I conducted a live interview with cartoonist Bridgett Spicer last year only to sit on it as she went through major professional changes. After her hometown newspaper, the Monterey County Herald, decided to drop her Squid Row comic strip — a move that prompted an angry response from members in the community — Spicer began work on two major projects in addition to keeping Squid Row on the Internet.
It didn’t feel right to put up an old interview, and seeing as how Bridgett’s weeks away from officially releasing her new compilation Down But Not Out, it seemed like a good idea to talk about what’s happened, what’s going on now, and what’s to be.
You can check out Squid Row at www.squidrowcomics.com.
First off, what’s it like working as an independent cartoonist these days?
It’s challenging. You have to be really creative. If it is your full-time job and livelihood, you need to be tenacious and find ways to gather support.
What methods have you been using to gather support?
I correspond with my readers. I make sure that I respond to their comments online. To me that’s just courtesy, but also it opens up dialogue. I have some great fans that have been super at buying my books, art, and stuff. Another way is I look for ways to cross pollinate. If there is a program I believe in, I write them into the strip, or I donate some art or something. It’s a way to give them a nod and sometimes they nod back, then we hug, and all is groovy.
The past year has been a big one for you in terms of business decisions being made. Can you give us a quick recap and tell us where you’re at now?
Yah. It’s kinda funny. So I’d been in The Monterey Herald for four years. And suddenly, the editor dropped the bomb in the paper that they were no longer going to carry my comic (they were adopting a pre-fab page o’comics that all their papers would share) so as of Jan. 1, no more locally run comic. It was pretty devastating the way it went down, but in a way, it was a blessing. I’d been pondering “What next,” and so this happening sort of took care of that for me. I decided to take the opportunity to 1: Put out a compilation book (WAY overdue) and 2: Start a graphic novel. What this required was me cutting the comic strip back to three days a week from a daily.
Did you cut down in order to work on the other two big projects?
Yes. While The Herald wasn’t the only paper I was running in, it was the only daily (besides online) and so I decided to give my readers something else. Sadly, it meant applying the bunny-hop maneuver.
As for the two projects, where are you at with them now?
I was able to get the compilation book off the ground pretty fast. I hit the ground running on that the finished product “Down But Not Out on Squid Row” literally showed up within this passed week. The graphic novel is a much slower process. So, that I will give myself much more time to work on this will be my first graphic novel and I really want it to sparkle in a big way.
Let’s talk about the compilation. How would you describe the Squid Row title?
Meaning the actual title of the book?
The characters and story.
Ah. Well, Squid Row follows Randie Springlemeyer, a quirky coffee-addicted artist, who with her bohemian pals lives in a touristy seaside community. Randie is often short on cash-flow (but somehow has enough for a cuppa joe), and the comic mostly revolves around her. However, she has these pals who are always helping her out — Ryan, a writer who is her platonic boyfriend who is LIKE a boyfriend but not, and her Art-o-rama Mama pals who are artists, themselves. Throw in some tourists, a mangy cat, and a maladjusted barista and you’ve got some silly going down.
How much of the stories are based on personal experiences? And are the characters based on your own persona and personalities of your friends/associates/acquaintances?
I would say that a good lot of the strip is based on something that either happened to me or is happening or maybe bothering me. I find that most of my inspiration comes from real life which is a bunch of stories waiting to be written. I used to work in an art store, and so Randie, of course, works in an art store. I mine old pain for that. When I go traveling, I will often write something into the strip about it. I’ve written about Portland and Paris. As far as personalities …
I tend to sort of take qualities from a person and work them in to a character. Enid’s cookie-making skills and wise sage-ness is pulled from my partner Judy (who makes excellent cookies and gives really good advice). Enid wants to save the world starting with locally made batches of cookies. She has a good heart but tends to overdo it at times. Randie, as you might guess is a lot like me. But I do throw in a lot of artistic license Randie loves horror films, but I do not. She is also a slob!
There are a few characters that are based on real people. Spill and Fred. Spill is an artist who is a good pal of mine! I should add that Fred is a friend of mine I used to work with in my art supply store days. There’s a reason I made him into a barista in the strip. He used to drink triple espressos at work!
There’s a coffee shop in town that was getting vandalized. You wrote that into your stories, and you also created a positive out of a negative on that one.
Yes. Like I said earlier, I nod at some businesses. One is Rollick’s (my very local — across the street from my office — coffee shop). I call it Rollicker’s Coffee in the strip. Last year, they had their large window broken, then fixed, then broken again. It was becoming a regular thing, so they just left the plywood temporary fix up. Seeing this empty canvas, I and a local Hartnell art teacher offered to do something with the space. So we teamed up, Trish Sullivan’s art students and I, to mural the plywood. It put a positive spin on a bad thing. I used that in the comic. I wanted to bring that story out.
I find that, if anything, the comic has a positive message folded in the story lines. That’s a conscious effort.
It sounds like community is very important to you.
It’s funny. As a cartoonist, I spend a lot of time doing cartooning indoors behind my office door. So sometimes, I feel like I’m not as involved as I would like to be. But yes, it’s important.
Let’s talk about the graphic novel. Why that format, and what should fans of Squid Row expect?
I feel like Squid Row is much deeper than 4 or 5 panels a strip allows it. I think that the dialogue I want to engage in is bigger than a strip every other day. I feel that I can tell a bigger story (within a story) in that format. Also, Randie is an artist. it’s hard to show her art in teeny tiny panels. Squid fans can expect a longer story with issues that are somewhat familiar to Squid Row, and they can expect to see a more art feel to the G-novel. It is my intention to make it a work of art, so to speak.
Can you describe the transition from working on comic strips which are contained in a short set of panels and a graphic novel which is larger in scope?
Well, I’m still in the writing phase. I had a particular story that I wanted to tell. The only problem is, I didn’t know the scope — is this a larger story with maybe three medium-sized books in a series, kind of like a Scott Pilgrim model, or is it one big book like Craig Thompson’s Blankets? It was feeling really overwhelming. So, I just started writing. At first I tried to put the story in some sort of outline but found that it isn’t how I like to write. I tend to write my storylines in the comic strip with sort of an idea, and then the story writes itself. This requires a bit of faith that it’ll work out — kinda like real life, I guess — but so, I just started writing and seeing where it goes. So, that’s not too unlike what I do in the comic strip. My characters are familiar to me, so I know how they’ll interact with one another. But I’m finding that I can write them deeper. But certainly, the G-Novel feels big to me.
Should readers expect the same tone as the strips, or are you going for a more realistic and heavier tone as graphic novels tend to do when they take an existing characters and transport them into larger stories?
I’ve noticed a darker tone to the writing. It’s a lot heavier in its subject matter, but I expect to go back and add an element of lightness. I don’t want to alienate the readers who like the comic’s lightheartedness, and really, I’m not someone who can write darkly. I’ve been told that I’m cheerful in my comic so … but I will be changing up my style for the graphic novel. I plan on loosening up my line and adopting more of a sketchy quality. I don’t want it to read like the comic strip or really look like the comic strip. I like the idea of changing things up.
Why did you choose to use your existing characters rather than create new ones?
I really feel like there is so much more I want to explore with Squid Row. I don’t feel that the stories are used up or that there isn’t anything left. I really like my characters, and I think that the graphic novel will put them in front of a new audience.
Do you have release dates for the two projects?
I just finished up my pre-orders for the compilation book (Down/Out), and I am lining up some book signings, so while it’s not been officially announced as out, it’s here. I will post something on my site making it official now that the pre-order is done. The graphic novel — well, I’m not sure. It won’t be out in the next year, that’s for sure. It may even be three years, but I hope not.