“Making Something Look Really Cool Isn’t My Goal”: The Ryan Cecil Smith Interview | The Comics Journal

Follow that link and the other end you’ll find a big interview I’m quite proud of, with the excellent printmaker/comic artist Ryan Cecil Smith! If you don’t know him, you certainly want to—one of my favorite cartoonists and a creator of some casually deft, essential but fun-as-hell print comics… and he also happens to be a very talker! There’s a lot in this thing, and I hope it’s as fun for others as it was for me—thanks to Ryan for helping quite a bit on winnowing down the transcript. Here’s a bit from the start to get you hooked:

Ryan Cecil Smith makes striking print comics. The labor behind them is readily apparent. Rigorous, playful, accessible, and personal, his books respect a reader’s need for entertainment while being generous, too, in their depth of meaning.

There’s no shortage of thought put into what’s negotiated beneath the gorgeous sheen of Smith’s pulp-inflected surfaces, and his two ongoing series, SF and Two Eyes of the Beautiful [both recently returned to print in their entirety], are case studies in how to do genre work rich in broader implications. From the exquisite care put into his books’ production to the outwardly loose inventiveness of his stories and premises, Ryan’s work delivers integrity and variety, each book formed around aesthetic premises that seem authoritative and informed. All the same there’s much about his work that feels gleefully unfettered, a quality borne out most fully in his wavering exploratory marks and lines.

After years of reading his work, I contacted him late last year, after which point we had the following conversation—which has been edited down from a series of Skype-based talks. In interviewing Smith, I found him to be very much like his work—demanding, incisive, and good-humored—as well as uncommonly articulate about how he approaches his own process. I appreciate Ryan’s taking the time to talk to me, even from across the Pacific.

A Real Clear Picture 

George Elkind: S.F. #3 come out not so long ago from Koyama Press. That’s your first work with a publisher aside from anthologies, right?

Ryan Cecil Smith: Yeah, that’s right.

I can tell from the production work you put in [via design, printing, etc] that self-publishing seems to be its own sort of passion for you, even aside from the cartooning element.

Yeah, I think so—sometimes I think that I should only care about the story, but from where I come from [Ryan studied printmaking at the Maryland Institute College of Art] they’re wrapped up in each other. You know, the production and the cover and the way you come into a book and the way everything is presented… to me that’s all wrapped up in your experience of it. So, yeah, it’s hard for me to separate the production from the content. Usually when I make a thing—I mean, this could change, but usually I have a real clear picture of how I want it to appear to the reader.

So in the case of the self-published books… since I’ve lived in Japan, I haven’t had access to really nice screen-printing equipment, like I had while I was in college. And man, if I had that now? Especially since as a student you can get into the studio for free and use all their stuff? Of course you’re paying for it, but that’s still really nice. But since I’ve been in Japan, I guess I’ve relied on “printo-gocco” or “Gocco Printer?” The homemade screen-printing kit. And that’s how I used to print my covers to my books. But it’s hard, it’s very time-consuming, and it’s not even that high-quality of a print. So I stopped doing that and I just used Risograph printing. Risograph machines are very common here. And I mean, or I guess… I just think about how it’s gonna get printed when I make the book. And I like the effect that a Risograph gives. But at the same time, when you’re dealing with Risograph you are kind of dealing with knowing the quality level that it’s gonna give you—and it’s nice knowing, with this last one [SF#3], that the print is gonna be smooth and of good quality, and also that I can add a flourish or two—and that it’s gonna look like a real book.

Well, I have most of your work in front of me here—or what I’ve been able to get a hold of, anyway. And it seems like for all these books, you’ve always included some kind of… I guess a “flourish” is a good way to put it.

Well, I find it hard to get excited when I’m not pushing myself in some way. And that could be pushing myself in any way—that could be in terms of making a book bigger, or making a story longer than anything else I’ve done. Or, I mean, doing a CMYK color cover is something I’d never done. Even with the reprints I’m doing now, it’s just a matter of doing more colors and integrating them better. It just means pushing the envelope, and just pushing my envelope, and doing stuff that I haven’t done. That’s really essential for me.

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