Tom Van Deusen is a cartoonist based in Seattle who, along with several other cartoonists, started up the quarterly comics newspaper, Intruder. His work includes the comics, “Eat Eat Eat,” and “A Matter of Life and Death.” He was instrumental in bringing back the comics anthology work associated with writer Dennis Eichhorn and “Real Stuff.” Tom’s Poochie Press brought out two issues of “Real Good Stuff.” Subsequently, Last Gasp published, “Extra Good Stuff.” This was an opportunity to revisit previous collaborations as well as new ones between Mr. Eichborn and cartoonists.
Dennis P. Eichhorn died October 8, 2015. He was one of the autobio genre’s best-known luminaries. Once nominated for three Eisner Awards for his work in Real Stuff comix, Eichhorn also authored the Real Smut comix series, and self-published The Amazing Adventures of Ace International, Real Schmuck, and Northwest Cartoon Cookery in collaboration with Starhead Comix. A former senior editor of Seattle’s now-defunct Rocket Magazine, Eichhorn distingished himself as the creator of one of America’s most notable art tabloids, the Northwest EXTRA!, by editing and publishing 16 issues in the late 1980s.
Tom Van Deusen loves to create art: words, pictures, and words & pictures. He dose it quite well and seemingly effortlessly. That is part of the appeal, for me, as I see him as someone who simply loves what he does.
The image above is a good example. I was looking through items he’s posted and thought I’d ask him about the duck on the moon. Tom laughed and, almost apologetically but not quite, said that it goes back to his just drawing for the sake of drawing.
Tom has taken the comics bull by the horns and accomplished a lot in these last four years that he’s focused on comics. Although, truth be told, he’s been creating art for longer than that. Most notable for him has been his work with writer Dennis Eichborn. We talk about Eichhorn, the world of comics, and the world of an indie cartoonist. Aspiring cartoonists will often ask cartoonist vets about how to break into comics, if there’s some secret handshake involved, and Tom is a shining example of what’s really involved: a simple love for the work.
Henry Chamberlain: Tell us about your connection with Dennis Eichborn.
Tom Van Deusen: I met Dennis Eichhorn through Pat Moriarity, who is a great cartoonist and worked with Eichhorn on the original run of Real Stuff. I’m a big fan of his work as is my friend and fellow cartoonist, Max Clotfelter, and a whole lot of other cartoonists. Max had been keeping up with a sort of football blog that Dennis was doing. Actually, it was more of a newsletter that he’d email to friends. It was mostly about college football but it also included a fair amount of autobio work. And Max contacted Denny about maybe working together on creating comics. At that point, Eichhorn hadn’t formally published anything in about twenty years.
He had these great new stories and, from that, we asked him he’d be interested in working with a new generation of cartoonists. And Kaz knew him and wanted to work with him again as well. And he agreed. I had these ideas at the time of doing some small scale publishing work. I had self-published for a few years my own comics. So, we decided to do a Kickstarter. We drove over to Bremerton and met with Dennis. I think I only met with him four or five times. We had a very successful Kickstarter, almost doubled our goal.
We got to put out a 64-page double issue and worked with a lot of great cartoonists. Noah Van Sciver wanted to do one. We got cartoonist from the original Real Stuff, like John Hurley and Mary Fleener.
And from there, Dennis had all these other stories he hadn’t published and that led to a second collection that was picked up by Last Gasp. Distribution is really tough. And, for me with a full-time job and trying to create my own comics, getting this book published has been the hardest thing I’ve done so far. It was really lucky to get Last Gasp on board to publish the second volume.
HC: I loved that I got to pick up my copy of that second book at the Seattle ferry terminal, of all places.
TVD: Ha, what was it doing there?
HC: There’s a great story behind that. Dennis Eichhorn’s wife, Jane, let me know that she arranged to have it available at the newsstand there since that was her regular spot to pick up the Sunday New York Times for Dennis on her way back to Bremerton.
TVD: Oh, that’s great!
HC: I wanted to ask your take on underground comix.
TVD: Well, from the ’60s or ’70s, or more recent?
HC: Yes, it is era-based. Take your pick. How would you define it, overall, for people totally unfamiliar with this?
TVD: Anything that’s not mainstream. And mainstream usually means genre work. That’s work that’s never really interested me. Even growing up, I never read superhero comics. I was more into “Ren & Stimpy” and a bunch of other crazy cartoons coming out when I was a kid. When I finally started getting into alternative comics in college, I picked up Crumb and Chris Ware. I think that goes hand in hand. It’s work that isn’t genre…which is sort of a sad description since most things aren’t genre. Most things aren’t “superhero” and “action” outside of comics. But, for some reason, comics are so dominated by things that are more suitable for children. Underground comix are more suited for adults, although they don’t necessarily have to be.
Alternative comics can be anything. And, once I found that work, I was really excited that I’d found my calling. It took a long time. They’re kind of hard to find. Distribution is crumby. Unless you know about it, it’s kind of hard for people to stumble across. It deserves a wider audience. It shouldn’t have to be “underground.” In France, this is major media. It’s not something just for enthusiasts. In Japan, everyone reads comics.
HC: It’s good to hear you use the term “alternative comics,” which I find very useful. It’s “alternative” to market-driven mainstream comics.
HC: How would you describe the scene today? I mean, from your vantage point. You’ve got The Intruder.
TVD: Yeah, there’s a lot of stuff coming out. It’s amazing. It seems that I meet a new cartoonist every day. With the internet, cartoonists are coming out of the woodwork quicker than ever. And there’s all these festivals. That’s what brought about The Intruder. We’d been reading Smoke Signal, which came out of Brooklyn’s Desert Island Comics. We want to create something for Seattle. There’s a great comics community in Seattle and always has been. I met Max Clotfelter, Marc Palm, Ian Fitzgerald, and other cartoonists. We hung out a lot. We all drew comics. From there, we did a lot of jam comics. We did a lot of silly, usually scatalogical, comics. We started out with a free newspaper and people seemed to like it.
The only problem is that there’s no money in doing any of this. The problem is distribution. There’s only one distributor, Diamond. They are pretty much closed doors for the sort of comics I enjoy. It’s a bottleneck for small publishers. They exist because of Marvel and DC Comics.
HC: Well, we won’t put too fine point on it. They do have a small press section in their catalog.
TVD: They do have that.
HC: You had mentioned a graphic novel that you really enjoyed in another interview you gave. That was last year’s sleeper hit, “Arsene Schrauwen,” by Olivier Schrauwen, published by Fantagraphics Books. I can see you doing something like that down the road.
TVD: For now, I am focusing on short works. “EAT EAT EAT,” is my longest work at 25 pages and that took four years.
HC: And you enjoy doing comedy.
TVD: That’s how I got into comics, from doing these PowerPoint presentations.
HC: There was a group that did a lot of that some years back called, Slide Rule.
TVD: Oh, really, are they local?
HC: Yes, it was a group of cartoonists in Seattle. I was part of that scene. David Lasky was part of that scene. He could tell you about it.
TVD: I gravitate to that. I enjoy writing up skits. There’s a great comedy scene where I’m from, Buffalo, New York. Great friends of mine there: Matt Thompson, Pat Kewley, and Sarah Jane Barry.
HC: Well, I am impressed with all the things you’re doing. You may end up focusing on writing in the future. Who Knows. I wish you well. Thanks so much for your time.
TVD: Thank you, Henry
You can listen to the podcast below:
If you happen to be reading this on the same day it was posted, Halloween, and you’re in Seattle, go see Tom at Short Run.