Super-sized interview and a Royal with Cheese exclusive!
Head of the House, Cheese Hasselberger serves up a Super-sized interview with The Indy Hunter and special guest man on the scene Royal Nonesuch! It’s been years in the making, but Indy Hunter finally interviews the main man of one of New York’s independent publishers and lord of the drink and draw, comics jam! Not only has Cheese stooped by to answer my questions, but we actually had The Outhouse’s very own Royal Nonesuch interview Cheese up close and personal at the House of Twelve N.Y. Comic Jam! Check out his interview and play by play of the 10th anniversary of this momentous occasional drink and draw. Once a month like a period!
If we spend a lot of time on our own, it’s natural to want to reach out and find some like-minded individuals. That’s basically the premise behind the House of Twelve Comic Jams, a monthly gathering of New York-based independent comic book artists and cartoonists. Gathering the first Thursday of every month in the lower lever of Jack Demsey’s, an Irish pub located one block away from New York’s Herald Square (and on the same block as Jim Hanley’s Comic Universe, one of the major comic book retail spaces in Manhattan), the so-called “drink and draws” are comprised of a lively group of cartoonists who drink, hang out, and have themselves a good time in each other’s company.
The House of Twelve Comic Jam, which shares its name with an anthology comic published by the group, is the brainchild of cartoonist Cheese Hasselberger, an affable man whose passion for comics and creativity is immediately evident, and apparently has been present for a long time. “My brother started getting the Walt Simonson Thors, from issue #337, the famous first issue of Walt Simonson’s Thor. So I went down to the local 7-11, and I got my own copy of that and GI JOE #2, and Spider-Man #252, the first black costume, and a couple of Alpha Flights, and that’s how I got into comics. Shortly thereafter, when I was really into comics is when the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles came out, the original black and white small press books, and that really hooked me into alternative comics. After that, anything I could get my hands onto. I still like some superhero stuff, but the stranger the better. The more out there the better. That led me down the road to finding things like Weirdo, those R. Crumb anthologies, and Peter Bagge…ZAP Comics, when I got a little more money in my pocket I was able to buy those old underground comics. Those are outstanding. Blew my fuckin’ mind! I was into indy comics ever since. A couple of mainstream books here and there, but indy comics is where it’s at. They really push the boundaries of storytelling and stories. They expand the world of comics beyond guys in tights, which are fun, but is that it? Is that all that comics can be? I think comics can be much more than guys in tights."
House of Twelve celebrated its tenth anniversary on August 6, 2011 (a rare gathering held on a Saturday). The whole thing, to hear Cheese tell it, came about largely due to inebriation in the wake of a failed romance. “The real story is, the girlfriend dumped me, and she was big in the comics community, but we had broken up, and I wanted to keep all my friends in the comics community. So there was a message board called The Comics Journal, and one drunken night I went on the message board, and I’m a friendly, communal drunk, so I was like “All my friends on the message board who live in NYC: let’s all get together and drink some beers and draw some comics together!” This was 2001, and there was a lot of infighting in the community [at the time]. So I said “Let’s have some beer.” We had our first meeting in a bar called Max Fish on Ludlow St. We had like a dozen or fifteen people show up, and we had such a good time we said “let’s do it again next week.” So from Aug 2001, it’s been rolling ever since.”
The call for unity worked to help the healing process for Cheese personally, but also to help broker the peace between two warring factions. “There was a lawsuit going on between two guys in the comics community, Ted Rall and Danny Hellman. It split the community down the middle. People were arguing about “I’m with this guy, and I’m with this guy,” it just became overbearing and stupid to me. It didn’t involve most of the people, so I didn’t understand why it was an issue. So we were able to get past that by everybody getting a beer!” Cartoonist Darryl Ayo , who has been attending the Jams almost from the beginning, tread carefully when he joined up. “Back when The Comics Journal message board used to be around, I would see the members would talk about this, but I wasn’t living in New York City, I was in upstate New York. When I moved to New York, one of the first things I did was to finally get down there. The Comics Journal message board was a really contentious place and I didn’t say who I was at first, so I was there for a couple of hours and they were like “oh, that’s you?” I froze up and thought I should run away, but the people were really cool, so I kept coming back. And they put me in their comics!”
