Interview: David Nuss- Owner/Publisher of Revival House Press

Man With A MegaphoneWhat inspired you to publish comics?

David Nuss: I’d say that publishing comics is, for me, the natural culmination of a life-long interest in the form.  Comics were my first love as a kid.   Even before I could read, I looked at comics.  I can still recall memories of being a little kid, camped out at the local grocery store, thumbing through the various titles stocked in the comics section.  (back when supermarkets had comics sections) Comics shaped my early perceptions of art and storytelling, and to this day, there is nothing quite as relaxing and enjoyable in my daily life as kicking back and perusing a new book.

So with that regard, publishing is my way of giving back and, perhaps, adding to the form itself.  An opportunity came along to publish one of my best friends, Mike Bertino, and I leapt at the chance.  And in addition to Mike, I’ve been lucky enough to have Drew Beckmeyer and Rusty Jordan agree to come aboard.  Basically, being able to offer a vehicle for their work, which I feel is some of the best in the field, is a thoroughly exciting prospect and the true catalyst for doing Revival House Press.

MWAM: Have comics always played a big part in your life? What was the first comic book you read?

DN: The first comic I ever read is really hazy in my memory.  It was a Marvel book.  I know that because I can remember the presence of the Avengers and the Fantastic Four, but that’s about it.  My parents made me learn the alphabet before they bought it for me.  It’s long gone, I think I defaced it with bubble-gum somewhere along the way.  The first book I can concretely recall picking up is “Groo #21.”  “Groo” being that amazing Conan knock-off by longtime “Mad Magazine” artist, Sergio Aragones, and Mark Evanier.  I still have it.  It’s around, probably in storage, though it’s been operated on with staples and tape.

I was definitely a Marvel kid from the onset:  Spiderman and X-books.  I did have an awareness of other kinds of comics, like I used to bring home “Mad” collections from the library.  I always dug Harvey Kurtzman’s and Bill Elder’s style, for example.  I guess I was peripherally aware of “underground comix.”  Being eleven and reading my first Kim Deitch strip out of a “history of comics” book was definitely a mind-blower.  I didn’t really take to that strand of comics until my family moved to Russia in ’92.  My dad, a Christian ministry worker, caught the post-Cold War missionary fever and uprooted the family overseas.  The move to Russia, which was a Third-world country at that point, abruptly ended access to Western culture for me for a spell.  I would get the occasional Amazing Spiderman and the most recent issue of Wizard magazine from time to time, but that’s about it.  Mostly, I subsisted off of whatever I could get my hands on, so I would read an issue of Wizard cover to cover.  I learned about “alternative comics” from this methodical process.  I started following a column called “Palmer’s Picks” written by Tom Palmer Jr, and from that, gained exposure to a whole host of weirdo, underground cartoonists.  It was an excellent education, from that column I caught wind of Dan Clowes, Chester Brown, Charles Burns, Jim Woodring, Eddie Campbell, Ted McKeever and the Hernandez Bros, to name several.  Palmer also wrote an in-depth article on Tundra Comics which compelled me to order their catalogue.  (though it would be 6 months before I received it.  We received mail almost haphazardly)  The first book I ordered from Tundra was the original “Madman” series by Michael Allred. (a.k.a. the “Oddity Oddyssey”)  I read that and it was all over.  There was no going back.  In some ways, that was the first comic I ever truly read.

MWAM: Currently is there any series that you read every issue of? If so what are they?

DN: Hands down, my favorite series right now is “Night Business” by Ben Marra.  In fact, I love his whole Traditional Comics line, including “Gangsta Rap Posse” and “Maureen Dowd.”  I get that giddy feeling of anticipation anytime I learn of a new book.  He draws in this really skewed manner that ends up looking like a perverse homage to the poorly-rendered mainstream books of the ’80’s and ’90’s. (and I mean that in the best way possible) Not only that, but the presentation of his books match the content.  They’re printed in an inexpensive way which helps carry the effect of reading an old-school pamphlet comic.  But most importantly, they’re extremely fun to read and have a vitality about them that makes me think of the underground comix artist Spain and his series “Trashman.”  Grab ’em where you can.

MWAM: As the world continues to become more and more digital in regards to everything, what is the impetus to print a physical format? Do you still find readers prefer that format?

 DN: I’d hope readers prefer that format.  I’m pretty detached from the web-comics scene.  I understand the appeal of placing comics online, at least in the capacity that back issues or mini’s will become more immediate, or to showcase a work in-progress.  But personally, I feel reading a comic online, or through a Kindle or whatev’s, is a diminished experience.  The thrill of a comic is the object (as specifically printed) and the experience of interacting with the object.  “Body World” by Dash Shaw will always inhabit the book format for me, not the webpage. The digital environment undermines the uniqueness of the printed work.  Also, the digitized comic form detracts from the fluidity of the reading experience, with regards to layouts and panel-size, etc. (like reading it ony your phone or something)  Basically, I think digital comics should support the printed work, rather than act as its replacement.  If you need the surrogate experience of reading comics digitally due to your own limited proximity to a comic book retailer, then that’s cool.  I dunno, I guess I’m a purist.

