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Monday, March 20

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Feature Fri Aug 20 2010

One-Shots: Grant Reynolds

Grant Reynolds' often weird, often wonderful illustrations have graced minicomics, zines, and album covers for the last decade. Recently, he has begun moving into longer works -- last year he released of Comic Diorama, praised by The Comics Journal as "a haunting and beautifully designed little book that dwelled on sacrifice, dead ends and abjection." We talked how he got here, where he's maybe going, and how life experiences have played into the people, monsters, and machines that populate his panels.

Name: Grant Reynolds
Job: Sign maker at Whole Foods, drawing chalkboards and stuff. Probably the first job I really, really like.
Age: Well, I'll be 31 in September, so I'll just go with that.
Education: BFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Awards: I won a Nerdlinger at last year's SPX. It's basically a beer bottle with a fancy awards label scotch taped over it: Best Depiction of Space / Sea Creature Genitalia. I'm rather proud of that one.
Location : Logan Square, although I think I'm gonna move soon. It's becoming kind of a party hub, and I'm mellowing out as I enter gracefully into old age.
Hometown: Peoria, IL
Favorite place in Chicago: Last summer there was this vacant lot with overgrown grass and these two big exposed pieces of pipe that were probably four or five feet thick and about ten feet long. They were lying right next to each other on their sides, so I could sit on one and put my feet up on the other, and read or draw for a couple of hours. I found it by chance walking around my neighborhood and it kind of became my clubhouse. It was quiet and nobody ever bothered me. That's rare in the city. Then I went by there the other day and now it's like, condos.

Self-portrait (Grant on left, with Nate Beaty)

Whole Foods Event Calendar

The question I have to ask: how did you get into reading and drawing comics?
My dad would read the daily newspaper cover to cover every day. Since I grew up with just him for most of my childhood, I think this was really the earliest, and for a long time, the only introduction I had to comics. But I was completely obsessed. I would clip out The Far Side every day and tape it into a lined notebook. And -- I actually just remembered this, I haven't thought about it in probably twenty years -- when I was in a third grade or so my dad bought me this series of comics based on classic literature called Pocket Classics. There were about 60 of them and they were just beautiful. I was definitely making comics around that time, too, but mostly using preexisting characters like Garfield or Ren and Stimpy -- which was another huge influence that sort of blew my mind wide open.

After Ren and Stimpy it was like anything goes, the grosser and weirder the better. In high school I got really into H.R. Giger. He didn't do comics, of course, but his work was very dark and very sexual, and suddenly my sketchbooks started filling up with these erotic drawings of human-machine hybrids. It wasn't until a little later though, maybe in college, that I started really paying attention to indie comics. That was about the time that I was really into the different groups of artists clustered under The Chicago Imagist umbrella, and Fort Thunder, and people like Louis Wain.

Shitbeams on the Loose anthology #2

How did you get into making zines?

I had a friend named Jackie Havy who was putting together something called 'a zine', and she liked the comics I was drawing on my own and wanted me to contribute something. This was maybe my sophomore year in high school. Another friend, Erika Fowler, was doing the same thing around then. It was really exciting. I did this comic called Rambo vs The Brady Bunch. It was like, ultra-violent and hyper-sexual -- ha. Basically just ten pages of Rambo brutally killing all the male Bradys, followed by an extremely explicit orgy sequence with the female Bradys.

I made about, I dunno, fifty zines and mini-comics over the next ten years. I just sort of exploded. Then I was doing this full-page monthly comic strip in my college paper F-News for the last three years I was there, and contributing to anthologies and stuff.

What made you want to create To the Mouth of the Source? What about Joanna Newsom's lyrics and music made you want to put it to paper?

It was during a really shitty time in my life, actually. I'd just gone through a big breakup, followed by a consequent move back to Chicago from L.A. I was sleeping on my friend's couch until I found a job. Eventually, I started working third shift at this bookstore, shelving books from 10pm until 7am. One of my co-workers burned me a copy of "The Milk-Eyed Mender" and something just happened.

As I listened to it over and over, I started to notice all the themes and motifs running through it. Lots of bones being buried and gnawed on, and this interesting Sadie character. There was an air of Joanna-created mythology surrounding the album, and all the elements were there for narrative interpretation. So I sat on my friend's couch and drew it in my sketchbook. It wasn't until a year or two later that Sarah Becan at Shortpants Press asked me if I had anything they could put out, and I remembered these comics I'd drawn. I'm actually working on scanning it right now for a re-release on the Internet.

To the Mouth of the Source cover

To the Mouth of the Source page

Comic Diorama is a series of short stories: why did you choose to make separate tales? Do you think it's easier or harder than writing/illustrating one long narrative? Why does it work well for that particular book?

The funny thing is that I'm not sure how well it worked for that book. I mean, it was basically just a collection of shorter work. Some of it was a few years old, and I drew two of the stories specifically for the book. But much of the feedback on Comic Diorama talked about it being a 'one-man anthology,' which really wasn't my intention.

I guess I'd just figured that they all fit together thematically, often sharing similar themes and ideas, so it would be fine. But it really made me think about the next direction I want to go in. For me, it's always been easier to maker shorter work. Usually I'd have an idea or an image that i was excited about, and I'd exercise it for a few pages. Now I'm really interested in taking my time with a longer book and allowing myself to fully explore those ideas.

Do you feel like your experiences on the road influenced Comic Diorama? Does your life always make it into your comics?

Over the years I've tried to ween myself off of making personal narrative comics, but the truth is that the work has just become a series of abstracted metaphors for my personal life. I think I'm pretty transparent, as far as that goes.

Almost everything in Comic Diorama is very personal. The Pluto story and Chance Oxblood were actually rejected comic strips for the Chicago Reader, and are pure fiction. The rest is basically just me. Yikes.

Comic Diorama

Kind of going back to short stories: it seems like your comics tend towards vignettes without dialogue. Why is that?

That's because I'm not a very good writer. Or maybe I've just been lazy. I've always put more focus into drawing, but that's something I've been trying to change over the last few years. The next book will actually have a lot of words.

What do you like to draw when you're just sketching? Do you feel like you come back to similar shapes or themes?

I always just draw the same shit over and over in my sketchbooks. Not intentionally, but consciously, I guess. Usually something that's on my mind manifests itself as an image or a character. It becomes representative of whatever's chewing at me. Often times these guys eventually become comics.

The most recent example that comes to mind is when I was drawing people vomiting. All last year I was pushing myself really hard...I had way too many comics projects I was trying to finish, all of them somewhat ambitious. I began to feel like there was nothing inside me to draw inspiration from. I just started drawing these guys vomiting. Lots and lots of disgusting, vile puke everywhere. But it was like, this is how I feel. And the progression was like, well, I guess I'll draw some comics about puking. Comics where almost nothing else is happening except this guy retching his guts out.

2009 sketch

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