J.T. Yost is a very talented cartoonist who recently put together a unique comics anthology about food and eating, “Digestate.” He is a down-to-earth guy concerned with just making good work. Yost is a fine example of the patient artist exploring the process of making art. In his series, “Losers Weepers,” he takes found bits of notes and letters and combines them into a comics narrative. In our interview, J.T. confides that it’s just not as easy now to find written bits of things. However, his series continues at least for one more chapter. You can read a review here. “Digestate” grew out of a similar natural process. J.T. says that the idea for the anthology began with the fact that he’s vegan and he began to realize there are a lot of other vegan cartoonists, “a subculture within a subculture.”
Something Big by Victor Kerlow
Blammo #7 by Noah Van Sciver
J.T. runs his own micro-publishing house and distributor, Birdcage Bottom Books, which you can visit here. You can find, “Digestate,” other works by J.T. Yost, as well as other exciting comics talent like Victor Kerlow, a regular contributor to “The New Yorker,” and Noah Van Sciver, the author of the highly acclaimed debut graphic novel, “The Hypo.” And you can check out J.T. Yost’s professional site here.
In this interview, we talk about the comics anthology, “Digestate,” which you can read a review of here. And we talk a bit about Alex Robinson’s contribution dealing with his eating disorder. You can read the recent Comics Grinder interview with Alex here. J.T. talks about the Kickstarter campaign for “Digestate,” his feelings about living in NYC, and comics in general.
CI VEDIAMO by Hazel Newlevant
Towards the end of our interview, we talked about the future of comics which inevitably led to the great print verus digital debate. J.T. spoke to his love of hand-made mini-comics that make their unique case for print. He then mentioned a favorite cartoonist, Hazel Newlevant, who can be found at Birdcage Bottom Books. Her work incorporates overlays and die cuts which can only be achieved through print. Her mini-comic, "Ci Vediamo," is printed on vellum which allows for images to be created when one page is layed over another. Viva print!
You can listen to the Comics Grinder podcast interview with J.T. Yost here:
“Losers Weepers #3” is a continuation of a ongoing narrative that is fueled by the detritus that floats in and out of our lives. Even with social media dominating communication and life in general, people still make notes, print flyers, and even write letters. J.T. Yost is there to snag them from a quick death and immortalize their contents in his comics.
“Learn Spanish! It’s to easy and funy.” The flyer’s announcement is followed by a name and phone number. Apparently, someone hopes to get paid for teaching Spanish but is off the mark. From an artist’s viewpoint, the message is tragic, hilarious, and fascinating. “It’s to easy and funy.” How did so much get lost in translation? Yost found that notice posted on the communal bulletin board at Utrecht Art Supply in the East Village, NYC. He conjured up art from it: a tongue-in-cheek, yet sympathetic, work of fiction. Our story begins with Álvaro, who after being harassed at the print shop, goes about posting his flyers.
Álvaro learns from the local grocer that his mother needs to be bailed out of jail. When he gets home, he receives a letter, the next found art in this story, that alerts him to his wife’s old flame in prison. It’s all downhill from there. Yost is in tune with his characters. He has a way of depicting the chilling mix of fright and despair from down-and-out city dwellers.
The comic ends with one last beauty of found art that neatly shoves the knife deeper into the wound. It would be interesting to add even more found items and have them interact even deeper with his comics narrative. That said, Yost has brought to life a very authentic world that he can keep building upon.
“Loser Weepers #3″ is a 36-page 7″ x 7.25” mini-comic, priced at $5, and available at Birdcage Bottom Books.
Alex Robinson, a very well respected cartoonist, known for his graphic novel, “Box Office Poison,” published by Top Shelf Productions, recently contributed a moving four-page comic to the comics anthology, “Digestate,” edited by J.T. Yost, and published by Birdcage Bottom Books. The theme in that book is food and eating. Mr. Robinson’s piece is about his eating disorder. He describes it and explains how he deals with it. He uses the comics medium to great effect to discuss a complex issue. It’s not often enough that we, as a society, discuss eating disorders but we’re making progress. Add Mr. Robinson’s, “That Peanut Butter Kid!” to a healthy opening up on this subject.
