazing and are open to new ideas, they showed me a ton of patience and have helped me see that you have to speak up and do shit.
I think these sorts of divisions are an inevitable result of marginalization. It leads to some amazing work but it is scary because you realize how there is always a group you aren’t part of and that you aren’t letting somebody else be part of. It leads to categorizing, boxes which are just part of our nature. But it is up to the people in that group to be welcoming or not. It is up to me, as somebody who loves zines, to try and be part of it. But with the comics world, I feel like being marginalized is okay, though I love them deeply. I have a hard time dealing with a lot of it.
I'm sorry to hear that people are being silly, cause what you are doing is wonderful. I don't usually engage jerks, I try to be nice to everyone and move on. But discussion is important. Talking about things is how we learn about shit and I totally worship at the alter of learning. But like I told somebody last year "I don't hate myself any more." so I'm not willing to deal with people who are just trying to start shit.
JASON: What's your least favorite and most favorite part of doing Sparkplug?
DYLAN: That is a tough one. I had a sit down with a friend who publishes, a couple months ago; I asked him if he had any advice for me and the one thing he said was he would have kept his business to just him if he could go back. I'm thinking about adding somebody to Sparkplug and I keep on realizing that I don't work well with others. I mean, I love other people, but it always leads to problems. So, I'd say that that is one of my favorite/least favorite things. I love working with people and I hate it. I feel like publishing people leads to me losing some friends and I never really know if people are friends with me because of stuff like that. I just have to be myself and trust that other people are too.
Things I love: Dealing with lots of people. Selling distro books to people. Publishing good comics, especially ones that other people wouldn't publish. Not having to work for a shitty big company. Sending books out to people who order them. Going to Zine shows. Working with other publishers. Working with young/new comix people.
Things I hate: Having people get mad at me for book orders. Dealing with Diamond. Having artists get mad at me. Not having time to draw all the time. Leaving town every month. Big comic book shows out of town.
I'd have to say my favorite part is doing/distroing weird ass comix.
My least favorite part is dealing with the fancy pants world of mainstream comics, even on the outskirts.
The benefits way outweigh the detriments. I feel pretty fucking lucky to do what I want. I worry about bringing somebody in mostly because I want to publish and distro weird shit forever and ever. I want to be able to do/distro really offensive shit and really arty shit. I don't want to have to explain to somebody I’m co-running Sparkplug with why I'm publishing stuff that makes no sense or has racist/homophobic/sexist content, in spite of my own inclinations against those things. We'll see. I love working with people new to comix so I don't know which will outweigh the other.
JASON: I'm much obliged to you for answering my questions. As always you've been very generous and your example is inspiring.