The interviews in Inkstuds originated as a Vancouver-based podcast and college radio show. As editor Robin McConnell notes, both comics and college radio thrive on the margins, where experimentation is a virtue, and anything goes as long as no one is listening.
And yet many of the artists who were once considered “alternative” and “underground” have moved into the mainstream. McConnell’s book emphasizes Canadians from this group – old guard writers such as Seth and Chester Brown, and rising talents like Jeff Lemire, Jillian Tamaki, and Web cartoonist Kate Beaton. American artists, such as Love & Rockets creator Jaime Hernandez and underground comix pioneer Kim Deitch, are also represented.
McConnell’s interview style is disarmingly casual, a useful trait considering cartoonists’ collective reputation as prickly subjects. But McConnell engages them, and many let loose, waxing philosophical and at length. Seth talks about his complicated relationship with the label “nostalgic” (which has frequently been applied to him and his work); war correspondent Joe Sacco offers equally nuanced ideas about objectivity in his work. McConnell also addresses the purely technical aspects of cartooning, covering everything from paper size to preferred inking tools.
Despite this breadth, some readers might find Inkstuds quite hard going. Partly, this is because each chapter dives right in without providing biographical context or a bibliography for the interview subject. This might make sense on a radio show with a specialized audience; in a book meant, at least in part, for generalists, it feels more like an omission, particularly when it comes to lesser-known artists such as Montreal’s Billy Mavreas or San Diego’s Mary Fleener. The book also would have benefitted from an introduction by McConnell himself, explaining his choice of subjects and putting the state of the cartoonist’s art into greater context.
Inkstuds profiles a group of artists whose vocation offers neither fame nor fortune. Their motivations and their obsessions are captured in minute detail, although this might be better appreciated by specialists than the casual reader.