A couple of recent interviews looks back on the 90s Seattle comics scene—a key movement which spawned much of the whole indie comics world of today—with two creators who are still very much in the mix, Jon Lewis and Tom Hart.
At CBR, Lewis chats about his recent True Swamp collection
When I got there in 1990 I was an egg that thought it was already a moth. I wasn’t even a larva yet. The bunch of minicomics I had done were “interesting” at best, but often just indigestible. I got there and met heroes of mine like Jim Woodring and Pete Bagge who were very nice to me, very avuncular, for which I’m forever grateful. But it wasn’t until Tom Hart moved there too, and then Ed Brubaker pretty soon after that, that I got some of the harsher perspective I needed. Because we were more like peers, and they wanted to reach higher in what they were doing, and I had been too easy on myself with my dada little scribbly things and needed to be infected by that kind of ambition. And before that, it also never occurred to me that if I pushed myself towards something more coherent, more than a dozen people might care about the work. In other words, the water I was in and the water Jim Woodring and Pete Bagge and Chester Brown were in weren’t divided like a little pond and a great ocean with no connection between; there was a stream linking it all up and you could get down that stream by work. That was a mind-exploding notion.
Hart is spotlighted in yet another excellent Comic Reporter Holiday interview on much the same territory:
HART: Maybe you can tell me if this is accurate. When I said I feel like a dinosaur, it's something that I feel a lot. I think — and tell me if this is accurate — that back then in Seattle we were really focused on stories. Starting stories from the ground up and not reacting in the same way that people in front of us did. There were plenty of guys like Peter Bagge and Dan Clowes and Chester Brown where they were riffing on established genres. Superheroes, or the detective genre. We were really interested in story, and I think we were interested in this literary way that has gone out of fashion. That's the point I want your confirmation on. It seems like the things coming through the transom now are so visually stunning and abstract story-wise in many ways that seem like a trend. But also interesting. I could see that the stuff we were focused on is stuff they're not interested in. I think the things we battled with, a lot of us weren't very good visual artists, either. [laughter] Except Jason Lutes, maybe. So we were fighting to render our literary ideas in the best visual language we could. But it was a battle. It seems like like in the decade and a half since then everyone is rising out of the womb with these incredible visual chops and an interesting set of storytelling if not a coherent one. We may be a lost generation in that. I think that's about where my train of thought stops.
Hart also talks about his current efforts at the Sequential Art Workshop in Florida, yet another training ground for today’s explosion of talent and energy.
Although Brubaker would go on to more mainstream comics success, Lewis, Hart, Lutes and Megan Kelso definitely produced a lasting body of work in distinctive styles that are still going on —an issue of Lutes’ Berlin still comes out now and then—certainly their focus on producing work in the graphic novel format led the way for a lot that followed.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.