A Lil’ History Never Hurt Anyone…
Hello Matt, thanks for taking the time to speak with us. You’re attending SPACE this month, is this your first time exhibiting work at the show?
I’ve attended SPACE since 2002. Last year was the first time I wasn’t able to exhibit because of a conflict with my day job. I hated missing it, so I’m extra excited about this year.
The latest project you’re involved with is a comics anthology called “District Comics: An Unconventional History of Washington, D.C.” Tell us what your role is and what the book is about?
District Comics is an anthology featuring offbeat historical stories about Washington, D.C. Some have national significance while others are local-town tales. Each story was researched and told with a unique narrative.
I was the editor on the project (coordinating the contributing writers and artists, directing the stories when needed, making sure deadlines were met, etc.) and I also wrote two of the stories and drew one.
I must say after browsing through it, you’ve got yourself a nice looking book here. A lot of good artists and the square format (which I’m a big fan of) really keeps all that energy from those pages contained in a good way. There are some lush images that really pop. Some of them painterly even. Was that the intention?
Yes, I tried to get a variety of styles in the book. I think it makes for a more intriguing book. So there are stories that are more cartoonish in style, while others are portrayed more realistically.
Also the backgrounds look as if everyone really did their homework and decided not to skimp on the surroundings of D.C.
Each story was well researched—from digging through the archives at the Library of Congress, to searching through family letters and photographs, to interviews with the subjects, if possible. I think the D.C. “energy” in book also comes from working with contributors that live, have lived or have a good understanding of the city. There’s more to Washington than just national politics. I think the writers and creators were able to convey that by letting the readers see the people of the city.
Talk to us about the creative teams within the book.
As I just noted, nearly all the contributors have spent some time in D.C. I specifically sought folks who I thought would write about a historically and culturally significant event that also showed the city as its residents see it. The creators also come as teams and in some cases I paired up folks. In most cases, I let the writer or teams pitch a story, but in some cases I assigned a story or gave the writer a selection of story ideas. I did this mainly when they asked for some ideas, or if they proposed a story that was too similar to another one in the book. (I had about five stories pitched centered around the Civil War. That would have been way too much. I thought including two was a stretch, but the stories were so good that I had to include them.)
What was it like working with that many creative people? Challenges? Bonus experiences?
It was great! This wasn’t an open submission project, so I reached out to certain people that I wanted to work with on the project. When you work with about 50 folks on a book, there are bound to be challenges. But you have to be flexible and trust the contributors—some like regular feedback while others prefer to work independently until their deadline. And then there were the folks who worked with our creators, the people who provided the source material or were sources themselves. For me, Brian Kelley was a stand out. He was a CIA employee accused of being a spy for Russia. Writer/artist Peter Conrad and I interviewed him many times. He was a fascinating fellow and it was difficult to figure which story of his to focus on. But Peter was able to rein it in. Unfortunately, Brian died a few months before the book was published. He was working on his autobiography at the time and he was excited to see his story in a comics format.
A Man of Many Hats...
You’re not so bad of an artist yourself. What was it like having to take a back seat mostly and direct all the action?
I loved it! It’s the best of both worlds: I had an opportunity to write two stories that I felt passionate about (and draw one of them), and I also got to work with some very talented people. Working with them and seeing the their creative process was a great education.
Who are your artistic influences?
Stephen Bissette, Bernie Wrightson, Steven Rude, Nick Cardy, Steranko. Those are the biggies for me.
What medium and tools do you like to work in?
I’m mainly a brush and rapidograph guy. Lately, I’ve been dabbling more in watercolors.
For those not familiar with any of your past work can you clue them in? What have you done prior to this book?
In 2012, I had two other graphic novels released : ‘Xoc: The Journey of a Great White” (Oni Press) with Evan Keeling on colors, and ‘Mr. Big: A Tale of Pond Life” (Sky Pony Press) with Carol Dembicki as co-writer and Jason Axtel on colors. The comics anthology ‘Trickster: Native American Tales’ (Fulcrum Publishing) was 2011 Eisner Award nominee and a 2011 Aesop Prize winner. I’ve had several minicomics out over the past few years, including ‘The Brewmaster’s Castle’ (with Andrew Cohen) and ‘Bad Habits’ with Carol Dembicki and Michael Auger.
Back to SPACE..
What else can SPACE attendees expect when they see you at the show?
I’ll exhibit some of the original art from ‘District Comics.’ That should be fun!
What’s next for you, post-SPACE?
Project-wise, I’m working on another anthology for Fulcrum Publishing. It will focus on endangered sea animals. This one is partly a fundraiser for the ocean conversation organization PangeaSeed. It’s scheduled for release in spring 2014. I’m also inking a historical graphic novel for Fulcrum that should be out in fall 2014.
Regarding events, I’ll be doing a ‘Xoc’ signing April 18 at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco, a ‘District Comics’ presentation and signing at the Gaithersburg (Md.) Book Festival on May 18, and I’ll also be attending the annual American Library Association convention in Chicago this summer.
For those who can’t attend where can they find you and your work?
My blog is http://matt-dembicki.blogspot.com and I’m also fairly active on Facebook.