Speaking of the comic, Cheese explains: “The last ten years, we’ve been doing print anthologies every eighteen months or so. And a couple of smaller things in between, and some group jams too. House of Twelve has put out eight books in the last ten years, and last year we started doing just digital comics. We started working with comixology.com, and their mobile app Comix. Over the last year, we produced four twenty-four-page books for them. Each issue features four different artists. All full color. Some of them are continuing stories, some of them are singular, self-contained stories. It’s all my favorite creators, and we’re all doing a lot of fun stuff. We have a new print book coming out at Small Press Expo (SPX), which is September 10-11 in Bethesda, Maryland. That’s a selection of stuff from the last year of digital comics in print form. It’s a sampler so we can show people what we’re doing, and hopefully drive people to the digital stuff.”
As to what happens at the gatherings themselves, I noticed a bit of drinking, of course, but also a lot of drawing (of very dirty pictures), and a lot of discussion about art and comics. There were several artists drawing away in a few different sketchbooks, as well as some friendly catching up amongst friends. “In the typical jam,” says Cheese, “people bring sketchbooks. Since I’m the host, I’ll bring three or four, and the style we’ve been running with is the style of the old Zap Comics underground comics, which is Artist 1 does the first panel, Artist 2 does the second panel, Artist 3 does the third panel, and so forth. That’s really how we’ve been doing it for ten years. We also do exquisite corpses, this month we have a jam wall which is a big sheet of paper that everybody’s been drawing on, that’s been a real success, I might bring that into the regular jams.” It really is a flurry of activity, but with all that’s going on, it’s also a very relaxed environment. It is a bar, after all. Also, it isn’t all lifers like Cheese and Darryl Ayo. Artist Ken Lee, who once worked as a caricature artist in amusement parks and on the sidewalks of New York’s Times Square (he drew a caricature of me while we talked), reports that he’s been coming to the jams “off and on for about a year,” while Vanessa Satone tells me that the Tenth Anniversary Jam is actually her first time attending one, and that she heard about the Jams from Ayo. "We’re always trying to expand the membership here," he explains. "We’ve got a good core number of people, but we could always use more. It would be the first Thursday of any given month. It’s a free event, and there’s a lot of people who are into comics either professionally or as fans in NY, so I want to encourage them to come in.”
Cartoonist Joe Meyer, who like Ayo has been coming to the jams since “soon after they started,” feels that this type of meet-up is more than just casual socializing, though. This is actually something a cartoonist needs. “I think it’s important,” Meyer earnestly relates. “Cartooning is such a solitary activity. You’re by yourself drawing at a desk, you’re off in your own little world. It’s not so much getting together and drawing, although that’s part of it. Out of this the anthologies have come along, and the friendships, and that’s awesome. It’s the social aspect. Because the cartoonist can get isolated and solitary. You don’t get good by being a social person, so this is an opportunity to meet people of your ilk and commiserate, relax. Let your hair down, drink something, and not worry about…we all come here, we’re not worried about “oh god, did I draw this guy’s arm correctly, did I spell something wrong?” We’re having a drink, we’re shooting the shit, just hanging out. I think it’s healthy for any cartoonist to get out there and socialize.” Cheese concurs: “Indy comics, and even mainstream comics, it’s a really solitary pursuit. If you’re a true cartoonist, you’re writing and drawing your own stuff, and you’re just alone all the time. It’s really misanthropic. But if you get a bunch of misanthropes into a room together and get a couple of beers into them, it’s really a lot of fun,” he intones with a smile.
The House of Twelve group is, of course, planning for the future. “We do the continuing series on Comixology,” reports Cheese, “and I have some plans for a webcomic, and we have a new print book coming out at SPX. It’s a collection of some of the Comixology stuff. It’s 28 pages, it’s full color, and it’s 4 bucks, limited edition. I’m only printing 100 of them. That’s what we have right now. We’ll have more stuff down the road in a couple of months. If you want to order a copy of the House of Twelve anthology, visit houseoftwelve.com. “There’s a PayPal button on almost every page.” Or for more information about the group, Cheese uses social media to get the word out. “There’s a Facebook page. We have a couple hundred fans through that. I update my personal page, and my Twitter account. We have a Tumblr now. We got 1100 hits last week. That’s the extent of my social media experience. I advertise the jams a couple of weeks before they happen, and we hang out.”
