BY JEN VAUGHN – The date was December 9th, 2011 when cartoonist and Center for Cartoon Studies professor Alec Longstreth shaved off his beard and shaggy do. A promise to himself in 2008, he decided to chart his progress through pictures of his hair and beard growth, called The Basewood Beard, that would undoubtedly remind him daily of his commitment. Living in a small town with a beard as his shadow, Longstreth went from industrious Fellow of the school to an instructor of both summer workshops and graduate classes to the Acting Director (while James Sturm takes a much-needed sabbatical) . Even after all the excitement, he is still growing and evolving, deciding to learn watercolor on the side.
August 1st, 2008 and Alec doesn’t at all look like a prison inmate. He answered a lot of questions throughout the three years of hair growing: do you get food caught in there, is it hot, what does your family think? And he bore it all with quiet grace. But now that Basewood is done, he is moving on and was nice enough to answer some questions for The Beat! Venture on to read more about the amazing cartoonist Alec Longstreth. Now that you have lived through the coldest part of winter, do you miss your beard? I’ll admit, the beard did do an amazing job of keeping my face warm. I’ve tried a bunch of different scarves, and nothing even comes close to protecting my face like a bunch of long facial hair. That being said, I do not miss the beard. I’ll take that cold morning slap in the face, and gladly. The beard was a constant reminder to me about how long Basewood was taking, and that I needed to finish it. Now each morning when I head to the studio, the cold air against my face is a reminder to take everything I learned from Basewood and to apply it to my new projects.
It’s done! 100% of Basewood finished
You’ve mentioned your next project in your classes before but can you tell the public a bit what it is about? Well, I intend to keep self-publishing Phase 7 for the rest of my life. I’ve got all kinds of stories I will to tell, but the one I’m working on right now is a three-part story all about my favorite band Weezer (to be released in Phase 7). The other big project I’m working on is going to be a webcomic. It’s a fantasy story for kids with wizards and dragons and lots of bad puns. I’m currently workshopping the first storyline (about 100 pages) with the CCS seniors. Once I’ve gone through and tightened up the script, I’m going to build up a hefty lead before I start posting online, which will hopefully be later this year.
Melanie Gillman, CCS student, draws the haircutting process
Exactly how much smaller you plan on working? 50%? Yeah, about 50%. Basewood was drawn at 18″ x 24″ which I do not recommend! From now on I’m going to draw at 11″ x 17″ or so. It’s crazy – even if I drew with the same insane level of detail, with all the crazy textures and everything – I could draw twice as fast, just because of the surface area. But on top of that, I’m going to be drawing in a much simpler style, with no crosshatching, so I’m hoping I can push that up to four or five times faster. My role models are cartoonists like Raina Telgemeier and Chris Schweizer who can ink like five pages in a day, and still make great comics that are enjoyable to read.
Alec making snow ALL the same size in 2009.
How did your family react to the end of Basewood and to your clean-shaven face? I was actually really surprised by my Mom’s reaction. She really hated my beard, and I thought she would be so excited to see my face again. But when she picked me up at the airport a few weeks ago, all she said was, “Tsk! Did you shave this morning?” because I had a day’s worth of stubble from traveling from White River Junction to Seattle. I guess there’s no pleasing her… The funnier reactions have been from the people around town. I got carded at the bar the other night, which hasn’t happened since my first week here, years ago. Once the bartender saw my ID she was cracking up and passing it around. I’ve been getting similar double takes from my students who are confused when I say hi to them on the street, only to turn around a few moments later and say, “Oh, hi Alec! I didn’t recognize you!”
Alec’s lady, Clair, cuts and shaves the monster
Have you and Claire started making those bookmarks MADE from your beard hair? Most people were creeped out by the idea of the Basewood bookmarks, so sadly the project has been shelved, literally. The remnants of my beard (minus the braid that was given to Liz Prince) are in my Darth Vader cookie jar on our shelf of DVDs. I’m currently working on the French collection of Basewood to be published by L’employé du Moi. Maybe I’ll do a Kickstarter, so maybe I could break out the beard bookmarks as a backer reward!
Alec as drawn by Max de Radigués of L’employé du Moi
What are your plans for the West Coast? At first, I will just be holing up in my studio and drawing as much as possible. On top of my teaching duties, I have also been acting director of CCS this semester while James Sturm is on sabbatical. It has been an amazing learning experience for me, but I have been busier this semester than any other time in my life. I have barely been able to scrape out an hour a day to draw, very early in the morning while the town is still asleep. I have two graphic-novel length projects all scripted and ready to go, so my plan for the rest of 2012 is to just draw as much as humanly possible. In 2013, I will start taking on new freelance illustration and coloring projects.
If you have caught Longstreth fever, FEAR NOT, there is a cure. He provides a subscription service to the public for comic remedies as well as many comics that are available to read online, like the Dvorak Zine! Transitions is available to read digitally via Facebook and Graphic.ly here. You can also buy Phase 7 and Alec’s collaborative pinball zine with fellow teacher/cartoonist Jon Chad, Drop Target #4, at MoCCA in New York City this weekend.
— Jen Vaughn has followed the Cult of Beardstreth since late 2008. Paying rock tribute below: