Unshelved comic strip for 3/29/2011

Jason Shiga Interview

I am a huge fan of Jason Shiga’s comics. I missed the chance to meet him at Comic Con after we ran our Bookhunter comic. At APE last year I stood in front of his table for 30 minutes, so caught up in trying to win an ARC of Meanwhile by taking an insane test he devised (I failed) that I hardly spoke to him. But when he was in Seattle last month, Jason agreed to meet me in one of my favorite cafes and chat about his new book, Empire State: A Love Story (Or Not), and everything else I could think to ask. He spoke of the horrors of cross-country bus trips, confessed he’s a complete romantic, and talked about what he’s working on now. When he drew on my iPad I completely geeked out.

Cartoonist Jason Shiga meets future cartoonist (and Gene’s daughter) Gigi
Cartoonist Jason Shiga meets future cartoonist (and Gene’s daughter) Gigi

How do you work? Do you start with by drawing or writing?

I’m a rarity among cartoonists. A lot of the cartoonists I know usually start from visuals and try to wrap a story around it. I’m more of a narrative person. I like getting the story down first and then trying to do the best artwork I can do to communicate those ideas.

I don’t think I’m a natural artist. I don’t really draw for fun. I don’t even doodle on my phone at all. I don’t think of myself myself that way. I see myself as more of a storyteller. Just trying to communicate any idea visually is really hard work for me.

Why are you drawn to comics if you don’t really feel like an artist?

Even though I don’t think of myself as a natural artist, I am a visual person. I like ideas to be communicated visually. I love reading comics. A lot of ideas that I think of are just more visual than they are emotional, verbal, or whatever. Comics is this weird combination of visual communication and narrative that’s perfectly suited to my interests.

It’s like that old saying, a picture is worth a thousand words. I guess a corollary is a graphic novel is worth a million words!

Tell me about Empire State.

The basic idea is that there’s the main character whose best friend moves to New York. After she leaves, he decides that he’s in love with her. So he travels to New York. Like myself, he’s a fan of the romantic comedy genre, and he decides it would be romantic to meet her at the top of the Empire State Building on a certain day at a certain time. The book kind of picks up where Sleepless in Seattle left off.

I like how in his letter to her he apologizes because Valentine’s Day had just passed.

Let’s meet on President’s Day!

I thought that was an adorable detail because he’s always a little late.

I’m a romantic!

One time I decided to ride a bicycle to LA from Oakland. A woman that I liked had moved there but she left her bike at my place. So I thought it would be romantic if I rode her bicycle to LA.

I don’t know if you’ve ever done that, but basically by the time I reached LA the bicycle was a wreck. It was about to fall apart! The pedals were falling off. The tires were flat. The trip took me a week. The worst part was she wasn’t there. She had moved again to New York. But her parents were there. I chatted with them, gave them her bicycle, and left.

What’s your next project?

It’s called Demon. It’s a 700-page epic scifi serial.

The cover has Jimmy, the main character from Meanwhile. You open the book and there’s Jimmy at a desk where he’s writing. He’s just writing and writing for eight panels. Then it looks like he’s getting up, and then you see his feet moving off the ground. And you’re like, “Wow, he’s flying!” But then you turn the page and he’s hanged himself. And you’re like, “What? Jimmy!”

I’m about 150 pages into it but I’m slowly chipping away. Every day my goal is to do two pages. I’m hoping to have it done in three or four years, but we’ll see. The whole thing is thumbnailed, I just have to draw it.

How big do you work?

8 1/2 inches by 11 on normal copy paper. I just draw it and then scan it.

What comics do you read?

I’m really into manga. I’ve always liked the Japanese way of storytelling. I like melodrama. I like extremes of emotion.

Probably the best I read last year was [Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s autobiographical] A Drifting Life. I never really liked his older stuff, like The Push Man and Other Stories. But he’s just one of those cartoonists that gets better the older he gets. I love following careers and his is a totally fun one to follow because it’s the history of manga from the beginning. But I wish they had included a glossary of all the authors and titles mentioned.

You worked in a library before, right?

For years at the Oakland Public Library.

What’s your craziest library story?

Someone returned a video cassette of 101 Dalmatians. But when we opened it, it was a porno tape called Three Way The Hard Way. We had to contact the patron and let him know that he’d left his own tape in the box and that he still had to return ours.

This Unshelved strip

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