Jason Leivian of Floating World Comics talks to Benjamin Marra

Posted by on March 24th, 2010 at 12:01 AM

Benjamin Marra self-publishes Gangsta Rap Posse and Night Business under the imprint Traditional Comics. The printing quality stands out: Offset printing on newsprint, it looks and feels like an indy comic from the ’80s or early ’90s. He consistently releases new material and his work gets better with each issue.

These are two qualities that indicate he’s an artist to watch: a constant presence, and self-improvement. As a retailer, I have a good idea as to which artists are going to do well. The serious artists are always around, month after month, putting their work out there. That persistence gets noticed. Self-publishing comic creators don’t get fired. They take themselves out of the game. — Jason Leivian

JASON LEIVIAN: Night Business #3 was my favorite issue yet. Your writing seems to spin trashy VHS action and exploitation into a concise lyrical poetry. Gangsta Rap Posse is like an NWA song come to life. In the latest issue of Night Business, new characters and subplots arrive. There’s a quality control that feels like the book has an editor, but you do it all yourself right?

MARRA: I’m glad you dug the issue, man. I have the rest of the story arc planned out and with NB #3, I feel like the story is a plane that just took off from the runway. Pretty soon it’ll be heading right for the side of a mountain for a climactic, fireball explosion.

My writing is very organic — my words are usually inspired by the pictures. Some key dialogue gets written in the outline stage, but the majority of the text comes after everything is drawn out. I think it’s similar to the classic Marvel Method.

The plot of Night Business continues to evolve as the story percolates in my mind. New ideas arrive and I implement them. It’s gotten a little more complex and narrative threads begin to spread out in the third issue. But, yeah, it’s just me editing myself.

LEIVIAN: Johnny is focused like a laser beam on four shots of tequila. It reminds me of Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler. I feel that his struggle is the struggle of everyman. Like Johnny, I want to run and leap from a burning warehouse for my freedom and survival. Have you studied yoga, or do you just have a kick-ass VHS collection?

MARRA: Haha. I haven’t studied yoga, though I think I should for the health benefits. My VHS collection is pretty small, though I do still have my VHS copy of Roadhouse. Definitely Johnny’s struggle is meant to be relatable for the reader. I want the things that happen to be things people can imagine occurring at a tangible level.

LEIVIAN: I love that on page one Johnny’s instinct is to focus on his breathing, even as he’s being tortured to death. Twenty-two pages later, he’s murdered every motherfucker in his path and the warehouse is “now burning as hot as his blood.” There’s this V for Vendetta-esque marriage of ice, flames and water. Johnny plunges into the river and again, his only instinct “is to breathe deep.” Were those elemental details intentional?

MARRA: [Laughs.] Yeah. I tried to keep the breathing and fire themes consistent through the captions with Johnny. I wanted that line “Johnny’s only instinct is to breathe,” to get repeated at the end when he’s underwater in the bay.

LEIVIAN: Traditional Comics is printed on sexy newsprint, and it’s also available to read on the iPad. My motto: Electricity & Torches. The important thing is to get the comics out there for people to see. How goes the distribution of Traditional Comics?

MARRA: The guys over at Panelfly have been extremely supportive and their app is incredible. I’m very much a fan of new platforms for comics and the iPad looks like it will be the first step to a new reading experience for all printed matter.

I completely agree with your motto. Ultimately for me, it’s about the story and getting it to people who want to read my books. I’m not such a purist to the point where I’d swear off technological advances or opportunities like Panelfly and the iPad. But if the comic is going to be printed, it’s got to be on newsprint. That’s the type of paper I feel is integral to the comic-book reading experience and physically holding a comic book.

The distribution for Traditional Comics is very DIY. Dylan Williams has helped me distribute my books through Sparkplug since day one. Other than that I’ve pretty much done my own distribution through my website or delivering books to stores in New York in person.

LEIVIAN: Personally, I hate packing and shipping, but it’s a necessary part of the job. I guess that’s why distributors like Diamond get paid the big bucks. Have you contacted Diamond to see if they’ll carry Traditional Comics?