I had the honor to interview Alex Robinson regarding his comic about his eating disorder through e-mail. Here is that interview:
Henry Chamberlain: You recently contributed a piece entitled, “That Peanut Butter Kid!” to the comics anthology, “Digestate,” edited by J.T. Yost, where you are publicly candid about having an eating disorder for the first time. What motivated you to participate and create such a personal work?
Alex Robinson: It’s funny because I told J.T. I was going to contribute but it was only afterwards that I reread the e-mail more closely and realized it was about food. When I look back I remember that a friend of mine did a Facebook post where he talked about being the victim of sexual abuse and the honesty of that really hit me, since I never knew that about him. I think that bravery inspired me to talk about some of my own issues.
It’s also interesting to me because it’s only recently that I started framing my own problem as an “eating disorder” since I think that makes most people think of anorexia or bulimia.
HC: Eating disorders are mentioned more in the media but the actual condition remains something of a mystery for the general public, and even for those dealing with it firsthand.
Do you think the media can play a helpful role in gaining a better understanding of eating disorders?
AR: I would think so. I remember being a kid and there was a made-for-TV movie about a girl with anorexia—which at the time was just coming into the public eye, I think—and the commercial showed a father angrily begging his daughter to just eat something. For a moment I was struck because this was as close as I’d ever seen to someone on TV talking about a problem that, as far as I knew, I was the only one who had. When I watched the movie I was very disappointed that it was about girls worried they were too fat, which didn’t seem at all connected to my own problem, so I still felt alone.
It’s tough because eating disorders are one of those problems where unless you or someone you love is suffering through them it seems dumb—“Just eat something.” George Carlin had that joke about only in America could people develop a mental disorder where they refuse to eat. It’s tough to make sympathetic if you haven’t experienced it first hand. For all of our claims otherwise, we’re generally not sympathetic to mental illness in America.
HC: Of course, eating disorders manifest in different ways. From your viewpoint, what do you see as healthy steps towards recovery?
AR: I can only speak for myself and for me it was years of therapy. I was lucky to find a woman who was and continues to be patient and prod me along.
I think just doing the story was also surprisingly therapeutic. It’s kind of a cliché but exposing your shameful secrets really does lift a burden off of you, if only because it’s one thing you don’t have to worry about anymore. I think it was within a month or two of completing the story that I stopped eating peanut butter altogether. I haven’t had peanut butter in six months, which is amazing considering that I probably never went more than a few days without it before.
HC: In “That Peanut Butter Kid!” you say that you’re concerned that you may come across as glib but the piece is truly nicely balanced. I’m sure you would agree that humor can be very good medicine.
AR: Since it was the first time I’d talked about it publicly I couldn’t trust my own judgment as to the tone. I’m inclined to be funny, especially when I’m nervous, and I also didn’t want to bring people down. I was trying to just explain what life was like for me and not be self-pitying about it.
HC: Would you consider turning “That Peanut Butter Kid!” into a graphic novel? It certainly has all the elements that would make for one.
AR: When I completed the story I found it very therapeutic and the thought crossed my mind to just keep going—a sort of stream-of-conscious rumination about different aspects of my life—but I was also very nervous about the story going public. I figured an alternative comics anthology was enough “under the radar” that it was like going public without going too public.
I also don’t think my life is all that interesting, otherwise.
HC: Any final thoughts or new projects that you are working on?
AR: I’m about halfway done with a new graphic novel that I still don’t have a title for. It’s about a group of guys in their late 30s who are sort of dealing with the issues of midlife—marriage, kids, career, etc. Fun stuff! I’ve been talking with Top Shelf about digitally serializing it so hopefully that might begin later this year.
