Interview with Charles Forsman

Charles Forsman is a pretty young cartoonist and entrepreneur who already made considerable contributions to the North-American comics field, both with the works published through his small-press company, Oily Comics, and his own work such as The End of The Fucking World, Celebrated Summer and various mini-comics.

His latest comic is a bit of a left-turn in his career having a lot more in common with Michel Fiffe’s Copra or Night Business by Ben Marra. Of course, Revenger is hardly tributary. The connection springs to mind simply because it is a stripped down violence comic influenced by pop-culture of yore created by a mini-comics person. There are bits and pieces that remind me of what other people are doing, but as a whole it’s very much Forsman’s. The linework is almost gentle, the sequences are very considered, there’s an interest in working with time, which I find to be very malleable in his comics and of course, it has the prevailing theme of disaffected youth.

And he’s more than happy to sell it digitally through Gumroad. So when I stumbled on him online, I couldn’t pass the opportunity to exchange some emails over the digital distribution side of alternative comics.

Alin: There’s a lot to be talked about both your work both as an artist and as a publisher, and it has been talked about in places like the TCJ. But something that caught my attention was the fact the even though you were making minicomics, objects that have a personality to them even if they are small and cheap, you also sold digital copies of them. At first through a Paypal storefront and now through Gumroad.

Was it on a whim? Was it something you thought would make business sense? Or you simply wanted to offer people this opportunity.

Charles Forsman: I think when I first sold digital comics it was sort of on a whim. Business-wise there was almost no sense in doing it a few years ago. I barely sold any digital comics until recently. I think the people that have read my work in the past aren’t necessarily the audience to seek out digital comics. They are more the object crowd. And to be honest I wasn’t a digital reader until recently. Mainly because I just never enjoyed reading comics on a computer monitor. I just couldn’t make the shift in my mind. There are too many distractions on a computer. It wasn’t until I got a tablet that I began to read digital comics and suddenly it made sense. So my new comic, Revenger is kind of my first push into a heavily digital format.

Alin: But nowadays do you read many digital comics?

Charles Forsman: I do. It is my preferred way to read comics at the moment. I wish more of my peers would sell digitally because I would be buying it. I have so much junk in my house and I come home with buckets of comics after every convention and I’m just getting fed up with all the paper. I love a nicely designed paper comic but I don’t need to own them. To me, comics are about reading them. If I can get that on a tablet and not have another pile of paper under my coffee table, then I will opt for digital.

Alin: If you can excuse my digression I want to say that there are a lot of small-press artists that I wouldn’t have known about if they wouldn’t have put their work online. People like Aidan Koch, Sam Alden, Andrew White, Julia Gfrörer, Jordan Crane, probably even Dash Shaw. And I’m a bit grateful when guys like yourself or Andrew White or Pete Toms or Box Brown present the opportunity of buying the comics. The transaction gives me the feeling that I’m playing a part in the culture. I know that if there aren’t enough purchases I’m not even supporting you since the money gets locked up in some account or another because of fees so the feeling might not be reciprocated. Especially since I’m sure that mailing out a comic in person is a much more personal experience than being notified by mail of a new digital purchase. But it’s a really nice, inclusive option to have.

Anyway. So, just getting the tablet made you read more comics digitally? Was it something you already wanted to get into, but the PC couldn’t cut because of the format and the environment? I know that lots of people are switching (at least partially) to digital because of space issues. I gather that this might have played a bit of a part for you as well.

Charles Forsman: Yeah space is a big issue. I have so many comics laying around the house and I’ve never been great at keeping them organized. But the tablet made all the difference. I was interested in trying reading comics on a tablet because I suspected that with a tablet that has a high resolution screen would do a good job of displaying detail. But then I realized how a tablet in my hands while laying in bed or on the couch just puts my mind into a reading mode. I find that my attention span is just not the same when sitting at the desktop. It might not even be the attention span…it is more like a different mode my mind gets into.

