Blaise Larmee Interview Conducted by Floating World’s Jason Leivian

Posted by on April 14th, 2010 at 12:01 AM

Blaise Larmee was recently awarded the Xeric grant for his debut graphic novel, Young Lions.  I’ve been a fan of his artwork for the past couple years and it’s been a pleasure watching his craft develop.  Reading through Young Lions the first time, I mostly absorbed the artwork and playful moods of the storytelling.  I didn’t quite keep track of who was who or what exactly they were all doing, but Larmee’s storytelling made the brief time that I spent in that world very enjoyable.  Multiple readings confirmed that the story and characters are solid, and that Young Lions is the best debut graphic novel I’ve read in a while. – JL

JASON LEIVIAN: I remember when you were a curious customer coming into the shop, asking about avant-garde, experimental art-comics. Now you are producing those very books you used to ask about, and other customers come in looking for your work. Let’s oversimplify things and ask: How did you get from point A to point B?

BLAISE LARMEE: Around a year ago I stopped seeking beauty/therapy/catharsis in comics. I currently lack any strong beliefs or feelings about comics. My only goal is to promote myself and other cartoonists I believe deserve attention.

LEIVIAN: If you lack strong feelings about comics, does this possibly free you from the rules and restrictions that one might associate with comics?

LARMEE: Yes, but I still conform to those rules and restrictions in order to participate in the comics community/economy.


LEIVIAN: It seems like you’re figuring out how to work within the system as it is now. How would things be different if you had complete freedom?

LARMEE: Complete freedom is something of a fantasy. I imagine if the comics economy disappeared I would use comics to pursue a spiritual or therapeutic path. I might create the comics I would want to read, of minimalist architectural spaces with no plot or characters. I suppose I would play instead of work, but I’m not sure.

There was a vein of criticism that seemed to be popular in the noughties that I believed in, that Austin English and C.F. promoted, and it emphasized joy and play in comics creation. Now I feel the difference between play and work is the difference between being a child and being an adult. Often I feel that I am working in protest, that I am frustrated with being an adult and I am engaging with work in a sarcastic way.

LEIVIAN: I remember the artists you were interested in back then: Adrian Tomine, Anders Nilsen, and PictureBox artists like C.F. I get the feeling that Optic Nerve was very influential to you earlier on, but since then you’ve become more interested in the abstract. How did this transition develop?

LARMEE: I think I transitioned from experiencing beauty in people to experiencing beauty in architecture. Now I don’t experience beauty at all. What’s left is a vague interest in human beings in general and comics as a culture/commodity/industry. It’s interesting to me to view various critics/creators/etc. in comics and see what their role is, how they are performing that role, and how their performance extends into their work.

LEIVIAN: Who do you think is doing interesting work in comics right now?

LARMEE: Jason Overby, Austin English, Aidan Koch, Jesse McManus, Dash Shaw, Jason T. Miles, Sarah Schneider, Sam Gaskin, Frank Santoro, Dane Martin …

LEIVIAN: What about ideas? Are ideas interesting?

LARMEE: Yes. I care more about someone’s ideas than I care about their art. I think I would rather talk with a creator than read their comics.


LEIVIAN: You were included in the Abstract Comics anthology edited by Andrei Molotiu. When I first flipped through it I thought, that’s abstract, that’s abstract. Every single page is abstract. It works better if you can take your time and absorb the material slowly. Did they just ask you to make comics that were abstract?

LARMEE: Yes, Andrei Molotiu asked me to make a comic based on the cover of my Untitled (Architecture) zine, which depicted architectural forms.

LEIVIAN: What do you mean by architecture? Like buildings and environments, or just the way that things tend to assemble in general?

LARMEE: Architecture as in space-as-experience.


LEIVIAN: Do you think it’s helpful to find inspiration for comics outside of comics (for example: movies, fashion, art, music, or websites)?

LARMEE: It has been helpful for me. Honestly, I can barely read comics anymore. There are so many boxes and word balloons and all it just tires my eyes so quickly. I feel like there is so much investment on the creator’s behalf in building a visual template — boxes, word balloons, characters, settings, etc. — that the creator has no energy left for concrete or conceptual concerns. I am currently developing a standardized template, so that creators can focus on content and conceptual structure instead of style.

LEIVIAN: Speaking of style, whenever I see new work you’ve made I think, “that looks like Blaise Larmee.” It seems you are on your way to developing something artists really hope to find, and that is your own unique style, your own “voice.” But inherent in your style is a lack of borders. It looks like you even when you’re experimenting and doing completely new things. Is this something you’re aware of?

LARMEE: I am aware of my themes to some degree but I don’t know what my style is. Style seems to function as a watermark that locates a drawing to its creator. It’s a sort of stamp of authenticity. I am currently working to develop my stamp, but I have trouble being consistent because I get bored quickly. Current elements of my style are:

the airbrush tool in Photoshop
the color yellow
tweens with bangs
one- or two- word phrases


LEIVIAN: Is Young Lions drawn in pencil?

LARMEE: Yes.

