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QRD #39 - April 2009
about this issue
interviews with:
Nicholas Slaton of slicnaton
Sarah June
Northern Valentine
Hotel Hotel
Brian John Mitchell of Silber
Melissa Spence Gardner of XO
Lisa Uber of WRSU
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Interview with Melissa Spence Gardner, artist for XO & Plink Comics
March 2009

Melissa Spence Gardner is known for her autobiographical comic Strange Snow (recently switched to the name Plink Comics, free to read online) as well as her collaboration with Brian John Mitchell on XO.  Why would a girl draw a weird ultra-violent-but-cute mini-comic?  Maybe well find out one day.

QRD Have you been a comics fan since you were a kid?  How did you get into actually making them?

Melissa Yes, I always read comics.  I read comics as much as I read regular books ? I loved to read.  I grew up on Caspar, Hot Stuff, & Wendy (I liked my moms old Little Lulus too) & then moved on to Archies.  My cousin Sarah & I were diehard Archie fans.  Still are, although she might not admit it.  Then in college I had a comics dry spell simply because, other than Life in Hell & Ernie Pooks Comeek which I read in alternative papers, I didnt know what was out there.  I literally stumbled across Twisted Sisters in the college library.  You know how when growing up you discover that one band, movie, book, or whatever it is that makes a stick of dynamite go off in your head?  Twisted Sisters was mine.  The autobiographical comics by Dori Seda were my favorite.  I knew what I was gonna do for the rest of my life.  Draw comics about my life.

QRD What are some comics youre into classically & currently & how do they effect your work?

Melissa Im not sure what you mean by classically ? unlike most, I started with all the undergrounds/alternative stuff & read my way to Will Eisner, Wally Wood, Jack Kirby, etc.  The more I read & studied, the more I learned.  My favorites change: after Twisted Sisters, Eightball & Hate were my favorite.  Then Chester Brown, Carol Lay, Mary Fleener.  Hate is still my all-time favorite comic & Hicksville is my favorite graphic novel.  What I appreciated with Brown, Lay, et al was that they were like my favorite authors, Joy Williams & Flannery OConner with their odd viewpoints, startling violence, & use of the grotesque... but with words & pictures.

QRD Besides XO you do Strange Snow.  Have you worked on any other comics?

Melissa Just some crappy zines that have passed on into oblivion.  Im done with Strange Snow, now.  Im doing a new (well, its still auto-bio) comic called Plink.  (plinkcomics.com) 

QRD What do you find more satisfying, working on your own stories or collaborating with a writer?

Melissa Brian is the first person Ive collaborated with.  I like working that way, but tend to get more stressed out than when I do my own comics.  I panic, start over, panic, start over, then realized how long Ive been dawdling & panic some more.  Im getting better, though.  Its taught me discipline & therefore my own online strip is done in a much more timely manner.

QRD Do you have any formal art training & how has it effected your comic work?

Melissa Not really.  Ive taken a few art classes.  Teachers were never very impressed with my skills, because no matter what I drew, it all had a cartoonish quality.  Thick outlines.  Art teachers hate thick outlines.  So I drew mean comics about the art teachers & those were a hit with other students at least.

QRD Your art has a certain style, do you ever do things that are more of the traditional comic style?

Melissa No.  Thats not my thing.  If I attempted a traditional style it would look like the efforts of a third grader copying Batman.

QRD Do you think the juxtapositioning of your art style with the dark stories of XO make it more interesting than if it was done Frank Miller style?

Melissa Definitely.  The juxtaposition of the grim stories & the slightly cute artwork make it much more unsettling.

QRD How did you end up working with Brian on XO?

Melissa I saw his Lost Kisses avatars on MySpace & told him how much I dug em.  He asked if I wanted to draw something with him.  I really liked the script he sent.  Im actually doing a mini comic about how XO came about to bring to our table at SPACE.  That will have the whole story.  Arent you excited?  Spread the word.

QRD Do you work on XO from a full script or Marvel style or what?

Melissa Brian sends me an Adobe file with the boxes & lettering supplied.  I just draw in the little boxes.  He does all the work for me.  Its a great set-up.

QRD When Brian revealed to you that he saw XO as at least a hundred issue story arc, did you feel like jumping ship?

Melissa No, but its a good thing Ive gained the ability to draw faster so it wont take 100 years.

QRD How do you feel about the size & single panel per page constraints for XO?  Would you rather work on it in a regular comic size format or do you find the limitations lead to creativity?

Melissa I like it the way it is.  As a result Ive begun to draw my own comics at a smaller size.  I actually use the restrictive size & single panels in XO to my advantage now that Im more comfortable with the layout.

QRD The panels on XO are pretty tiny, what size do you draw them at?

Melissa I print out what Brian sends (matchbook sized panels) & blow them up twice their size & send him the originals.

QRD What do you use to ink your work?

Melissa Ink.  Ha, ha, Im a riot.  I usually draw with a crow quill, but with XO I use a super tiny fine line art marker.

QRD How do you feel about drawing on the computer instead of on paper?

Melissa I dont draw on the computer.  Never have.  I dont use the computer to color anymore, either.  Just to scan, resize & prettify.

QRD Do you think that the physical versions or digital versions of XO are more important?

Melissa They both have their place.  But as I told Brian, Im finding that XO is beginning starting to embody the line from Blazing Saddles, ...rapidly becoming an underground success.  People take handfuls then pass them off to friends who give them to other friends.  Like Tijuana Bibles.  The actual minis are more important & more likely to draw attention.

QRD I know theres talk of some of the violence in XO being more graphically depicted in the future.  Do you think it will make a difference to readers or the stories themselves?

Melissa Brian & I agreed that we should not get into a predictable format ? XOs face reacting to killing someone instead of showing bones breaking, etc.  Im intending to make a few murders as realistic & graphic as I can.  I dont want readers to think well always spare them the details.  XO is full of surprises.

QRD Lately it seems that comics are a big launching point for film ideas.  What do you think comics offer that is lost in film adaptations?

Melissa Well, I can only speak for myself.  I cant disappear inside a movie the way I can a comic book.  Read it inside & out, study how things are done ? if a movie is done well its like someone telling you a good story, instead of reading it yourself. 

QRD Would you like to see XO or Strange Snow developed for TV or film?

Melissa XO, definitely.  Strange Snow, nah.

QRD As a comic reader do you prefer something delivered as a daily strip, monthly book, or a large collection?

Melissa I like all of the above.

QRD How often would you like to see XO come out?

Melissa Uh, I really am trying to accommodate Brian so we can get one out every 3-4 months.  I am.  Honest.

QRD What are your current plans?

Melissa Draw comics, enjoy being alive, get a puppy & go back to school.

QRD Anything else?

Melissa Buy XO!  They make excellent stocking stuffers!

Official Plink Comics Website
Official XO Website