“I Think A Character Doesn’t Have To Be A Person, Or Even Anything That’s Alive” : The Four Color Apocalypse Interview With George Wylesol

For the past few years, George Wylesol has been one of the most unique and intriguing cartoonists working in the small press and self-publishing scene. His prior works such as Porn and Ghosts, Etc. had the feeling of building up to some kind of subtle-yet-grand statement on the emptiness at the core of today’s socio-economic zeitgeist, and with the imminent release of his latest full-length graphic novel, Internet Crusader, published by Avery Hill, the full scope of Wylesol’s artistic project may be on the cusp of coming into view. He was recently kind enough to answer some questions about the new book, his previous comics, and his process and intentions, so without any further ado, and with apologies for the occasional wonky font —

Four Color Apocalypse :  What is your background in the arts, and how did that lead you to comics? Was it a medium you were always interested in, or did that interest develop later?

George Wylesol : I got both a BFA and MFA in illustration, but I didn’t get into comics until about halfway through my masters degree. I was more focused on doing posters and editorial illustration, but liked making zines and writing in my free time. This eventually led to comics. I didn’t really read or even see any comics until my late twenties.

4CA : What mediums, if any, other than comics do you create art in? Do you see your work as fitting within any particular artistic tradition?

GW : I primarily work in the editorial illustration market, and also do work for the book and music industries. I definitely feel like I fit more in that world than the comics world. I’m not sure if I fit in any tradition, but I was looking a lot at vintage movie posters, advertisements, and pulp novel covers while I was trying to develop my “style” over the years, and that really informed the most identifiable parts of my visual language today.

4CA :  How does your creative process work? Do you have a specific time each day or week that you devote to creating art, or is it more a case of spur-of-the-moment inspiration?

GW : It’s very much a structured job. I like to get up really early and immediately start working. I pretty much go all day until about 8 or 9. Most of the time, I have tight deadlines I need to meet for clients, or have some lessons to prep or grade for my classes. When I’m working on a personal project like a graphic novel or something, I usually set a goal for any given amount of time. For example, if I have a break between semesters, I’ll try to get like 30 pages done or something.

4CA :  Did growing up in Philadelphia influence your work?

Very much so. Well, I currently live in Baltimore, but I grew up in Philly, and it was really influential. Philly in the late 90s-early 00s felt like a very lawless place. Once I was old enough to take care of myself I pretty much had the run of the city. All the trouble I got into with friends, all the forgotten places and abandoned buildings still seem to creep into my work. It’s a different city now and I kinda miss the way it used to be. Baltimore is cool though and sometimes reminds me of the old Philly.

4CA :  What would you consider to be the underlying themes that either tie your work together, or run through all of it? What are the ideas you most consistently find yourself exploring?

GW : I think my work is pretty nostalgic, and I often find myself looking at past experiences for inspiration. Some locations throughout Philly are definitely a consistent theme. I went to Catholic school for twelve years, so religious imagery has been prominent for a while now. I’ve always loved type and letters, so there’s often a typographical element as well.

4CA : In much of your work, spaces and locales take on every bit as integral a role as any specific “characters” themselves — in fact, many of your comics eschew featuring anything like a “protagonist” altogether. What is the impetus behind this, and how do you think it affects your artistic oeuvre in a general sense?

GW : Yeah definitely. Honestly the most simple reason is that I just hate drawing people or characters. I’m just not good at it and at this point I probably never will be. I’ve tried to make a couple different comics before that were character-driven, but after the first few pages it just felt like such a chore, and I never finished them. I think to work on something long-term, you really have to enjoy the work, or at least tolerate it.

In a deeper and more critical sense, I think it’s just super interesting to flip the idea of a “character” on it’s head. I think a character doesn’t have to be a person, or even anything that’s alive. A chair or a street could be a character, because sometimes in real life, things or places can have a “personality,” I think.

4CA : Are there any particular cartoonists or artists in other media that have had a particularly profound influence on your own work?

 GW : Not particularly; I intentionally try not to look too closely at other artists in my field, as I don’t want to be too influenced by them. But I’m really drawn to artists in comics that work in a more abstract or experimental way.