LEIVIAN: The artwork is really lovely to look at. The layouts flow and read so smoothly. Did you enjoy drawing and writing Young Lions? What was the best part of the process?

LARMEE: I enjoyed drawing and looking at my drawings. I felt I was able to draw without thinking, so my brain could relax while my hands did things. I wrote all the words in six hours or so working under stressful conditions with little sleep. After I got the grant I went back and edited and erased a lot. I enjoyed erasing. My favorite part of the process is drawing the first pages, when anything is possible and I am just discovering these characters and they are their most superficial and charming.

LEIVIAN: You decided to set your word balloons into the structure of the artwork and the layout of each panel. Early in the story the characters are at a birthday party and there’s party balloons everywhere. The word balloons float above the party and into the ceiling like bubbles. Were you aware of these abstract elements in your page layouts and design?

LARMEE: I think I wanted party balloons at the party because it seems cute to have balloons at a party and I liked drawing them. The word balloons were created primarily out of aesthetic concerns. Once I had drawn all the pages I went back and added text as an almost secondary feature.

LEIVIAN: Let’s talk more about the characters. The story follows three young artist friends, Cody, Alice and Wilson, who have formed their own “conceptual art group.” The first scene takes place at one of their art meetings. Who are these characters and what sort of performances or artistic experiments are they involved in?

LARMEE: Alice (Alice Kim, Shortcomings) and Cody (Cody Linoleum,

“Untitled”) are entering adulthood with feelings of ennui and possibly despair. Together with the one dimensional man known as Wilson (William Wilson) they design and perform pseudo-mystical rituals as a means of income.

LEIVIAN: Whoa, I didn’t catch that you’ve taken a character from Adrian Tomine’s Optic Nerve and brought her into your story. Why did you decide to do that?

LARMEE: I thought maybe I would sell more copies or something. I don’t know. I am also considering releasing Young Lions on peer-to-peer networks with filenames like “Shortcomings_2.pdf” and “Power_Mastrs_3.pdf”.


“You can manifest anything you want, the trick is… knowing what you want.”

LEIVIAN: At the birthday party Wilson has entranced some of the guests with his poetic philosophies. He suggests that intent can make our dreams manifest: that attention may be the most valuable thing we can invest. What did Cody and Holly manifest, or what did they want? They got to make out a few times.

LARMEE: They manifested each other as possible narrative paths. Holly desires to participate in what she perceives to be meaningful experiences with a culture she has little context for. Cody desires to escape and/or transcend concrete reality.

LEIVIAN: Does the crown have any symbolic significance? What about the “birthday party?”

LARMEE: The crown symbolizes royalty and Burger King. The party doesn’t symbolize anything.

LEIVIAN: Cody finds a cell phone in an art installation then later receives text messages from Yoko Ono. Did their art group get shaken up the way they wanted?

BLAISE: I don’t think so, at least not in the way they anticipated. Cody says he wants to shake things up, but I don’t think he has a clear idea of what that means. The desires of this art group seem to be thwarted by its own members.


LEIVIAN: For some reason it made me really happy when I saw that Yoko Ono was in the story. Why Yoko Ono?

LARMEE: I wanted Yoko Ono for this story because she is Japanese-American, because she is a literal marriage of conceptual art and pop, and because her relevance to our culture seems to be peaking soon. Also, she is romantic in a sort of bohemian way, like some of the characters in this story.

LEIVIAN: I thought I recognized some Ghostface on their road trip. What other songs appear in the book?

LARMEE: “Head Spins” by High Places, “Analogue to Digital” by Zero Reference, “Walnut House” by Xiu Xiu, “Bog City” by Xiu Xiu, “Is This Really What You Want” by Jesus Christ (The Indie Band), “Clowne Town” by Xiu Xiu, “Drugs in My Body” by Thieves Like Us, “Oh Yoko” by John Lennon, “Love in This Club” by Usher.

LEIVIAN: I think that Young Lions could receive a lot of positive attention from readers, critics, and publishers. If you are given the opportunity to make another book, what would you like to work on next?

LARMEE: I am interested in publishing a collection of comic poems/strips/jpgs dating from 2007 to the present. Many of these comics are hosted on my blog and tumblr. Please e-mail me (gmail blaise.larmee) if you are interested in publishing this collection. I hope to begin releasing characters, settings, etc. for public use in the near future. I am highly interested in collaboration and translation.

LEIVIAN: I see you initiating a lot of unique collaborations on your blog. You offered promo copies of Young Lions to any artist that would make a Yoko Ono zine and share the link online. What was the motivation, and what did you think of the results?

LARMEE: I wanted to give the book to friends without being awkward and to give the book to people like me, people who read blogs and make zines but don’t really buy zines. I was happy with the results. Most of the participants were people I wanted to give a copy to anyway, and I got some sweet zines in return, which I’ll review soon.


“Art becomes magic when it has nothing left to hide.”

LEIVIAN: How did the Comets Comets blog start up? What sort of art or discussion are you trying to promote with the site?

