Last year Decibel Magazine writer Nick Green conducted a long interview with Jon Lewis. Most of it didin’t see the light of day in the short piece that appeared in the magazine. Jon got permission to post it on his site. It’s an extremely well done interview with lots of revealing information about Jon’s art and the genesis of the work collected in the new True Swamp book. Here’s a few paragraphs:
How did you become interested in comics?
I think I started drawing my childish comics before I was a comic book fan. I got into comics when I was 6 or 7 – mostly Marvel stuff. I don’t really remember how that happened. I do remember that I decided that I was too cool for comics when I was around 10. But then, when I turned 12, me and my friends all fell back into comic fandom in a big way together. We’d all ride the city bus to downtown St. Paul on Saturdays to spend all of our money on Marvel shit. By middle school, me and a couple of my friends started to draw our own comics. They were standard, run-of-the-mill knock-offs of the books we were reading, except the characters had animal heads and names slightly altered from Marvel characters. Those comics didn’t really have panels; the format was more like a bunch of text accompanied by 1 or 2 drawings per page. We had no idea you could photocopy things at the time—everything was a pencil edition of 1 to be passed around.
I didn’t really start drawing comics that were graphically-driven until I got really sick with Ulcerative Colitis when I was 14 and had to drop out of high school in my senior year because I was too sick to go. I spent 3 or 4 years, roughly from when I was 17-21 years old, being at home almost all of the time because I was sick. That was when I realized that you could make a comic by taking it to Kinko’s. It never dawned on me that you could take a comic to a copy shop and, here’s the key point, have it printed on both sides of the paper! During that sick era, I found Factsheet Five and another publication called Comics F/X that reviewed mini comics. I started doing mini comics and trading them with other people when I was 18. That was my first self-conscious attempts to do things “seriously.” I met a lot of people during those mail-trading days, including Tom Hart who remains my best friend.
How did you go from self-publishing minis to working on the True Swamp series?
For about 3 years, I just did lots of minis that weren’t really very concerned with presentation or giving the reader something cohesive to chew on. They were aggressively art-for-art’s sake. I thought I knew better than everyone and that I was this, like, post-everything artist that was doing these bizarre stories to mess with people’s heads. The reality was that they were terribly drawn and obtuse. I grew up in the Twin Cities and moved to Seattle when I was about to turn 20. Soon, so did Tom Hart.
[Discussion follows of the move to Seattle, the comics scene there, Tom and I growing more ambitious about our comics, and our friendship/housemateship with Ed Brubaker, and the creation of the first several issues of True Swamp. For these subjects, I refer you to my Afterword and Ed’s Foreword to the new book, which between them cover the subject thoroughly. Now we skip ahead to 1993, with the first four issues of True Swamp completed…]
So I had this packet of the first 4 issues, which I submitted for a Xeric grant to self-publish… Stockpiling all of that material and putting it out very rapidly in 1994 helped cement a modest foothold in the independent comics scene at the time. It also didn’t hurt that Diamond refused to distribute the first couple of issues because of the “rough” artwork. I became a minor cause celebre after that—I had articles written about me in The Comics Journal and Comics Buyers Guide suggesting that Diamond had tried to freeze out a young, self-publishing cartoonist. I got way more attention from that than if Diamond had just simply accepted the books for distribution from the beginning. Especially since they accepted True Swamp with issue #3, anyway.
[Addendum: Diamond would repeat history in 2012 by refusing to carry Uncivilized Books’ hardcover edition of the early True Swamp. The blow was cushioned this time by the fact that we have an awesome book trade distributor in Consortium, and by the existence of robust online arteries, but I am at root an old time comics shop dude and the fact that the new book will be unavailable to many comics shops really galls me.]