MWAM: In continuation of that thought; do you feel that the explosion of comiccons/comic book festivals has helped independant publishers?

 DN: I wouldn’t use the term “explosion,” but the burgeoning festival scene has definitely aided small-pressers like myself. I would say Comic-Con has “exploded” but that’s a beast unto itself.  It’s the Sundance of fanboys.

It really depends on the show, I guess.  Though it seems like a publisher can fall into a rut by pursuing the same audience that attends certain shows.  And with that regard, I’ve had conversations with Dylan Williams of Sparkplug Comics about seeking out the less-establsihed shows, over the more commonly known ones.  He’s even mentioned finding alternative spots beyond the comics market to use as a venue for selling books.  Dylan’s in favoring of breaking comics to people who might be too intimidated by the outside veneer of a local comics shop.  I’m definitely in favor of this model as well.

MWAM: You recently took part in the Stumptown Comics festival. How was that experience?

DN: My immediate Stumptown experience was rad!  I tabled with Jeremy from Guapo Comics and had a blast.  He generously allowed me to share half of his table.  (that half was donated by the uber-talented Ed Luce, the creator of Wuvable Oaf)  I made a little scratch and had a pleasant time so no complaints there.  The one drawback was centered around the politics of the Stumptown festival.  Certain publishers and artists were dismissed because of their lack of “professional” qualities, which unfortunately included myself and our rag-tag little operation initially.  They’re trying to take the show to a “higher” level, but unfortunately it may come at the expense of a lot of talented folks who don’t immediately fit into a “professional” box.  What appears as unorthodox can also be brushed off as “amateurish.”  I think if someone were take a look at our website for example, they might view us as a shambolic group of hacks.  But I think the quality is there and is apparent to anyone who truly seeks us out.  Going back to notion of finding other venues to showcase your comics, with these current developments regarding Stumptown, we might need to look for other local alternatives.

MWAM: If there is one artist/writer you could publish a book for, who would that be, and why?

DN: I would publish a collection of Roy Tompkins‘ series, “Trailer Trash.”  “Trailer Trash” embodies what I love about, and search for in comics.  It’s vulgar, caustic, yet ultimately charming, and through the character of Harvey the Hillbilly Bastard, very human.  I love Roy’s art style, which is definitely grotesque, but still carries a lot of heart.  You can sense the kind of fondness that Roy feels for his characters which gives it a lighter weight, even though what you’re reading, with regards to content, is pretty fucked up.  It’s a work that I think should be reevaluated and given its due cred.

MWAMWhat comic publisher has had the biggest impact on you, as both a businessman, and a reader? Are they the same one?

 DN: Tundra blew my mind wide open when I was a kid.  Tundra was started by Kevin Eastman in the early 90’s using the cash he’d accumulated as one of the creators of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  His output is now the stuff of legend.  Eastman released an insane amount of work in a very short period.  Basically, if he liked your book, he’d get you cash up front for a certain amount of issues sight unseen, which is rare these days.  He paid for art that never saw the light of day.  (see Al Columbia’s Big Numbers issue)  “Trailer Trash,” “Beer Nutz,” “Madman,” “Frank in the River,” “Hyena,” “Big Numbers,” “From Hell,” “The Crow,” “Brat Pack” were all byproducts of this era.  More or less, it was doomed to fail.  But the aesthetic has stayed with me.  Highwater books is another influence.  Once again, another defunct publisher, but they shaped the look of “indie” comics from over the past decade.  Their impact cannot be understated, and I feel most publishers nowadays are striving to fill their absence.

Business-wise, I’ve been very inspired by Sparkplug comics from good ‘ole Portland, OR.  I really like Dylan’s approach to publishing, like having a direct relationship with the folks you publish and keeping a level-head about print-runs.  He’s definitely provided quite a bit of insight.  Teenage Dinosaur, run by Tim Goodyear, is another influence.  Tim runs his press with a lot of integrity, and I admire his honest approach.  There’s little to no bullshit in how he conducts business.  I appreciate that.  Anne Koyama of Koyama press is awesome.  We’re teaming up for Comic-Con this year which will be fun.  I really like the first effort of my pal Austin English’s Domino books.  He just published a book called “Dark Tomato” that is really dope.   Finally, I need to include Ben Marra’s Traditional Comics.  He made want to dive in, head first, into publishing lower-cost black and white, pamphlet books.