LARMEE: I think Jason Overby came up with Comets Comets as an extension of the engaging discussions we had, and continue to have, in person. It is a blog of comics criticism and occasional reportage. It may or may not be a hotbed for the “Elmo Generation.” I am currently interested in what happens after art-comics, in what comes next, and I promote comics and cartoonists who seem relevant to this discussion.

LEIVIAN: What sort of conceptual art can be made with blogs or the Internet?

LARMEE: I feel like everyone who engages with the Internet engages in conceptual and/or performance art. There are no objects, only signs. Every action is documented as a sign. Craft exists in collage and taxonomy, in the arrangement of signs. Everything is contextual.

LEIVIAN: At first I was going to describe you as a prankster, but earlier you mentioned sarcasm, which is maybe a better way to describe it. But sarcasm on the Internet can be hard to read unless you do one of these: ;). How would you react if someone accused you of being insincere?

LARMEE: My reaction would depend on the manner in which I was accused. Usually the accuser feels attacked somehow and responds defensively and emotionally. Vocal negative reaction, or “shit-talking,” has a way of dumbing down a conversation, but it also tends to increase Internet traffic. I wrote what I consider to be a standard critical essay for TCJ.com and it was marketed as the first of a new “controversial” series of essays “that you will almost certainly want to talk back to.” In this context the emoticon ;) seems to be set in boldface italic and anything I say will be read in a cartoonishly mischievous voice. I feel like if anyone gets upset in this context I will think it is funny.

If I were asked to discuss my own sincerity I would feel a desire to engage with that person but I would feel confused about what to say. Does sincerity exist? Does insincerity exist? When I was making Young Lions I felt I was engaging with the creative process in a sarcastic way, but unlike many creators I was being sincere about this sarcasm. Sincerity seems to mean “real” and insincerity means “fake,” but on the Internet what is real and what is fake? I allow anonymous posters on my blog because I acknowledge that their reality is just as real as my own. I can type anything and it becomes its own truth. Truth on the Internet is consistency of voice and this is perhaps my shortcoming.

LEIVIAN: You recently posted “Shower Comic” which is actually just a series of photos you took in a shower with a digital camera. So already you’re thinking of different techniques for computer comics. You’re not just scanning pictures you drew and figuring out the best way to present them on a screen. What are some of the concepts you consider when you post things online?

LARMEE:

1) The Internet fetishizes the real world.

2) The function of a blog is to create a unique space for social interaction.

3) Blogs allow users to interact directly (via comments) and indirectly (via other blogs).

4) The social interaction that occurs on a blog can be more interesting than the blog itself.

All this can also be said of comics in general. For example, the abnormally large art-comics anthology Kramers Ergot 7 existed, like the Titanic, as a metaphor, a concept designed to create discussion and publicity, a vehicle for social interaction and transportation. It fetishized physicality and dimension, the opposite of the Internet.

LEIVIAN: Did you find that the oversized format of Kramers 7 made it hard to read or enjoy? Also on your blog you offered Hall Hassi’s KE7 zine. What did people think of that?

LARMEE: I enjoyed Chris Ware and Frank Santoro’s pages, and I feel like the scale of their pages was vital to my enjoyment. People expressed a good amount of interest in Hall Hassi’s KE7 zine, both positive and negative. It was the first Comets Comets blog post to go viral.

LEIVIAN: I’m curious about Hall Hassi. I suspect that she’s a work of concept art, as opposed to a real person. But part of me doesn’t even want to know the truth.

I think that art on the Internet has more potential than just the “infinite canvas.” I love the way that memes are reproduced and remixed so rapidly on sites like 4chan and dump.fm. Is that type of Internet play influencing your creativity as well?

LARMEE: Yes. I want to write an essay on 4chan and the way it assembles itself as a character and in the way it creates narrative. There was a period of a few weeks when I went on 4chan and/or Encyclopedia Dramatica obsessively, and I discovered Hipster Runoff and rediscovered Tao Lin, and I felt incredibly solipsistic, and something changed in me. Everything seemed easy or possible. I made a graphic novel in two months and got a grant for thousands of dollars. I feel empty now, but at this moment I feel like my emptiness runs deep.

LEIVIAN: One last question. What’s better: originality or energy?

LARMEE: Energy.

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2 Responses to “Blaise Larmee Interview Conducted by Floating World’s Jason Leivian”

  1. Fantastic interview!

    But I have a question: Does it REALLY exist? I mean, like, WHAT IS REAL?

  2. […] Interview with Blaise Larmee at TCJ – I’m a fan of Blaise’s work (writing about his new book Young Lions is on the list for when my paper is finished), though I’m not always a fan of his writings (primarily at the Comets Comets blog) where I’m never quite sure how much of what he writes is just about the performance. This interview does have some engaging ideas in it, like this one that seems quite Oulipian: Honestly, I can barely read comics anymore. There are so many boxes and word balloons and all it just tires my eyes so quickly. I feel like there is so much investment on the creator’s behalf in building a visual template — boxes, word balloons, characters, settings, etc. — that the creator has no energy left for concrete or conceptual concerns. I am currently developing a standardized template, so that creators can focus on content and conceptual structure instead of style. […]