|An interview with: Tony Consiglio
By Jeff Zwirek
Tony Consiglio has been publishing his mini-comic, Doublecross, for more than 10 years now, and has produced over 40 issues. In the world of mini-comics, these types of numbers are almost unfathomable. Doublecross, like many minis, is auto-biographical in part, documenting Tony's relationship with his family and depicting the tedium of minimum wage jobs. What sets Doublecross apart from other auto-bios is that Tony's comics are funny — and on purpose. Tony lets his stories wander into the ridiculous, where his imagination and id run wild. Doublecross was finally published in 2002 through a Top Shelf collection called Doublecross, More or Less. Recently Tony has self published some works outside of Doublecross, including Artificial Flowers (a biography of Bobby Darin), and Titanius (a kind of superhero book). I conducted an e-mail interview with Tony talking about process, technique, and trusting your comics with the kid at Kinko's.
Jeff Zwirek: Was finally being published a big sigh of relief?
Tony Consiglio: It certainly felt good. But since my cup is usually half empty I then began to worry about the book not selling, disappointing people, all the other things that come with people putting their trust in you.
JZ: How do you think the book was finally received?
TC: It's really hard to say. I've only had one book out, and it wasn't very big. It's been out for at least two and a half years now and I believe the whole print run is almost sold out. I've gotten a few royalty checks, so I guess it went so-so. Obviously I would've liked to have all my books sell out in two months and then have it go to second printing, but that doesn't happen too often, and not to me.
JZ: What were you reading at the time when you started making Doublecross?
TC: I was reading all that fun alternative stuff from the early nineties — Eightball, Hate, Cerebus, Peepshow, Cud, Palookaville, that sorta thing. I also read Bloom County, Calvin and Hobbes, The Far Side, even old E.C. Segar's Popeye reprints.
JZ: What influences of yours do you think are apparent in your work? And are there influences that inform your work but aren't apparent?
TC: I think my main influence is Schulz's Peanuts, Mad Magazine, and Hanna Barbera cartoons like The Flintstones. More recent influences would be Alex Robinson (Box Office Poison) and Chris Ware (Jimmy Corrigan). I also love anything Pixar does — but doesn't everybody?
JZ: What influences outside of comics affect your work?
TC: I like television. Fawlty Towers. The Muppet Show, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Strangers With Candy. There's also Edward Hopper, Salvador Dali, and of course, probably my biggest influence — my parents.
JZ: Whose work in the industry do you follow?
TC: Well, I like and follow everyone I mentioned above. There's also Mike Dawson (Gabagool!), Kurt Wolfgang (Low-Jinx), Sean Bieri (Jape), Tim Krieder (The Pain — When Will It End?). I'm sure there are others.
JZ: Who do you think reads your comics and why?
TC: Very smart people. I once had a women tell me she liked my comic but it made her feel very, very uncomfortable. I took that as a personal victory.
JZ: A lot of your comics focus on your various jobs. If you could make a living as a cartoonist, would your comic work look different?
TC: My comics might look about the same but I'm sure they'd sound different. I like to write about semi-personal stories so whether it would be my work world or my family life, I'd still have that "defeated" slant. It's just my nature. My parents would treat me exactly the same whether I was a professional cartoonist or not. I don't think they even know the difference between mini-comics or published stuff. So, I guess, yes my comics would look a bit different.
JZ: What kind of schedule do you keep with your drawing?
TC: Oh Jesus Christ, you had to ask that! My schedule is almost nonexistent. I work from five-thirty a.m. to two p.m. in which I then go home and sleep and eat and then stare at either the wall or the TV — whatever's in front of me. I usually don't start drawing until seven p.m. until eleven. I don't draw on the weekends. Although I'm about to sign a contract for my second book which should be out this summer if I get my ass in gear.
JZ: What material will this be? Is this through Top Shelf?
TC: The book I've been working on for a while now — it's about three middle-aged women who are friends and who are obsessed with a boy band. The story is about how their obsessions have become their identities and spinning their real lives out of control. It should be about 130 pages and will be published by Top Shelf.
JZ: What's the hardest part in the process of putting out a mini-comic?
TC: When the process isn't in my hands anymore. I've done a shit load of these minis and I'm not tooting my own horn when I say I've gotten pretty good at fine tuning them down to the very exact thing I want and what I want it to look like. When it leaves my hands and goes in the hands of some kid at Kinko's or any other copy shop, then I start to worry. Usually these places have cheaper overnight rates. The problem is I feel like a mental patient when I give comics over to them to copy. They come back too light, too dark, upside-down, crooked, grainy, smeared with ink, on the wrong size paper, on the wrong color paper, too few, one-sided, bleeding, lost, stolen, missing, wet, sticky, smelly... you get what I'm saying. I guess I've become too much of a perfectionist in what I want them to look like. Someday I'll own my own professional photocopy machine, and I'll show them — I'll show them all!
JZ: Do you get feedback on your work before you publish it?
TC: Yes. Sometimes when you work on something that close you need someone to look at it to make sure you haven't gotten off track. Otherwise I put the artwork away for a few weeks and look at it with new eyes. It always helps.
JZ: Do you often make changes at this point, and what kind of changes do those tend to be?
TC: When you got a good story going changes happen constantly, even after I've drawn it. Your characters begin to react and take on a life of their own. I've had stories change completely from what I wanted them to be. Your characters personalities begin to shape the story. There should be this organic fluidity that moves the story along, if not — if my ideas and plot lines and dialogue are exactly as they were the day I wrote it — then I got a dead shark on my hands. Life means change, and in my comic I change stuff as it dictates, whether big or small.
JZ: How big a print run do you usually make?
TC: I almost always start with 150 copies of whatever mini I just finished and if I run out I print up 50 more. Not that my first minis are still in print, but the drop off in which I stop printing them up is 800. Unless it's particularly popular, in which I'll keep it in print until nobody wants 'em anymore.
JZ: That's pretty impressive, how do you get your books out there? What's your distribution like, and was there any marketing on your part to get people to read Doublecross?
TC: Sadly I've got about twenty five mini-comics under my belt. I didn't start out selling a lot. In the beginning it was tough, I had to do "cold calling," I went door to door, comic shop to comic shop, bookstore to bookstore whoring myself. It was very humbling. If you're relentless enough and the comic shops and bookstore get tired of your face they buy something. These days I do it almost entirely at the few comic conventions I go to. I sell stacks of comics to retailers at a good price. I keep up with them to see if they've sold. I also get addresses of shops from online or in magazines and I send samples with retail and wholesale prices. It's a lot of hard work, and I know this sounds corny, but it don't happen overnight.
JZ: What kind of pen do you use?
TC: I use a Hunt 101 pen nib with Windsor Newton black india ink. I use a Sharpie for the panel borders.
JZ: What kind of paper do you work on, and what size do you work in?
TC: I work on Strathmore bristol, plate surface, series 500, 11 inches by 14 inches. I used to always work on 14 by 17 but like the smaller size paper.
JZ: I know for me, working in different sizes and on different stocks, took a while to find the right combination of paper quality and size, did it take you a while to settle on this or is it more a matter of fitting original art onto a Scanner bed?
TC: It took a while for me to get the right combination too. And not because I wanted to keep looking but because stores don't carry what you like anymore or the company you've depended on for paper for has gone out of business. When I find out that the certain nib I've been using has been discontinued its heartbreaking because I gotta learn to draw with a different tool all over again. Paper size was just a matter of time. I can get a page done faster and have the drawings fit better on the smaller page. Although I wouldn't go smaller than what I use now.
JZ: Have you discovered any good tricks in making mini-comics over the years?
TC: Seriously, no. I have my own personal way of doing it that I've perfected to my specifications, but unfortunately there are no short cuts or tricks that I know of. I guess finding a copy shop you trust, which isn't easy. If you don't like making mini-comics then find a new hobby.
JZ: What's the order of your process in putting together a page? Do you start with a script?
TC: I always sit and write a script. Maybe not the whole script, but certainly enough to work with. I then breakdown the dialogue by how much will fit per page, then I sorta do a thumbnail sketch of where the panels will be and their size. I then start working on the actual page.
JZ: Again, is this a process that you had to find through trail and error, and do you find that any specific processes affect the imaginative quality of the work?
TC: It's funny, I probably did it by trial and error, but I also went to art school. Some things I picked up from Will Eisner, Irwin Hasen (creator of Dondi), Gahan Wilson (New Yorker and Playboy), Gene Colan. I guess I picked something up from these people after four years. But not much. Most of it I figured out on my own. Just to change gears a little, there is a specific process I do go through when I sit down to draw. And without making myself sound like a crazy person, I'll list a few things I need to do to get the imaginative juices flowing (my process, if you will).
— I can't have a single sound in the house while I write, which is why I do it late at night.
— All the beds have to be made before I can draw.
— My kitchen sink needs to be clean before I can draw.
— I have to have a cup of cold water to drink waiting for me in the fridge before I sit down to draw.
— I have at least one candle lit in the room I'm in when I draw.
— I have a book on skyscrapers that I need to flip through when I take a break.
— I have to have a fresh piece of kneaded eraser in my hands when I draw.
— That isn't even all of it. I know, I need help. This is why it takes me forever to finish a story. It's tedious, I can't not do it. Okay. That's it. I've said too much.
JZ: What direction do you see your comics going in the future?
TC: Beats me. I would like to see all my stories be published. I'd like to see me work on more serious stories. I'd like to see my comics made into major motion pictures. I'd like to see thousands upon thousands of adoring fans line up for my next project. I'd like to see young beautiful girls with oversized, supple yet firm breasts wearing those low rider jeans so you can see their little bellies offer me sexual favors. Oh, I seem to have gotten off track.
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