Ben Passmore’s approach to comic booking turns me on. The energy in his work is very apparent. Don’t let some of his over-the-top stories fool you. He active in his research for his stories and knows exactly how to tackle each project he works on. I talked with Ben a little and we got to talking about his upcoming projects and taste for napalm.
Victor Ochoa: Basics. Tell us a little about you and your background (age, location, school/work).
Ben Passmore: I’ve lived in New Orleans for a couple years, before that I was in Georgia where I got me a BFA in comics. I’m originally from Western Mass hill-country, but I’m a grateful southern convert. That might be rare for a black guy. I was a bicycle cab driver for almost four years, but I’ve been doing comics and illustration, with the odd busking/panhandling for three years now. I’m old enough that my mom has quit pretending I’m transitioning between college and a career in law.
I try to get out and adventure, but I spend most of my days at my desk or actively staining my teeth with coffee in a smoky room somewhere. Obviously I’m kinda pretentious despite my paint spattered overalls and reliance on spellcheck. My friend Jules says that if you see a man near his 30’s that still insists on wearing black almost exclusively, you have to expect a degree of pretension.
BP: I’m hammering away at a 200 page graphic novel called The Gospel of Tug Benson. I’ve been almost done for a year now. It’s about this drifter who ends up in a company owned town in the 1930’s. He ends up in the middle of a war between anarchists, the company’s owner, corrupt unions, and just about everything else. He even fights a dog. Imagine the movie Yojimbo crossed with The Wind That Shakes The Barley and you’ll kinda picture it. It should come out under SLG soon.
I’ve got the chance to work on a four-issue mini-series with B. Clay Moore (Hawaiian Dick, Battle Hymn) called the Mid-Nite hours, it’s kind of a WW2 occult spy mystery story. There’s also a mini-series called The Girl With A Black Hole For A Brain written by Rory McConville, that’s coming along pretty nice. I’m not sure when either will be coming out, by this winter I hope. I’ll have a DAYGLOAYHOLE anthology out next summer, I’ll probably self-publish it since the industry is being sucked up by a black hole or something.
BP: Thanks a lot for picking those up, it means a lot. I did a couple months researching the history around industrial unionism, the depression, etc., through source material. I started by reading some things Howard Zinn wrote about industrial workers in the early 20th century and then when on reading about things from all sorts of angles. As far as history goes it’s pretty amazing stuff. For instance a group underpaid and overworked miners burned down the town jail and the mine owner’s house during a particularly bloody strike. Many times guys would start organizing a union and get beaten by police/ guards and left out in a field somewhere. Often a town’s police force was just a bunch of rich guy’s goons deputized by the Governor.
The group of anarchists in the book are, in part, based on a union that still exists called the I.W.W. I met up with a number of different anarcho-syndicalists including I.W.W.’s, traveled around the deep south on bicycle looking for the area that I thought would fit. I slept around in a tent or at people’s homes, generally bumming around and taking notes. Even though the book is all written and I’m more that three quarters the way done I’m still researching. It’s really easy to make a work so chalk full of political energy suck. The best solution seems to be to take in a large diversity of information about a time, place, and it’s people and try you best to make a stylized simulation of that.
VO: What’s your story in the NOBODIES anthology about?
BP: This guy, No Limitz, is traipsing across this post-apocalyptic landscape that was once our fair world looking for junk food, and a bunch of no-goods get in his way, gore ensues. This story came out of a desire to make a comic that was almost a direct link from my head to my hand, so there wasn’t a whole lot of vetting. Also I enjoy the tradition of using sci-fi to critique our society (Blade Runner, Total Recall, etc.). DAYGLOAYHOLE is really about my city and all the things that I love and hate about it, and the characters are largely archetypal. MOVIN ON UP is about our cops and the reformists and slouches that let them do what they do.
BP: Hunger and a steady job, particularly one with a uniform. I think we can all relate to that. I’m kidding, No Limitz isn’t limited by fear. Who knows though, he might be fighting so hard just to get away from paying alimony.
VO: What’s your work process like from start to finish?
BP: I tend to start with the basic story. I write down the plot as nonspecifically as possible on a piece of paper. Then I extrapolate from there, breaking it down by pages, then panels. Dialog usually comes last unless a sentence jumps out at me before hand. It’s the same with the visuals; I usually don’t try to draw any story until the backbone of the narrative is done. That being said I usually wail out a DAYGLOAYHOLE tale in a couple hours, they don’t require too much mulling over.
I use one 00 Windsor & Newton series 7 and big ‘ol Bristol, because I learned to use those in college and I fear change. I do all my coloring on Photoshop, but recently my luddite girlfriend gave me a watercolor set so I might do a lot more of that. Jake Wyatt makes it look so easy so it must be.
BP: I’m used to having the freedom to make last minute major decisions while in the middle of drawing the page. At first I felt limited, but now I really enjoy the challenge of developing a story with partner. Also working with writers has taught me loads about writing, though you wouldn’t know it by reading DAYGLOAYHOLE.
VO: What do you think is the most important aspect of comic book story telling?
BP: I don’t think I have any special insight into comix storytelling. Pacing, mood, energy (whatever that means.), and harmony between words and images are key, particularly the last part. I think what’s little talked about is how the things you don’t see make or break a comic. It doesn’t matter how good a comic looks if there’s no plot, no secret intelligent machine running the thing, it’ll be a polished…well you get it. Beginning, middle, end, and for God sakes, character development! Decide for yourself, but I think even in my vapid ramble of a comic there’s a semblance of development, except for No Limitz, he’s not limited by character development.
BP: I guess I’ve been ripping Guy Davis off the most lately. I generally take my cues from Chris Ware, David Mazzucchelli, Charles Burns, Winsor McKay, The Hernandez Brothers, Daniel Clowes, Jason, Ken Dahl, and Moebius (minus the occasional misogyny).
Sometimes I get a lot from the writings of Borges, Bukowski and Paul Auster. There’s a lot of Gary Panter’s Jimbo and George Herriman’s Krazy Kat in my DAYGLOAYHOLE stories. I’ve been seeing a lot of ironic pseudo-illiteracy and slang heavy dialog in comics coming back, so I’m hopping on that bandwagon cause it don’t make me hafta spell goo.
I guess I travel a bit and hang out on street corners once and a while, you can learn a lot from an old home bum names chief. The deep south (not you Maryland!) is a strange place that helps. I would be remise if I didn’t mention that most of my work has an underlying agenda….
BP: Property is theft. HA! I dunno, I’m a huge fan of BPRD, Hellboy, Baltimore, and Witchhunter. I think those stores are immensely challenging to their creators, the readers, and anyone who wants to make a decent book in the mainstream or otherwise. So I guess I’d mess with those. Who am I kidding; I’d do a Thor book if they’d give me enough to go to the dentist!
VO: Alrighty, last question. What’s your drink of choice?
BP: Napalm, not the army stuff, but the kind you make with gasoline and Styrofoam.
You can check out Ben’s site below and go buy his stuff on Etsy!