Just as we went to press with this article and the interview on the next page, Indy Hunter 5 Ohhh! learned that Darryl Ayo earned a nomination for the Ignatz Award for his story "Ghosts," which was published in House of 12. We at The Outhouse congratulate Ayo.
I want my Indy comics, No Onions....bitch.
Indy Hunter (IH): Cheese…first question I have to ask you is…What’s up with your “twat”? How’s it doin?
Cheese Hasselberger (CH): It is operating within established parameters. Thank you for asking. Oh, you mean my twitter? I often forget I named the feed on houseoftwelve.com Cheese's Twat. Um, it's fine. I just passed 100 chinese spambot followers.
IH: Presently House of 12 has turned it’s focus on mobile apps, what can you tell us about that venture, and does it mean the end of the House of 12 printed comics as we know it? (I hope not).
CH: About 18 months ago we started working with Comixology creating a new, exclusive series of stories specifically for their their software. We were trying to take advantage of their popular 'guided view' technology and explore new storytelling concepts. Sales started out great, but have petered off in recent months. I'll tell you, the best thing to come out of this is the experience has taught me that there's no one way to make comics anymore. You can't JUST do print, or JUST do a web-comic, or JUST an app based comic, it has to be a combination of all of it: A web-comic, a digital release and a print book. All working in unison. To that end, coming this fall we're launching a new web-comics portal for our creators to debut new projects, run continuing story lines and sell print books as well. It'll also serve as an archive for all of our past material, letting a new audience see what we've been up to for the last decade. So, to answer your question, no it's not the end of our print books, but maybe a different direction.
IH: Follow up question is, what are the pros and cons when you compare the two?
CH: Print is a huge pain in the ass. Not only does printing books cost real cash, so does shipping, transpo and storage of them afterwards. Print on Demand services have lessened that a bit. I don't have to order a pre-set amount, I can just get enough for a show or a two, but it still leaves a multitude of boxes holed up in my office closet. The Pro to print is it means real sales, cash on the barrelhead for your work and the thrill of holding the book in your hands. I still get shivers when I get a new shipment.
Digital on the hand is fucking free. All it costs me is time and maybe a few web-ads here and there. The biggest problem with digital is the market. Sure, there's a huge market for web-comics about video games, or superheroes, or four-panel fixed camera strips, but there really isn't one for indie/alt/underground comics. Serializer.com was the closest anyone came to making a commercially viable, indie web-comic portal. There are of course exceptions, but they are few and far between.
IH: Since you’ve gone digital can we hope to see a Mugen version of House of 12 characters, artists and creations alike? I’m sure one of you is dying to launce a fireball out of their hands!
CH: Yeah, I'm working on Super Street-Farter 2: World Championship Edition Extreme as we speak. The fireballs don't come from my hands.
IH: You’ve been doing comics since longer than I’ve been on the internet, which was circa 2001/2002, what keeps you going? Do you see yourself ever stopping?
House of Twelve #1 came out in 2001, and no, I don't see myself stopping. House of Twelve will be around for the foreseeable future. What keeps me going is I have what I think are some pretty funny stories I want to tell and comics afford me an outlet for them.
IH: While you’re about to be 4 issues into your mobile app series, you’ve got a good library going of printed books, if I were to list a few, what springs to mind when reminiscing (sp) of each?
A) Heavy Metal
Heavy Metal was one of our movie parodies. These were my answer to 24 Hour Comics. I hate the idea that someone needs to prove themselves in a race to be considered a decent cartoonist. Making a good comic takes time, thought and skill. Who'd want to trade that in for some rushed bullshit? You don't see Charles Burns doing 24 Hour Comics (shit, you hardly see him doing 24 month comics, yuk, yuk, yuk).