MARRA: Yeah, I try to consolidate my packing and shipping duties into one block of time, once a week. I haven’t contacted Diamond about distribution and don’t really have a desire to. I don’t have much knowledge of dealing with them, but they seem to have a bad reputation with comic retailers and other publishers I’ve spoken with.

They didn’t ingratiate themselves to me either by raising their minimum sales threshold in order for them to continue to distribute books. As an underground publisher I doubt my books would meet those sales minimums. I’d rather do it my own way, with the help of guys like Dylan and supportive, savvy retailers like yourself, Sammy Harkham, Russell Etchen, Gabe Fowler and Austin English.

LEIVIAN: One thing I want to highlight is your incredible production schedule. You’ve put out four issues in how many months?

MARRA: Night Business #1 came out around November of 2008. When I released it I already had the second issue completed and I released that the following February. I think I’ve put out four comics in approximately 24 months. It takes me about six months to complete a comic, from initial outline to getting it back from the printer. I think I could do a comic in a month and a half by myself if I didn’t have a full-time job. But the day job and various freelance assignments are what fund Traditional Comics.

I love workman-like comic-book art and production. One of the many reasons why I revere Jack Kirby is his comic-book art output. I remember reading a Dave Sim essay on being a self-publisher. He said that it has to come before everything else in life, before family, friends, girlfriend, fun, social-life, traveling, everything. I agree with Sim’s assessment.

It doesn’t hurt that the only thing I want to do with my free time is make comic books. I can’t stand artists who labor over comic-book artwork to the nth degree (with the exception of Ethan Van Sciver). I believe comics, fundamentally, should come out fast, raw and flawed. There shouldn’t be any second-guessing in making comics. They should be stream-of-consciousness escapist fantasy. They are a trash, popular-art form, a rung or two above pornography, and they should be executed as such. That is not meant as derision of the medium in anyway. I believe comics as a medium should be proud of their pop-culture standing and stop trying to be art or literature.

LEIVIAN: How are you so disciplined, when most indy comics creators only give us one book every two years?

MARRA: My discipline stems directly from just wanting to do comics all the time.

I feel fortunate to have discovered a way of working, or process, that’s artistically and creatively satisfying to me as well as efficient and productive. Working brings me a level of internal peace and I feel addicted to working on comics. It’s all I want to do with my life. So, the discipline comes from wanting to do nothing else other than write and draw comics. I come home from work, eat dinner and start drawing until I have to go to sleep. A couple of years ago, I was able to exorcise voices of doubt from my head that I used to hear while working. They’d tell me my work was terrible and uninteresting, and I would just shut down whatever I was working on. Once those voices were silenced, it was like a dam breaking and pages and work began pouring out of me. I have so many ideas for comic books I just have to find the time to make them all. My plan is to do one issue of Night Business and one issue of something entirely different every year. Time is my only enemy.

I’ve loved comics since I was young. It was a constant source of new art every week for me to absorb and learn from. While getting my formal art education I moved away from comics, harshly judging them, and then finding myself being pulled back into their world from time to time. I once heard a story about Piet Mondrian who was asked by a young, cocksure art writer at a press conference, “What is painting?” After much thought and after smoking several cigarettes, he finally responded, “Painting is the long way home.” I feel like doing comics now is like returning to my younger self. I love doing comics because it returns me to a time when drawing was a source of joy and just fun to do. In art school, art creation became a stressful chore. I feel like drawing comics now has brought me home after a long trip of trying desperately to find where I wanted to apply my artistic skills.

All images ©2010 Benjamin Marra

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  3. […] World Comics owner Jason Leivian interviews Benjamin Marra over on The Comics Journal: LEIVIAN: Traditional Comics is printed on sexy newsprint, and it’s […]

  4. […] World Comics owner Jason Leivian interviews Benjamin Marra over on The Comics Journal: LEIVIAN: Traditional Comics is printed on sexy newsprint, and it’s […]