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June 19, 2011

Artist of the Month: Sam Kieth Part 3

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Written by: Josh
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Panel from the Arkham Asylum: Madness Hardcover by Sam Kieth (DC Comics)

First of all, I want to say thank you to all the Sam-heads out there for the overwhelming positive feedback that I’ve received concerning part one and part two of this installment of Artist of the Month. There will be a more detailed list of acknowledgements in the final part of the interview, but for those of you that are following the interview weekly and have taken the time to send me e-mails and/or comments on facebook and twitter, I give you a very special thanks. I certainly attribute its success to Sam’s detailed and heartfelt answers more than my interviewing skills. Also, I have two copies of Arkham Asylum: Madness that I will be giving away in an upcoming ComicAttack.net contest. Details for the contest will appear in the final part of the interview. Now, on to part three. In this installment, Sam talks about his upcoming art books, a lost/unpublished issue of The Maxx, his thoughts on the Four Women comic, and what’s next for the Trout books! Plus, things get very serious and personal when Sam discusses My Inner Bimbo.

Comic Attack: IDW has released two volumes of your sketchbooks. I was wondering how many there would be and when the third volume was coming out?

Sam Kieth: I don’t know if it’s so much gonna be a third volume. Eventually if I keep releasing forty-eight page volumes, everybody will say, “Why don’t you just release the ultimate art book? Because that’s all I’m waiting for anyway.” There’s two hundred and fifty pages I have for The Art of Sam Kieth. Which is already at IDW and should be out by the end of this year. What I’m calling for lack of a better word, The World of Sam Kieth, which is all the paintings and over six hundred pages of sketchbooks. The sketches are basically the kind of stuff that was in the forty-eight page sketchbooks, but it’s a bunch of stuff that I held back. Which Includes a lot of sculptures and things that I’ve made…the whole Trout universe…all that stuff that’s just been overflowing. I feel like Prince, but I have seven vaults. There’s just way too much material, but as a good example, maybe everything in the vault doesn’t need to come out. In my case, I’m really just trying to take a couple of years and figure out what should come out. I’m showing the art to a select group of people and asking what really needs to be in this book. As opposed to what kind of stuff is in every sketchbook…ya know, what can we can get rid of? The bigger thing will probably wind up being several bibles or phone books of stuff. But again, I think it should be signed, numbered, and limited editions. Not to simply make them special or to be pretentious, but simply because it’s a small number of people that want that much of my stuff. The good news is, for those who want the Marvel Comics Presents covers, most of the superhero work, and an overview of The Maxx, they can get The Art of Sam Kieth and they’ll be more than happy with what they have. If you’re just a total freak…a total Sam-head, and you gotta have everything…even all that weird stuff…the overflow will be in The World of Sam Kieth, including a hundred fifty-eight color Maxx sketches no one has ever seen and half a dozen covers no one has ever seen. I also drew a whole issue of The Maxx that’s not lettered, but it is colored. None of the issue was ever printed. It was sometime towards the end. I’m not exactly sure where it would fit in, because I stopped at issue thirty-five. I did that because I was driving everybody crazy in the end. It’s this long lost Maxx issue. I had forgot I had it, and then I found it. I was like, Holy Crap! There’s a Maxx issue that I don’t even remember drawing.

CA: I remember in The Maxx #1/2, there was mention of The Maxx #0.

SK: Yeah, but the lost issue was actually much later. Towards the last thirty to thirty-five issues. Maxx was in the story, but it was…I think what happened was I drew it, and then it didn’t fit into the story anywhere. I had planned to fit it in somewhere, but I just wound up finishing by issue number thirty-five. I put it face down and forgot about it.

CA: It didn’t fit with the rest of the Maxx story? That never stopped you before.

SK: Good point. Exactly. Can we say that the rest of the story fit seamlessly together and this wouldn’t fit. It’s kind of a ridiculous thing to worry about after the copied twentieth century Picasso threw-up nightmare that the last five or six issues of The Maxx was.

CA: I loved those last few issues.

SK: It’s interesting…I used to grow up listening to the music of Frank Zappa, and what appealed to me most about his music is the way he would take a number of shifting time signatures or musical styles that didn’t necessarily belong together and put them together in a way that might annoy or bug most people. I always found it really interesting to see how far he could take it…mixing things that didn’t go together. I always felt like, more than just my art, but everything that I’ve done, it’s still basically my world. When I draw Maxx, Legs, the Trout…It’s just that ‘S’ shape…creatures with really big feet, big lower lips, and hunched backs. I’m kind of stuck in a feedback loop… drawing these shapes and making stories out of them.