MWAMThere seems to be a return to “vintage” formats in the music world, ie; vinyl and cassetes, do you think that there is correlation between say a record collecter, and a comic book reader and collector?

DN: It’s hard to compare the “vintage” qualities of records or tapes to comics because the pamphlet format never went away.  There’s been a noticeable uptick in sales of vinyl in the last few years, while cassettes are rapidly becoming the hip format of smaller labels.  These formats have made gains in the last couple years, whereas before they were possibly overlooked.  Comics are still comics.

From a personal standpoint, I certainly draw a lot of inspiration from the music world, particularly how smaller labels conduct their business.  I’m in love with Woodsist records, based out of New York, and how they’ve shaped their label image.  While each release is unique, there is a specific look and sound at its core.  I hate use the term “brand” so I won’t, but you know when you buy a record with the Woodsist logo, you’re getting a high-quality release.  The new Spectre Folk record, “The Blackest Medicine vol. 2” is the shit, by the way.

MWAMDigital comics/ Web comics seem to be popping up all over the place to a pretty steady readership, do you read any? Have you thought about having revival house to park in that format for comics?

DN: Not really.  I publish comics, not web content.

MWAMDo you write/draw comics yourself? If So can those be found anywhere?

DN: Yeah, I do a gag mini-comic called True Believer.  It’s basically a knock-off of Ivan Brunnetti’s one-panel strips.  (and about an 1/8th as good)  I’m a sucker for one-liners and gags, so that’s what the comic is:  one-liners and gags.  What’s interesting to me are the inevitable subjects of these gags.  I do a lot of Jesus jokes and bits on suicide, topics I’ve relegated to a specific corner of my id.   I guess True Believer is a way of wrestling with my own demons.  I’d like to think that the process is healthy.  At least I have an outlet for it.  Anton Artaud has written about the use of art as a catharsis that I can relate to, but at the risk of sound pretentious, I’ll save that for a separate conversation.

MWAMWhat is the best way you describe the comics you publish to someone who has no idea? Is there a similar theme between the different books you have put out?

DN: I would say that we publish comics that are of an “underground” vein, with subject matter that could be perceived as unusual, or off-kilter yet channeled through a high amount of craft.  I have complete faith in the artists I publish and their ability to create an excellent book.  I think each one (Mike, Drew, Rusty) brings a particular skill-set to their work that enables them to produce the desired effect:  a bangin’ comic.  Thematically, I don’t see too many ties between the three of them.  I think they all bring something unique to the table.

MWAM Could you briefly describe the various works you’ve released and a bit of information about the writer’s of the works?

DN: “Trigger” is the solo anthology comic by Mike Bertino.  It’s kind of similar to Eightball in some ways, in that it contains a few stories of a varying degree.  Some might be funny, others could be disturbing but there’re all tightly crafted.  There’s an ongoing narrative that continues in each issue called “Grown Ups.”  It’s about a fresh-faced school teacher working in an inner-city school.  Mike is one of my best and oldest friends.  We were both comic dorks together in high-school, back when it was uncool to like them.  We read all of the same material and pushed each other to grow not just in how we appreciate comics but in life in general.  So for me, publishing his book is such an amazing, personal experience.

“Everything Unseen” is Drew Beckmeyer’s dystopian oddyssey.  It’s not any easy book to pin down which is part of the reason why I love it.  It balances absurdity and humor with a vaguely sci-fi story-line.  I love that the there is a character named Charles Grodin and that he sports a Kid N Play style hair-cut.  But honestly, the true experience lies in actually reading the book.  The book is rendered in pencil and has a lot of cool textures that really absorb you as well.  It’s the kind of comic you have to sit down and focus on, but if you do so, you will find yourself greatly rewarded and anxious for the next installment.

Last, but certainly not least, is Rusty Jordan.  I’m publishing his book, “Alamo Value Plus” at some point this summer.  Tentatively, it’s about a budget store called Alamo Value Plus where the various characters work.  He’s told me the story-line but I won’t reveal too much about it.  Let’s just say it’s a fucked-up variation on “Remembrance of Things Past,” sans the madeline.  I’ve known Rusty for about a decade now, and I know it’s going to be epic.

MWAMWhere do you hope to see revival house in ten years?

DN: I want Revival House to be Oprah of comics, a goliath of the industry crushing up fanboys and dispensing their bones and viscera onto a hard, brittle consumer landscape.  Ha ha, but seriously, folks, the goal of Revival House is to keep expanding at a natural pace, hopefully to the point where we have a solid roster of artists that can be sustained with our enterprise.  I’m committed to three artists right now, but down the line I’d like to add a few more.  If anything, in ten years I hope we’re considered a perpetual source of high-quality, interesting books.  A staple, if you will.


~ by justinjdrabek on July 27, 2011.

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