5 Questions with Blaise Larmee

by on Nov.09, 2010

Blaise Larmee is a particularly interesting presence in comics these days. While he certainly cartoons, his aesthetic is obviously drawn from a much broader vocabulary: philosophy, language, anti-narrative, deconstructed marks-making. You can see this on display in his book Young Lions. Follow his thoughts at the Co-mix (cometscomets) blog. And, now, see him publish books with his new press Gaze Books, which just released its first book, The Whale by Aidan Koch.

JDW: Name three or four comics artists whose work is particularly influential on the comics being created in 2010.

BL: Frank Santoro, Aidan Koch, Jason Overby.

JDW: Whose fiction and/or poetry are you into these days?

BL: I think Tao Lin has an interesting creative process. I tend to read texts as a creator rather than as a consumer, so pure enjoyment of a text is rare. I generally don’t read narrative-based texts.

JDW: You, and your co-contributors at the Co-Mix blog, seem pretty critically aware. I find that often comics artists refuse to acknowledge criticism (although I think Frank Santoro has done a lot to overcome this by setting the pace). How do you think this awareness effects your own work?

BL: My current creative process is to draw a single character in various poses often dictated by chance occurences in drawing (for example, drawing a shoulder too long may result in an extended arm), photographing these drawings, and ‘dropping’ them onto a template. My process, like my response to this question, is to avoid meaning as long as possible. I begin with drawings rather than words. The idea of narrative as continuous cause and effect intimidates me. Correlation seems more peaceful. But causality seems embedded within narrative structure. And narrative structure seems embedded in comics. I can relate to Gil Gentile when he says ‘my biggest problem is i don’t necessarily have a “story i need to tell”, like i am all weirdly only interested in the formal when i’m drawing (although not as a reader, thats 2nd and 3rd back)… and i don’t think id be able to productively collaborate with a writer because its difficult to think of comics-making as anything other than a very solitary activity at all stages of production….’ I think because (cause and effect here … going out on a limb) I am self aware my relationship to meaning and narrative – which are especially vulnerable to critical thought – is taut. I have yet to have had a narrative ‘just flow’ out of me. When creating a narrative I reflect on my own narrative and I ask myself, what narrative do I want in my life, what narrative do i want for my characters. Comics is a space to play with the ideal for me, to endlessly draft and revise. But to finalize one’s conception of the ideal is a heavy burden on the creator. I just started re-reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being and the idea of living a life only once becomes more complicated if that life (a narrative) can be endlessly drafted before it is bound into a book.

JDW: You just started a press called Gaze Books. While self-publishing is common in comics, you don’t see all that many small presses popping up, as you do with literature. Why do you think that is? Why’d you start Gaze?

BL: I imagine alt comics form a smaller and weaker sphere than alt lit. Also, as you say, alt comics creators are used to self publishing. I have only self published. I romanticized the idea of being published and otherized the publisher. I thought of the publisher as a resource that a creator had to somehow ‘trick’ into letting their creative vision manifest. In some ways i still believe this. Aspiring creators mimic house styles in the hopes of living in the house they long for. If the creator considers third party publication of their book as an integral aspect of the book (and why shouldn’t they) the book is conceived of as a compromise of vision. In my own experience this compromise exists in self publishing as well…

Some reasons for starting Gaze Books: to experience the feeling of being published vicariously, to foster a ‘good book’, to indulge in corporate aesthetics, to promote young creators, to separate the creator/publisher aspects of myself (and others), to influence the aesthetics, and structure of publishing culture

JDW: Do you think this assumption that all cartoonists’ eventual goal is to create a long work, a “graphic novel” will change? Are you working on a graphic novel?

BL: Creators desire to create graphic novels because graphic novels introduce the creator into a greater cultural circuit. If this circuit moves into other territories creators will move into these territories as well. The 1-2 page comic carries ill-defined currency in a variety of established magazines. This could be a fad or it could lead to a lasting form, depending in part on the publisher’s willingness to seek out creators (and vice versa).


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18 comments for this entry:
  1. David Gray

    I don’t understand what Blaise is trying to say here. Is he sayig that he’s just not interested in narrative at all or that by endless obscufation he is able to deal with things better? This all seems like a cop out. I followed his Young Lions tumblr and it seems like there’s a pretty obvious story: youn artsy fartsy types hang out and reject a cute girl; how drolllll. Sometimes I think Blaise doesn’t know what is happening in the real world.