Description of Round from the Ojo graphic novel:

Round finishes off the whole series. The silent story of a boy and girl who meet as children, bond, yet are torn apart by the simple trauma of the girl’s family moving away. The boy, obsessed with a cracked snow globe he once saw, spends his whole life searching for it, and the girl who was whisked away. As an old man, he finds a job as a janitor sweeping in a school, and spies the cracked snow globe sitting in a classroom. Will he find her after all these years? This series will serve as the finale to not only this Trout universe, but will give completion to any lingering questions in the last issue of The Maxx.

CA: Inside the back cover of the Ojo graphic novel there’s a description for a few of the upcoming Trout books. In the description of Round, there’s mention of a certain snow globe and how it may tie up some loose ends. Even for The Maxx series. Can you elaborate on that at all?
SK: That probably won’t happen. I mean, you could probably squint and pretend that it’s Maxx and Julie, but I’ve developed it into its own story. I think I was hoping to do that. For one thing, I think we kinda left Maxx and Julie the best we could by the end of The Maxx series. Even though the ending was a little dark because everybody died. I kinda came as close to a resolution as I could have with that scene of him clipping the toenails and their conversation together. I think that was my effort to try to tie things together again, but that wound up being something that (Sam pauses and digresses)…it officially started before The Maxx. In a year or so, I’ll probably drop everything and draw the Round story. I would really love to… (Sam pauses and digresses again, but I assume the latter comments refer to the influence of Miyazaki’s animation on the Round story) …there’s an animator whose name is Miyazaki. He’s done My Neighbor Totoro and Ponyo [I dare you not to get either of those theme songs stuck in your head]. He has a style of animation that really tends to have these young characters…young girls, going through these dilemmas. It seems like Sam Kieth stories. Though obviously he was doing them before I even discovered my own work. Discovering his works late in life…it inspires me that there’s people that can do animation or do these stories that have a grand scope, yet have personal characters in them. I have a lot of affection for that story [Round], but I’ll just have to see if I can get off my ass and actually do it.

The Magic Box (click to enlarge)

CA: Are Cute, Lust Police, and Nola the next Trout books to be released?

SK: At this point, we’re halfway through Lust Police and Nola. The other ones are gonna come down the pike. But those two are the ones that are being drawn and have a time table to be finished by the end of the year.

CA: Which one will come out first?

SK: (Laughs)…It’s kind of like a race. It’s like two slugs on the ground. We’re just trying to see which one gets there first. Probably about the same time, but maybe Nola will come first. I really would like these books with Dana to come out because they’re basically four separate chapters of a person’s whole life. From cradle to grave, ya know. Really, probably more so than even The Maxx. These stories with Dana…this girl who only briefly showed up in My Inner Bimbo wearing the army jacket and all the toilet seat stuff. Essentially, the four parts of her life come very close to paralleling me and my relationship with my mother, my wife, and being younger and involved in the world, the whole Maxx thing…. Then moving up to the mountains in the snow and away from everybody. So, suddenly I found myself having her move from the regular world up into the snow…changing her house…. In retrospect, I discovered I was using one of my characters to pimp out my regular life and discover things…and work through things. I just turned myself into a lesbian and my wife into my lesbian lover, but I kept my mother normal. I feel like you can tell a more honest autobiographical story through a fictional character. If I wrote an autobiography, I’m probably not gonna be totally objective. I’m gonna say, this is what happened to me. I’m bound to lie even if I don’t try to. Because I might want to paint myself better or avoid certain things, but if I speak in third person and say, I’m Dana. Now, I’m this other person and I can actually abstract the situation and I’m willing to put her through things…or pour into her things that are difficult that I went through. Because I’m using a mare or a third person story device, I can perhaps be more candid and say things that I wouldn’t be willing to say if I put myself as the main character.

CA: So, you feel this is a more honest way to tell your story?

SK: I feel it has a chance to be. For me anyway. (deep sigh) That’s the theory.

Four Women #4 of 5 (Homage Studios)

CA: I agree that it’s hard to be honest in an autobiographical sense. There’s just this tendency to embellish or understate parts of the story. Even if you don’t do it consciously.

