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