In the past few years I’ve been more influenced by blogs that post random imagery, like Internet History, which posts photos from defunct photobucket accounts, or God Bless This Home, which posts photos from Craigslist rent ads. The candid and unplanned nature of this type of thing is really compelling to me, and blogs like these have been super influential since I left school.

4CA :  Your new book, “Internet Crusader,” will be released by Avery Hill soon. In what ways does it fit in with your previous work, and it what ways is it different? What were the events that preceded its creation and how did you arrive at the point where you felt compelled to create this particular piece of art?

GW : At first I thought it was really different, but now I’m thinking that it actually fits in really neatly with the rest of my work.

I was looking through old sketchbooks I kept when I was probably about 14, and I went through this phase where I’d just draw exactly what was on my computer screen. Like I tried to get as detailed and observational as possible with like, whatever ballpoint pen I had laying around. I thought that’d be an interesting process to revisit now, so I did a drawing in Illustrator of this computer screen with viruses and spam popping up everywhere.

 I thought that drawing turned out pretty good and I wanted to keep exploring the process, so I did a few more drawings. I remembered how the early internet seemed so amazing back then – everything was anonymous, there were no centralized services like youtube or facebook that housed all the content, there was no corporatization really yet. It really felt like a frontier or the wild west or something. You never knew where you’d end up. I also remember viruses and malware in particular feeling very malicious and invasive – moreso than they do now. It was really easy to envision some creep sitting behind their computer and invading your personal space in your own home. So anyway, I started making some drawings with those themes in mind. After doing a couple more drawings, I thought that this whole concept had a lot more I could explore, and so I decided to turn it into a graphic novel. The religious imagery I mentioned earlier is front and center in this book. And I had so much fun working with all the type and inventing all the branding in this.

4CA :  Do you see any particular cultural trends reflected within “internet Crusader,” and if so, is there a specific comment you’re looking to make on them?

 GW : Yeah definitely. As I worked on the book I realized it relates a lot more to our current relationship with the internet than I had originally intended. Without giving too much away, the situation we’re in with malicious fake news being distributed to millions on facebook and youtube is super distressing. It’s really making me want to completely divest from social accounts, and that’s saying a lot, because I love social media. Stuff that happens online has real-world consequences, and as such, I think it’s really important now to be wary of the media we consume and spread. As the story develops, the stakes become more dire, and it’s more important to think critically about what you’re viewing online.

4CA :  Are there any particular things you have yet to do within the comics medium that you haven’t yet? What’s on the creative horizon for you?

GW : Yeah, I think so. I still want to make a few more books. I’m trying to teach myself 3D art, which is hard but fun. I would love to make a game, or maybe serve as a creative director or something for a game, but that seems really daunting. I’m hoping to stay in editorial for a while, and I love teaching, so I’m looking for a full-time, hopefully permanent teaching position.

4CA : In a more general sense,where does the comics medium seem, in your view, to be headed in the future, and what part does your work play in moving it in that direction?

 GW : I think it’s becoming a lot more democratic, a lot more artists are having careers and getting their stories published without having to rely on big-name publishers, which is awesome. One great thing about social media is that there’s always an audience and people that want to see your work, no matter what kind of work you make.

From the creative side of things, it’s great to see more experimental and abstract work have a seat at the table. Honestly, I don’t know if my work will have much of an influence on the industry. But maybe it can just show people that it’s possible to write a full graphic novel without ever showing the protagonist.

4CA : Lastly, do you listen to music while you’re writing or drawing, and what sort of music, if any, do you see being evoked by, or reflected within, your art?

GW : Oh yeah, I definitely have to have music going while I’m working. It’s usually more of a background thing, but sometimes it’ll influence the work. If I want to make something moody or sad, for example, I’ll put on music to get me in that mood. While I was writing and doing the art for Internet Crusader, I had to have my nu-metal playlist going, to basically transport me back to 2001. A lot of Slipknot, Deftones, and System Of A Down, lol.