Alin: Now that the Oily Comics website is redesigned, the Digital Comics section is featured a bit more prominently and it also hosts comics by people other than yourself, like the anthological Habit #1 and Noah Van Sciver’s The Lizard Laughed.

I take that to mean that selling comics as digital files wasn’t a complete waste of time. Were the sales anything significant?

Charles Forsman: Most of Oily’s sales are still physical comics. I’m not sure people know the digital comics are there. It is tough. Plus, like I said before, I think Oily’s customers just aren’t digital readers.

Alin: Why is the digital catalog limited? Didn’t the other authors agree to it? Was it to preserve human touch of those minicomics?

Charles Forsman: Well, I have published a ton of 12-page 1 dollar comics. And it just didn’t make sense to me to sell them all digitally. So I only sell the larger comics digitally. I think the longer comics will be more likely to sell.

Alin: Don’t you fear that people might pirate them since they are just shareable digital files? Or at least pirate them more easily?

Charles Forsman: No. I don’t care if they pirate them. I mean they already do. It happens and it will continue to happen. I would rather embrace it. I see it as a win either way. If someone wants to read my comics bad enough to steal it then fine. I would rather they read it than to stop them.

Alin: Have you considered doing something primarily for digital media(either as a paid digital comic or a webcomic)? To see how your approach to comics would change if you didn’t have to worry about format or reproduction?

Charles Forsman: Well, I think Revenger started out that way. I was only going to do it digital only but then, depending on how you look at it, I either got cold feet or I smartened up. I decided to do digital and print because I just feel like I wouldn’t have enough readers if it was digital only. It is still a small percentage of the readers that do digital do I think to get the book out there a physical book is still a necessity. And I don’t have a huge audience so I need all the chances I can. Plus I don’t have a publisher helping push the book so it is all on me. Getting back to your question. The only thing that I am thinking of differently is the addition of color. I’ve wanted to do a full color comic for a while and I think considering doing Revenger as a digital comic opened the door in my mind to the possibilities of color. I’m excited about it. It is not something I have done a lot of so there is a big learning curve. I’m confident that it will get better as I go along.

Alin: In a way it’s strange this is it’s genesis, since in terms of style and content it seems most influenced by Fiffe’s Copra and by the various works of Ben Marra, who I perceive of being some of the more paper/lovingly-crafted-object loyalist guys out there. Fiffe especially. You acknowledge this influence both directly and by having them illustrate the back covers. Is there anyone or any comic that inspired you to think of doing it like this? Of considering the digital route? Or was it just because you started reading more comics on the tablet?

Charles Forsman: Yeah. I think most people would also put me in the paper/object fetish pack. I do love comics on paper. Most recently I’ve been buying old american comics from the 60s to the 80s mostly. I think I began to become overwhelmed by the mini comics “scene” and my reaction was to study these old comics. I think looking at old comics also put me on the path to Revenger. I became interested in the format. 24 pages, color and that designated american comic book size of 6.625 x 10.25 inches. I had always rejected that as kind of lame and uncool. But of course with everything I reject I eventually become interested in and and want to work in it and understand it. I like to set up boundaries to work in. And doing a comic like this may be a very familiar way to doing a comic I hope that what I do comes out as still very much my own thing.

Alin: I don’t want to keep you any longer, but could you quickly offer your opinion, instead of a conclusion, what other people would have to gain from selling their comics digitally? Or if it would benefit the culture?

Charles Forsman: I mean, the obvious thing is that digital has going is its unlimited capacity. The most frustrating thing about making comics is running out. And there is a lot of labor that goes into that. I think there is kind if a stigma too. I think a lot of people think of digital comics as a place for mainstream and web comics. But it doesn’t have to be that. I’m interested in finding new people to read my stuff and digital is a great way to do that. It is a lot easier for someone to download a book to a tablet then to get them to go to a comic shop or a convention. The other great thing is that you can have a direct connection and a whole lot less middlemen between you and a reader.

Alin: Well, thank you very much for your time, patience and answers and I wish you the best of luck with Revenger.



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