“DIGESTATE” is a 288-page food and eating anthology, a veritable cornucopia of cartooning talent. You have fan favorites like Alex Robinson, Kevin Cannon, Noah Van Sciver, Marc Bell, Sam Henderson, and James Kochalka, just to name a few. There are 54 contributors in all and it is edited by J.T. Yost. It is great to see a food theme for a comics anthology and to see it done so well.
Even when food seems to be just food, something to eat when you’re hungry, there is likely a story behind it, something to give it complexity. Cartoonists tend to be complicated too. So, it makes sense to mix the two together. Among a multitude of outlooks on food in this book, the one that stands out is from Alex Robinson who admits to having an eating disorder. Just like a true blue cartoonist, he lets the world at large know about his condition through a comics anthology. Mr. Robinson is one of those cartoonists who has succeeded in making an impression in the world with his best selling works, notably, “Box Office Poison.” Of course, it doesn’t matter what the world thinks when it comes to personal issues. And there’s certainly no shame or stigma to having an eating disorder. Mr. Robinson chose to share that part of his life with readers and that’s what matters. It is a very generous piece that provides insights into eating disorders that you may not know about.
Let’s consider this some more. Buried within this anthology is a significant admission from an important cartoonist, an important member of the pop culture. It is really a big deal as the issue of eating disorders continues to get short shrift in the media. It is like it is something from another planet for your average reader. We are another generation or two away from any real collective understanding on this issue. In Mr. Robinson’s case, the struggle for him is to get beyond eating comfort foods from childhood, such as peanut butter. In his piece, “That Peanut Butter Kid!” Mr. Robinson states that he believes his condition is a result of having suffered sexual abuse as a child. However, he continues to make progress in finding new foods to eat. With the support of his wife, he is eating more healthy foods. If this isn’t a theme for a book, I don’t know what is.
It seems like problems begin to stir when we think too much about food, turn it into something else than food, turn it into something symbolic instead of a means to an end. Ideally, humans want to look out for themselves and provide all the things they need to keep body and soul together. But what do us humans do? We can complicate things. We can be educated about nutrition but, for any number of reasons, we can take another road. Our saving grace is that humans tend to want to improve themselves more that they tend to want to hurt themselves. And we all have our own ideas on how to improve ourselves which range from the sensible to the self-righteous. Such is life. Let’s take a closer look at some samples from this intriguing book.
In the down to basics category, there is “Caveman Eat,” by Jeff Zwirek, which is an exquisitely rendered silent comic about a caveman hunter. This 8-pager, two panels per page, plays out like a nice piece of animation. Zwirke’s composition and line is very clean and his humor is spot on.
For something light and fun that might whet your appetite, there’s, “So Brisk,” written by Jonathan Baylis, known for his comic, “So…Buttons,” and drawn by Lisa Rosalie Eisenberg. It’s nicely paced and holds the secret ingredient for making a tasty brisk.
Cartoonists often find themselves taking on the role of the canary in the coal mine. J.T. Yost does an impressive job of providing the facts about the meat industry with illustrations that strike the right balance between restraint and urgency.
Keith Knight‘s one-pager, “My (Hammy) Vice,” is a very funny ode to bacon.
Cartoonists are also prone to be subversive. Even your most passive cartoonist can be a powder keg ready to blow. So, there’s some stuff here that pushes the envelope. Your best bet on that front is Noah Van Sciver‘s 3-pager, “3 Bowls of Rasin Bran,” which, as the title implies, is about when things go decidedly south.
And in the simply cute category, Victor Kerlow‘s “Rat Boy” follows a little rat as it forages for dinner.
“Digestate” is a handsome trade paperback, 8.25″ x 10.75″, published by Birdcage Bottom Books. Cover art, with more of her comics inside, is by Cha. This is truly like a cartoonist phone book, a Who’s Who of comics talent. “Digestate” ran a successful Kickstarter campaign and will stand as a shining example of what Kickstarter can help bring about. You can own your very own copy for only $19.95 at Birdcage Bottom Books.