Box Brown is prolific, skilled, and generally wonderful. He writes Bellen!, a weekday webcomic, and other projects, including Love is a Peculiar Type of Thing (which received the Winter 2009 Xeric Grant) and Bad High School Poetry (which is not actually a collection of bad high school poetry). He answered Dan Copulsky’s questions in January 2010.
You’re a pretty prolific guy. You put a new comic online every weekday (and they’re detailed and polished), and you do comics that are only in print too. Are you naturally brimming with things you want to create or do you have tricks for getting yourself to stay productive?
Um, I think I have some sort of manic nervous energy pockets that force me to keep working constantly. I am really not a happy person unless I am working on comics and when I have something that I am actually excited about then all I really want to do is work on it. Even when I am out and about having fun there is a part of me that still wants to be at home working on comics. But, that said, my best work comes out when the ideas have been brewing around in my head for a while and suddenly manifest themselves in an idea rather than just forcing work out. With “Everything Dies” the ideas for it have been floating around in my head for months (years?) and there were just a few external stimuli that came together that lead me to actually planning out the project.
But, when ideas aren’t there? I just work. Work work work! That’s it.
Can you describe what external stimuli brought you to work on “Everything Dies” now?
Well, actually, it was a bunch of things. Artie Lange on the Howard Stern Show made a joke about the crazy beliefs of the Scientologists that went something like this: “That’s ridiculous! Clearly the savior of the world was born of a woman that never had sex!” I think that started solidifying the idea in my head that all of these religious stories are the same truly. Mormonism is the Scientology of its day, Catholicism isn’t any more legitimate just because it’s older. Also, I saw the movie “A Serious Man,” which is kind of a retelling of the story of Job, except instead of God coming down from the skies to give him an answer, there just is no answer (at least that’s what I got out of it). That’s why I included that story in Everything Dies. At the same time, the Times of India contacted me about publishing these old strips I did a few years back called “Heart of Stonework.” They never published them but it lead me to revisit those stories. So, all those things kinda came together at once.
It’s seems like you’ve really embraced both online comics and print comics. How do you decide which material is better for which form? What does each form ad to the content?
I started doing comics online because it was the easiest (and freest!) way to get some work out there and get feedback. I saw a comics community OVERFLOWING with talent and I wanted to be part of it but while I love a lot of webcomics I really love long form works and I don’t much like reading long form work online. Comic strips work beautifully online, but for me a graphic novel does not. So, anytime I have something I want to work on long scale it’s print for me. Ultimately, I look at the life of the really successful print comics creator and compare it to the life of the really successful webcomicker and I think I like the life of a print creator better, but hey, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
That said, I really like doing both. I think doing a daily webcomic definitely keeps you on peoples’ radars and that’s really important. If I didn’t do a webcomic I would still have a STRONG online presence. That’s kinda why I started Pages in Sequence, just to get people excited about my print comics and keep it on the front of peoples’ minds.
Is there any financial motivation to splitting your comics between online and print?
Financially speaking, in the world of comics (and art in general), you want streams of income coming from all directions. So, whatever comes in via Bellen! (however tiny) helps to fund the print stuff and vice verse. Somehow through it all I am able to buy some food once in a while.
You’re finishing up a Kickstarter drive to fund the printing of “Everything Dies”. You’ve gathered hundreds more than than the $2,500 you aimed for. Were you impressed by the response? Do you think you’ll use Kickstarter again?
I was very impressed with it, but for the first few weeks I was scared to DEATH that it wouldn’t work out. I kept making calculations in my head like, “I need X amount of dollars EVERY DAY or it’s not going to work!!!” But, eventually, it started getting close and I knew it would be okay. I am not sure if I will use Kickstarter again, at least not for a while. It seems like something that might get old fast for readers. I’m really psyched about the project though.
What’s your reading life like? What do you read and how do you find new things? Does what you read shape your own work?
I just got a ton of comics for Christmas, like more than I can count. I just told everyone who asked to get me comics and they delivered! A lot of older Clowes that I had read but didn’t own, same with some older Chris Ware stuff. I was really impressed with Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary, I had only read parts of it before. There are so many comic artists out there it’s tough to keep up. This year I loved Ken Dahl’s Monsters a whole bunch and Far Arden by Kevin Cannon. I’m looking forward to Drew Weing’s Set to Sea finally getting collected and Tim Hensley’s Gropius. Plus, I’m sure I’ll pick up a whole slew of awesome mini-comics at cons. As far as webcomics go, I like most of the usual suspects. I think John Campbell is doing excellent work at Pictures for Sad Children and I’ve been quite taken recently with That Luke Person. The stuff I read definitely shapes my work, but less so lately. I think I’m trying to outright steal less, you know?
Do people really call you Box? In person? How did you get that nickname?
I got the nickname Box in college and my friends from college still call me that. It’s become my nom de plume for better or for worse and there is nothing I can do about it now, sadly.