  2. John Dermot Woods

    David,

    It doesn’t seem to me that Blaise eschews narrative all together (nor does he claim that he has in the past). I think he’s very specifically describing a method that he’s currently using to resist a quick tendency toward narrative organization. He goes on to explain the exact way he has constructed narrative (with difficulty, without “flow,” he says)and even notes Kundera’s particularly narrative-driven novel.

    Having read YOUNG LIONS, I can tell you that you’re right, David; it has a strong narrative, established on a fairly traditional crisis-resolution model (look at the progression of the example pages above for a microcosmic example). But, the fact that Blaise claims a problematic personal relationship with narrative (and who, short of Stephen King, hasn’t felt this anxiety?) doesn’t undercut his work.

    As far as your description of YOUNG LIONS, you’re not alone, but I’d argue that a one sentence distillation of a complex graphic narrative does it little critical service. I could describe ULYSSES as a John-Updike-Style-Mid-Life-Crisis-Borefest if I wanted to. (Thick-around-the-waist guy gets up and goes to work, farts, then comes home, all while his wife is cheating on him with some younger hunk.) But what does that tell you about Joyce’s work?

  3. Kate Byrne

    I’m on board with the interviewer on this one, I think reducing a nuanced text like Young Lions down to a run-on-complaint reveals more about the critic than the critiqued. John, it sort of sounds like you’re putting Blaise’s graphic novel on par with Ulysses though and I think that’s kind of a stretch. I’d say Dash Shaw might be a better exemplar of Joycean scope and detail, but there’s definitely a sense of reluctance to the story in YL, maybe I’ll go out on a limb here and coin a term: regrettable narrative.

    Glad to hear todays comics artists are interested in quality literature at least (re: Kundera)…I look forward to seeing how Blaise uses the ideas he gets from that book, which is a personal favorite of mine.

  4. John Dermot Woods

    Kate,

    My intention wasn’t to put Blaise’s work on (or not) par with Joyce (nor would I be interested in doing the same thing with Shaw’s work, although comparisons of their expansiveness would be interesting) but to say that no matter how complex and nuanced a narrative is, a one sentence reduction is likely to undermine. I chose ULYSSES as a hyperbolic example.

    When you say there’s a reluctance to the story in YOUNG LIONS, do you mean the comic itself seems reluctant to reveal the narrative? Reading it did you feel that Blaise, as creator, was trying to make a book that obscured the narrative at its core?

  5. Kate Byrne

    Yes. I think that’s an apt phrasing – ‘obscurity at its core.’ Perhaps more interestingly though, it seemed like not only was the narrative reluctant to clarify itself but the characters were reluctant to participate in (or perform) said narrative. The most enthusiastic character(s) turn out to be those treated most harshly by the plot’s unfolding.
    Would really like to pick Blaise’s brain over this kind of thing.

  6. Robin Merrick

    cleerly i think blaise should read some more comics and a littl less theory. im not sure what a lot of this hast to do with what’s going on in most comics today.
    does blaise not car about heroes even?

  7. Fake Name

    Blaise Larmee. moar liek tha F. Scott Fitzgerald of comix, amirite. just one emerald-shaded metaphor short of a decent read

  8. sam

    I like that his peers are kind of pushing the bounds of comics, but to me his peers actually seem interested in comics…Blaise larmee strikes me as a dude who makes things and refuses to admit that comics play no role in his art making aside from the fact that comics is still a “fresh medium” and by making ‘comics’ only tangentially related to ‘comics’ he is participating in a shallow pond, thereby making some kind of impact. if you remove him from the small ridiculous world of comics, though, he really is just a poor man’s Tao Lin and Jockum Nordstrum.
    I’m not sure why he continues to pique people’s interest, since his friends he mentioned are so much more articulate and actually interested in what they are doing. I guess it’s just me but I feel like it’s disingenuous to know about the shallow pool of source material (Tao Lin, CF, or Jockum Nordstrum) and insist that there’s something here with more value than a random 25 year old with some contemporary art world vernacular.
    but I’m sure any misguided attempt at critically discussing the merits of someone who revels in inane internet comments is akin to ‘any press is good press’ or something.