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To find out more about George Wylesol and his work, and to order his comics and ‘zines, please check out http://wylesol.com/

Also, please consider supporting my continuing work by joining my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar per month. The link for that is https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 11/04/2018 – 11/10/2018, George Wylesol And More November Garcia

This week I was mightily impressed by comics both very familiar and anything but, and since I’m feeling slightly adventurous we’ll start with the “anything but” part of the equation —

Sufficiently intrigued by Philadelphia-based cartoonist George Wylesol’s mysterious, abstract, and multi-layered Avery Hill book Ghosts, Etc. last year to give a couple of his self-published minis a go (belatedly, I admit, but hey, I’ve been busy), 2017’s Porn stands out as the “must-buy” item of the two that I did, in fact, buy. Eight bucks is admittedly a bit spendy for what you get here in terms of physical product, but it more than carries its weight thematically, artistically, even philosophically. A series of disparate, perhaps even discarnate, drawings paired with coolly bland texts expounding upon vaguely harrowing scenarios with a disturbing level of clinical detachment, this is astonishingly confident stuff with an utterly unique point of view that frankly will leave you feeling somewhere between “desolate” and “haunted.” I’m still not entirely sure precisely what it’s “about,” but it leaves such prosaic concerns well in its rear view as it establishes a new conceptual territory firmly and entirely its own. One of the most wholly original things I’ve read in goddamn forever.

Considerably less successful — but, oddly, no less intriguing — is Tunnel Vision, a 12-page ‘zine composed of two-color drawings Wylesol apparently did on “his last day on the job as a TV repairman at a hospital.” No connective tissue appears to exist connecting one image to the next, and the brief “statement of purpose” at the end actually serves to reduce whatever cumulative impact one may intuit from the project as a whole, but as nominal “failures” (at least as adjudicated by yours truly) go, it’s nevertheless a fascinating one. I remain more than open to the distinct possibility that my view of this may change and improve over time as there could very well be some sort of “outsider” genius at work here that I’m simply too dim-witted to fathom — but even still, five dollars is a bit much for something this, sorry to say it, slight. Your mileage may vary, however, so it’s worth at least considering tacking it onto your order of Porn when you go over to http://wylesol.storenvy.com/

Our excursion into the realms of “high weirdness” over and done with, then, we return to the tried and true — and blissfully tried and true, at that — with our old friend November Garcia’s Malarkey #3. If the cover doesn’t put you off, you’re sure to be more than charmed by November’s latest collection of poignant and funny slices of life, this time presented in full color, and while her subject matter doesn’t change, I’m forever amazed by Garcia’s razor-sharp observational skills and her ability to see the funny side in just about anything. Each issue of this series has been stronger and more fluid than the one before it, and this is no exception. The esteemed Ms. Garcia sent me this when she was stateside in Seattle for Short Run last weekend, so no idea what the cover price is as it doesn’t appear to actually be for sale anywhere yet, but bug her for a copy at your earliest convenience and blame me for sending you her way with your pesky fucking questions.

Also in my early November package of goodies from — errrmmm — November was her first comic, the Hic & Hoc-published Foggy Notions, which I am embarrassed to admit had been missing from my collection to this point despite it being released early last year. This was the book that drew all the comparisons to Julia Wertz, but aside from some similarities in art style I really don’t see it. These strips chronicle events in Garcia’s life in San Francisco prior to her relocation to the Philippines and are, of course, a series of endearingly-related bad nights out, bad days at work, bad drunken escapades, and bad decisions. Equally interesting both for what it is (or maybe that should be what it was at the time) and for where it stands in her larger body of work now that she’s got her feet more firmly under her as a cartoonist, I would give it a very strong “buy” recommendation if it were still in print and available for purchase anywhere. Maybe when you’r pestering her about how to get ahold of Malarkey #3 you can ask her about this one, as well. Might as well find out by directing your attention to https://novembergarcia.com/comics/

And with that, we come to the end of yet another Round-Up column. Next week I have something a little bit different in store for y’all, but I’m not going to offer any clues as to what that might be since I may end up changing my mind and reviewing an entirely different batch of books than I’m planning on. Guess you’ll just have to come back here in seven days and find out, won’t you?