Jeffrey Lewis – I Learned How To Read From Reading Comic Books

What is about comic book culture that appeals to you the most? Do you think that in some ways, the very nature of the medium is subversive and therefore draws more interesting ideas and people to it? When did your love of comic books begin, and also who is your favourite character – though I realise that is quite an unfair question to ask.
That’s a lot of questions in one! I was into comics from a very young age, I think I learned how to read from reading comic books when I was around four years old. I never stopped liking comic books, and I always wanted to draw comic books. I don’t have a favourite character, just favourite writers and artists. There’s something subversive about comic books because they have the combination of being marginal culture, not in the full public eye like films, always bubbling away in the margins of modern culture, and comic books are also subversive because they are so accessible to create. Comic books and folk music and punk music all have this connection, they are all relatively cheap and uncomplicated to create, unlike, say, opera, dance, film, theatre – only poetry and novels have the same simplicity of individual creation, but poetry and novels don’t leap out and engage the audience’s eyes or ears the way folk and punk and comic books do.

You played in China and Korea, doing the illustrated histories of both places with your shows (that visual side is such a wonderful aspect to your live shows) – how did that go? What kind of a response did you get?

Not much response from the locals, really. The English-speaking westerners at our shows loved the history pieces but there was perhaps too much of a language barrier to really have a chance to engage with local Chinese or Korean concert-goers about how right or wrong my history perspectives were. I did have a couple of interesting interactions after shows, regarding these pieces of mine, with one young man in China and a middle-aged woman in South Korea, but not quite on the level that we had when we played in Russia last year, doing my history of Communism pieces – where there was really a great chance to discuss things more with people. But that’s also because we met a lot more English-speaking people in Russia.

Fuff [Lewis’ own comic book series] seems like a real labour of love, do you think another one will pop up soon? I believe you are doing a collection of the comics from when they first began?
I definitely plan to do more issues, I just haven’t had time to start a new one this year because the album artwork for A Turn In The Dream-Songs ended up much more elaborate than I’d anticipated. Back in June I thought I’d be able to get the album art and packaging design done in a couple weeks and then be able to turn to Fuff # 9 as my next project, but the album stuff kept me busy all through the whole summer and now I’m pretty busy with planning tour stuff straight through to December, so I still don’t know when I’ll be able to really get a jump on Fuff # 9. But I’m almost ready to print Fuff # 0, which is a 72-page collection of earlier comics from 1998-2001, all of the little comics that I used to use as advertisements for my concerts when I was first playing shows in NYC. I had released this collection in photocopied form around 2002 but it’s been out of print for a long time and this new printing will be better quality, with more material. It’s taking a long time to clean up and format all the pages but I’m almost ready to send it to the printer. There’s a lot of other comic stuff of mine from 1997 – 2004, it’s pretty good material that I was making photocopied comic books of prior to when I printed Fuff # 1. So someday I might start to reprint all of that too, maybe I’ll do a 72-page Fuff minus-1 and then a 72-page Fuff minus-2 though really I should be getting to work on Fuff +9.

Roughly how long does it take for you to do a comic, and do you have set themes that you feel you want to explore, or is it more that these ideas pop into your brain and you go with it?
Well, if I consider a single comic book to be an old fashioned 24-page issue, then theoretically it should take me about two months of work to write and pencil and ink a whole issue by myself, if I was working on it like a regular 9-to-5 job. But I very rarely spend that kind of time on my comic books any more, so now it takes me at least a year or longer to finish a single issue. As far as the ideas, it’s a combination of some stories that I’ve been thinking about for a while and other things that just suddenly pop up. Luckily, comic books take so long to do that you usually have way more story ideas than you have time to draw, rather than quickly drawing them all and having no more ideas to work from.

Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard wrap up their Irish tour with a gig in McGarrigles, Sligo on Thursday 6th October.

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