What I did was socialized the idea. Instead of rushing through a 24 page P.O.S. by yourself, get some beers, some hot-dogs and a BBQ and make a party out of it. I'd get 8 folks together, get'em drunk and fed and we'd all work on the books together, one person writes the story the other pencils another inks, etc. By the end of the day we'd have a 24 page book that was better looking and funnier then nearly every 24 hour comic I ever read combined, and we did it in less time and had more fun doing it. We chose movies that could be told in segments, that way we could have multiple stories going on at once. Heavy Metal fit this perfectly, all we had to do was introduce the Loc-nar (the glowing green orb from the classic 80s movie) and each segment could be its own separate story. After we were done I went back and added in a root story to connect them all together.
We did three of these books, Rashomon, Heavy Metal and The Breakfast Club. I always wanted to do one more, Kill Bill, but folks started getting married, having babies, etc. and we kinda let it slack off. Heavy Metal was far and away the best of them, funny all the way though with some stellar art from everyone. That'll be one of the first comics to go up on the new website.
B) HO12 no. 2 The Super Sized Sci-Fi Spectacular
Our books have always had themes, issue one was about religion, issue three about obscenity, issue four was an anti-war book, and number two was our genre book. This was I had the "brilliant" idea of pigeon-holing my indie-stalwart contributors into making some space comics. It half-worked. There are some pretty fun strips in it, but there are also some real dogs. Some don't even make sense, but they came in too close to the deadline, so off they went. If I had it to do again I might've delayed it a few months and had some folks touch up their work, myself included. Mine ended in up being a skinless, zombie-nun porno, which was fine and all, but I always felt it needed another page to 'flesh' the story out/add more porn.
C) HO12 no. 5 Touching Children’s Stories
I really liked this one, it's maybe my favorite of our books. For years we did the various indie comics conventions and would have to shoo any kids away from the table (see the note about the skinless, zombie nun porn above). I wanted something that I could reach that audience with. I worked too! Not only that, but it was a humdinger of a book too, featuring a wide range of jokes, oddity and adventure.
D) Breakfast Club
TBC was the last of the movie parodies, in each segment we explained why the kids were in detention. It gave me the opportunity to work with one of my favorite cartoonists, Kate Lacour one on one. The thing that sticks in my head was I sent it to a local print shop early in the morning and got a call about an hour later telling me they wouldn't print it because it was dirty. Pressed for time, I brought it to my local Kinkos (or Fed Ex, whatever) and the punker chick behind the counter was thrilled to print it, she even kept a few for herself (just as I did when I printed people's minis for them when I worked at Kinkos in the 90s), an hour of stapling and folding with some friends and that's all she wrote.
E) Lastly HO12 no. 1
House of Twelve #1 was a long time in the making. It all started when I went to the School of Visual Arts (1990-1994) and was part of a collective we called The House of Twelve. Year later many of us worked together on a show for Mtv animation (Mtv Downtown), and when that got canceled we were all sort left standing in the street with our dicks in our hands. We decided that was the time to do this fantasy project we had had for years, to make our own comic. We came up with a rough theme and got to work on it. It took about six months until the fucker was done, and then we were set to debut it at SPX 2001, which was canceled due to some assholes smashing airplanes into a couple of buildings about a mile from my house. So while it was available through the web and at some local NYC shops it wasn't really released until 2002. It's a weird book, full of too many in-jokes and supposition, but a good look at where we were headed.
IH: On top of publishing comics, you also hold a monthly comics jam, and on occasion a few of your printed comic specials have come from hanging out with other cartoonists. What’s a typical jam session like, and what could newbs expect if they show up to join the fun?
Just about the same time we launched House of Twelve I drunkenly posted on the old Comics Journal message board that the local New York posters should get together and have an alcohol-fueled mess of a comic jam. Two weeks later about a dozen people showed up and off to the races we went, 10 years later and we're still going. I love the Jam, easily one of the best ideas I've ever had.
When walking in newcomers can expect to find a dozen or so dorks screaming about the latest issue of whatever and how Creator X isn't cool anymore, but Creator Z is totally the shit, all the while downing gallons of beers and scratching innumerable dick and fart jokes into communal sketchpads. It's like a playdate for misanthropes, I love it. www.nyccomicjam.com
Written or Contributed by: Royal Nonesuch