Sophie Argetsinger is a Massachusetts based artist, illustrator and book designer. In late May, Argetsinger launched the Kickstarter campaign to publish A Tale of Beginningless Time, a 28 page graphic vignette chronicling a new type of creation myth. As of June 9, with twelve days to go in the Kickstarter campaign, Argetsinger has reached 400% of her original funding goal, and has exceeded its $4,500 stretch goal by over $1,500.
I spoke to Argetsinger over the weekend via email.
Christian Hoffer: For readers that are unfamiliar with you and your work, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Sophie Argetsinger: I work as book designer, and I’m an artist. I’m most interested in drawing monsters and animals, and I lean toward the surreal. The artists I’ve been most influenced by are Albrecht Dürer, M.C. Escher, and Maurice Sendak, so my drawings tend to be really detailed and have a bit of a woodcut or engraving feel.
Hoffer: You'll have to excuse the pun here, but what's the creation story behind A Tale from Beginningless Time?
Argetsinger: The creation story behind it is that I was talking with my friend Winston* (we like to have deep conversations sometimes), and the topic of how the world was created came up. He told me that he learned when he was a kid that life on earth was created by celestial beings who played music to create the various life forms on our planet. I thought this was a really cool idea and so I asked Winston if I could try illustrating a version of this. He said yes.
Hoffer: Did you research other creation myths while making A Tale from Beginningless Time? Are there any creation myths that you were particularly inspired by?
Argetsinger: I was a Religion major in college, so a lot of different conceptions of the universe and creation have been knocking around my head. I feel like this creation myth was vaguely influenced by a mix of sources—Buddhism’s conceptions of time and the universe as infinite and without beginning (“beginningless time” is a Buddhist term); Christianity’s belief that the world and life on earth was created by a sentient, purposeful being; the polytheism of Hinduism and Greek and Roman mythology; and the idea of the music of the spheres (Pythagoras’ and others’ theory that the planets and stars emit unique vibrations that influence life on Earth). I’m also a fan of science fiction and fantasy, so the idea of space creatures who can create life by playing music doesn’t feel that strange to me.
I wanted to present our planet as just one small world in a vast universe, the subject of one night of musical creation (the 1084th Conference of Creative Beings), implying that we’re just a blip (although not an unimportant or un-meaningful blip) in an endless train of creations. On the other hand, I don’t think A Tale from Beginningless Time comes across as particularly profound—it’s more of a recapping of a rather mundane (for those involved) event.
Hoffer: Do any of the celestial beings in this story have more backstory than what's presented in the comic? Would you ever consider expanding on the mythology presented in A Tale from Beginningless Time?
Argetsinger: I haven't come up with concrete backstories for any of the celestial beings, but it's definitely something that I'd like to do in the future! I would love to expand on A Tale from Beginningless Time by creating more in-depth stories about some of the characters.
Hoffer: Creation myths often represent a common worldview or self-identity for the culture in which it originated. Was there any sort of message you hope readers will take away from A Tale from Beginningless Time?
Argetsinger: I guess a pie-in-the-sky kind of hope would be that a reader would come away with a reinvigorated appreciation for the strangeness, uniqueness, and beauty of the various creatures that we share the planet with. Or, at least I just hope that a reader will enjoy looking at the drawings.
Hoffer: Could you tell us a little about the designs for the instruments? They're so otherworldly and bizarre (in a good way)!
Argetsinger: While designing the different instruments I tried to cover the standard instrument categories--percussion, strings, and wind--but also come up with unique designs. Then I tried to create some instruments that function in more unusual ways--there's one that uses liquid to produce sound, for instance, and another that uses steam. I tried to design them in ways that I thought would be functional, if they actually existed.
Hoffer: I've noticed that your art is immensely detailed. How long did it take to draw A Tale from Beginningless Time? How did you capture so much detail in your work, especially in the drawings of animals?
Hoffer: While reading through your blog, I noticed that you've published other small press comics and zines. Is A Tale from Beginningless Time different from your other comics?
Argetsinger: I think A Tale from Beginningless Time is similar to other things I’ve self-published in that I tend to produce work that’s image-driven rather than word-driven, and populated by strange creatures. But it’s definitely the most ambitious project I’ve completed to date in terms of its dimensions and the amount of time it took to complete.
Hoffer: As someone who works in book design professionally, what are the differences between designing a comic like A Tale from Beginningless Time and the books you help make during your day job?
Argetsinger: My day job feels very different from the projects that I produce on my own time. Book design focuses largely on typography—working with type and page layout, and in my own work the focus is definitely on illustration. But things I’ve learned at my day job have for sure helped me become better able to produce a high-quality finished book product.
Hoffer: One of the things that I noticed off the bat about your Kickstarter is that you specifically name both the paper product and the printer you plan on using to make A Tale from Beginningless Time. Why was it important to tell your backers what and where this comic is being made at?
Argetsinger: That’s my book design background coming out. I wanted backers to know that it’s important to me to use high-quality materials when I’m producing a book, and to work with a good press that I trust. I feel like knowing the type of paper something is printed on gives a clearer picture of what the final product will be like, so I wanted to include that information for anyone else who might be interested in such things.
Hoffer: Did you have any reservations about turning to Kickstarter to fund the printing of A Tale from Beginningless Time? Is there anything that you would do differently about your current Kickstarter campaign?
Argetsinger: I did have reservations because I didn’t really know too much about Kickstarter, and it felt a little grasping or something to be asking people for money to fund me and my project, rather than producing a book that people can then decide to buy just on its own merits. Some friends of mine encouraged me to try it out though, and I’m really glad that I did. One of my goals in doing a Kickstarter was to reach a bit of a larger audience, and I feel like it’s been successful in that.
Hoffer: Does the Kickstarter's immense success (its at over 300% of its current goal right now) change how you're planning to release or print A Tale from Beginningless Time?
Argetsinger: My initial funding goal was set to cover the cost of producing 100 books on good paper with Puritan Capital Press, plus the cost of producing the other rewards and shipping costs. Raising more than my goal means that I’ll be able to print more books.
I’ve also been considering printing it with a color rather than a black and white cover (but haven’t decided about that yet), and I’ll be able to pursue more avenues of distribution, possibly with Printed Matter in New York, and I’m hoping to attend some events like the Brooklyn Zine Fest.
Hoffer: Do you have any other upcoming projects that you're working on now?
Argetsinger: For now I have some commissions to complete (rewards for this Kickstarter), so I’ll mostly be working on those in the near future. I’m also going to start thinking about the second installment of “Memories of a Shadow,” a small illustrated story, part 1 of which is a Kickstarter reward. Since I reached my stretch goal, some backers will also be receiving part 2, once it’s completed.
The Kickstarter for A Tale from Beginningless Time can be found here. Argetsinger's blog can be found here. Puritan Capital Press's website can be found here. The Brooklyn Zine Fest can be found here.