  9. John Dermot Woods

    Sam,

    Can you explain why you think Blaise’s work is not actually comics? To me, they seem essentially so, using the basic elements of the medium. I’m also interested why you think that readers who are familiar with work that has seemingly influenced Blaise’s would be unable to find his work compelling? Sure, I see the mark of Nordstrum and CF (I’m having trouble finding the Tao Lin in there), but that in itself excites me as a reader. I don’t know that your criticism is wrong, but I just don’t understand the specifics of it.

  10. sam

    Im kinda lazy and dont wanna re-read my post but I dont think what he makes is not comics, maybe I said that though. I did something ignorant and questioned his intentions but any 25 year old artist is going to be trying to bury guilty pleasures and urges that they shouldnt anyways…
    but I dont know. I just feel like there’s not a lot of healthy pragmatism or even real effort to critically view this work. I dont really mind if person to person people find it compelling I just kind of find it…lame? at the general attitude and stonewalling Ive seen towards this stuff. like why cant people just admit blaise is young and this is by far never going to be his best stuff? like I said if we view this in pragmatic terms…this work is really just a cobbling together of contemporary trends (in someone elses terms: textured graphite drawings of the CF/fort thunder variety, waify american apparel model characters, interest in the meta). that to me shows little interest in really making things, instead just an interest of watching yourself make things. blaise pretty much admitted to googling himself on a routine basis.
    that goes back to what I was saying about Jason O and Aidan Koch. those guys like making things, especially in Jason O there seems to be an intense investigation in that form of abstract comics making. I like looking at his stuff like he likes making it. I dont think hes looking over his shoulder to see if we’re looking or not, either. blaise spends a lot of time thinking and talking about things and to me that’s more interesting to look at than his work.

  11. sam

    that’s also not to say investigating contemporary trends, topics, and themes is like automatically invalid. but I guess it’s just me, I dont see ‘blaise larmee’ in the stuff on paper.

  12. Fake Name

    i agree, he’s very much gone

  13. John Dermot Woods

    Sam,

    I don’t think I’m as aware of the critical praise of Blaise’s work as you are, so I’m not sure if overstated or that people are claiming he’s hit some apex of his career at a young age. (And if there is stonewalling of criticism about it, that too bad bother for him and readers.) But, I can tell you that one of the things I find really appealing about his approach is exactly what you observe: “blaise spends a lot of time thinking and talking about things.” I enjoy encountering that in concert with his work. He discusses what he’s reading or thinking about and that gives me a really satisfying “something else” to dig into his work with.

    It actually reminds me of what Johannes does here and on his previous blog Exoskeleton. Johannes loves to talk about the Genet he’s ripping off or the YouTube videos he was watching before he wrote a particular poem, and I think for a lot of readers that opens up his work. It creates an opportunity for conversation. That’s why I thought to interview Blaise. I understood that he be able to start a conversation about his work rather than define it exactly and shut the door.

  14. Salvador Dali, the artist

    John, you’re not aware of the critical praise of Blaise’s work because it does not exist. He’s just a rumor mill, slaving away (on junk) in obscurity.

    I hate myself.

  15. Johannes

    John,
    A lot of people dislike this guy! Wow.
    Johannes

  16. John Dermot Woods

    I’m not sure. I think it’s pretty fascinating that Blaise’s engagement of critical and abstract thought seems to be so threatening. I wish I understood the source of the argument a bit more clearly (as I think Blaise would also).

  17. Jeff

    I think this idea that Blaise is a really ‘polarizing’ figure in comics is a total fraud.
    He strikes me as a somewhat marginal figure, perhaps because of his self-styled stance as a critic, thinker, and reflector of comics and especially ideas that go beyond the concerns of cartoon formalism and collector fanboy subculture in-house back-slapping, but I don’t think anything he’s done has been purely about alienating anyone nor do I think he does alienate people.

    Some of his best work is a bit obscure but it’s personal, honest experimentation regardless of some of the more sarcastic things he’s said in ‘public.’

    If nothing else Young Lions is one of the better graphic novels I’ve read.

  18. John Dermot Woods

    I’m with you on that, Jeff.