SK: Yeah, there’s an agenda. Whether you wanna paint yourself as good or bad. It’s still an agenda. You have some goal.  I find as I get older, my agendas grow and my ability to tell a story unhindered worsens. That’s why I’m trying to work over a body of stories and get this down now. Then, try not to screw them up as I get older. Things tend to water down…get sentimental…tend to repeat…. Not so much when you’re younger, but when you’re in the middle of the game. I almost feel like I’m overseeing a novel that was written during my better years (laughs), and I kinda trust that instinct in me now. The more stories I do, the more I tend [to] shave the edges off of things. I’ll see something in a movie or a story…a comic or a piece of fiction, and I’ll think, boy, ya know, that’s really great! I just wish they would have…. Then I think, wait a minute! It’s just fine the way it is. That’s good that it irritates me. I say, upset me a little bit…offend me. If there’s anything I’m ever guilty of, it’s telegraphing and being afraid people won’t get what they are obviously getting. Like in Four Women at the end. When the therapist essentially hand delivers the realization to Donna rather than her doing the work.  It snags a little bit with the therapist dragging it out of her. I would essentially rewrite tons of that story. When I wrote the comic, I sat down with Scott and we took out a bunch of dialogue for the graphic novel. I wish I could go back and take out more and deal with torturous scenes like the bomb shelter conversation that are totally just foreshadowing the dilemma…but painfully and awkwardly so (laughs). “Hey let’s all talk about bomb shelters now!” What does this have to do with plot? “Oh, perhaps it’s exposition.” Nothing drags a story to a halt like exposition and the writer stopping the story in its tracks to tell you something that’s irrelevant or won’t matter till later (makes snoring noise). I wish I would have used a little more finesse and introduced it a little more skillfully.

[For the record. The comics were perfect. I prefer them over the graphic novel.]

I often feel like writing is not my first skill and drawing isn’t either. I don’t think the best artists are the best writers. I was struck when I saw Matt Wagner’s work on Mage. When he did that book, I thought, Wow! No disrespect to Matt Wagner, but I was really struck by how somebody who could write and draw could actually put something together that was stronger than any one element. Somehow the whole book came to life in ways that other books that might be technically better drawn or technically better written, didn’t. He just created a world, ya know. Like what Neil [Gaiman] and Alan [Moore] did when they would write a world. Artists came and went, but because the world was pretty much cohesive, it always felt like it was their world.

CA: What artists are you collaborating with on Lust Police and Nola?

My Inner Bimbo #4 of 5 (Oni Press)

SK: Leigh Dragoon is drawing the Lust Police. She’s a tremendous artist that I’ve been talking to and working with for a long time, and Vassilis Togtzilan is working on Nola. He’s actually a better illustrator, pound for pound, than me. He’s been asking me to send him more Nola pages to correct them and go over them. It’s very hard to let somebody else draw your comic when you’re laying it out because you have to give up making it look like you. You actually get better art out of that…when you get out of the way and let them do it, but it’s hard.

CA: You collaborated with Leigh Dragoon and Josh Hagler on My Inner Bimbo, and I thought that was a beautiful book. Consistently…cover to cover.

SK: Yeah, that was another book where I didn’t learn that lesson. I kept trying to fight it…ya know…. I would tell Josh to do these pages, and I would go over what he had done, but it was just fine. The pages were great, but I wasn’t really ready to stop drawing it myself. So, I kept trying to make it look like me. So, it’s an odd thing. I don’t think there’s anything I’m more proud of or that makes me wince more than My Inner Bimbo. Because it was such a chaotic time in my life. I had so many suicidal and depressed thoughts at that time. I had to get up in the middle of the night and look at that gun…I was going through those things. So, it was very painful to draw it. It was like a year between issues, and we lost a lot of readers because of that. It was just like pulling teeth to do that book. I probably couldn’t have done it without Josh and Leigh helping me. It’s just a huge mess. There’s such a weird combination of photos…and when I pasted in photos, I actually pointed them out and then noted whether it was working or if it wasn’t working. I mean, it refers to itself so much. It’s such a clusterfuck (hard laugh).

CA: That’s part of the beauty of it.

SK:Well, I think it’s interesting. It’s kind of interesting in the way post modern art is interesting. Like a Rauschenberg. It’s kind of like, holy shit! You can take out ‘shit’ and replace it with ‘crap’ if you want to.


Check back soon for part four of this multi-part installment of Artist of the Month for more of my conversation with Sam. In the meantime, check out Sam’s blog!

Josh Jones



  1. […] here for part three of this multi-part installment of Artist of the Month for more of […]

  2. Eric Arsenault

    Thank you very much for that huge and detailed interview with Sam Kieth, it was my first visit to this site (part 1) and I will be back to chek out what else you do. Take care.

    • Mike

      Very interesting and in-depth and thanks for sharing! Did you happen to ask him about if ever a Maxx movie will be made? I sense it may be sensitive subject since he has moved beyond that by now….but I always thought that the right visual director could make a really good movie.

  3. Wow…just WOW! Loving this extensive look into Sam’s body of work!

  4. […] other news, I’ve recently tweaked the contest that was announced in part three of the interview and added lots more prizes. Three lucky folks will have a chance to win some […]

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