with Melissa Spence Gardner, artist for XO & Plink Comics
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 we’ll 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 mom’s old Little Lulu’s 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 Pook’s Comeek which I read in alternative papers, I didn’t 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 you’re into classically & currently & how do they effect your work?
Melissa – I’m 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 O’Conner 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. I’m done with Strange Snow, now. I’m doing a new (well, it’s 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 I’ve 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 I’ve been dawdling & panic some more. I’m getting better, though. It’s 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. I’ve 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. That’s 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. I’m actually doing a mini comic about how XO came about to bring to our table at SPACE. That will have the whole story. Aren’t 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. It’s 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 it’s a good thing I’ve gained the ability to draw faster so it won’t 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 I’ve 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 I’m 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, I’m 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 don’t draw on the computer. Never have. I don’t 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, I’m 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 there’s 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 ? XO’s face reacting to killing someone instead of showing bones breaking, etc. I’m intending to make a few murders as realistic & graphic as I can. I don’t want readers to think we’ll 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 can’t 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 it’s 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!