Karl Thomsen chats with SBC
Posted: Sunday, March 26, 2000
By: Darren Schroeder
Somehow though the wonders of the global comic distribution network I started swapping comics with Karl Thomsen. A resident of the Canadian city Winnipeg, Karl edits the comic anthology Sunburn. He describes it as
... usually 36 pages of comics featuring Zinehead, an insert full of potentially useful zine resources and small press information. Sunburn is an independent comic anthology casually published three times a year as a nonprofit effort to celebrate underground comic talent. With each issue we strive to offer up an eclectic and provocative mix of comic talent and styles. Sunburn has been created by open minded individuals and is intended for a mature audience.
From its inception in the spring of 1996 it has continued to be an interesting collection highlighting the comics created by talented Manitoba (the province that is home to Winipeg) artists. It's consistently entertaining and challenging in the wide range of styles and content on offer. As its reputation has grown contributions from further afield have started to make an appearance, and Karl has added the indispensable Zinehead, described by Karl as a mostly harmless, potentially useful zine resource guide.
Through Sunburn and Zinehead Karl does a lot to promote comic creators and publications but he remains a shadowy figure of good natured mystery. Hopefully by the end of this interview we will know a bit more about him.
Darren Schroeder: So, what is your full name?
Karl Erik Thomsen
DS: Favourite comic:
KT: Maus, by Art Spiegelman
DS: favourite web site:
KT: www.maccentral.com (how can you tell I use a Macintosh?)
DS: So Karl, were comics a big part of your childhood or did you discover them at a later stage?
KT: I've been a fan of comics for some time now. It wasn't until High School that I got into actually drawing though, and ever since I have found enjoyment in cartooning for myself. Now that I'm out of University though, it's very hard to find an outlet for them (which is partly why I created Sunburn- unfortunately it doesn't give me the time much). So I don't draw as much comics as I used to:(
DS: Were you one of those kids who draw lots of pictures while in school and become the class artist?
KT: Nope. I did most of my drawings on my own time. I did a lot of drawing, but I did it for myself (or perhaps just to entertain myself?). Comics never seemed to have much respect in the schools I was in. I had a few friends who were also into comics, but not many.
DS: What was the first comic you published your self and how did that come about?
KT: I've always wanted to do my own comic book, and I finally found a way to tie it into my school curriculum. I did it as a project for my final year in University. That was 1995. I never did finish it in time for the end of school, but I did go on to self-publish it and self-distribute it locally. It was definitely a learning process, but I don't think my University Professors were too impressed by it. Oh well.
DS: Did you ever go out with someone just because they had access to a photocopier?
KT: Nope. Nor have I ever gotten a job at a xerox store. But I have been tempted:)
DS: You said that most of your comics were done on your own time, so were you self taught?
KT: No. I've been through art school. But my comics developed as an alternative to what I was doing in class... as the medium of comics appealed to me as a means of self-expression.
DS: What were you studying at University?
KT: Fine Arts... where I specialized in Graphic Design.
DS: What materials and equipment do you use when drawing your comics.
KT: Usually tech pencils & pens or brush and ink. I used to stick with pre formatted blue line comic book pages (the 11 x 17 size)... but I have begun to use whatever I have on hand in recent. I tried to use the traditional methods at first, but I've since begun to do that less.
DS: How did you learn about and become part of the local comics community in Winnipeg?
KT: I sought to get some professional advice from some local "professional" artists, but in the end I got to know quite a number of other comic artists that I have found much more helpful. Somehow out of that came the idea for Sunburn, as a hope to try and gather come of this talent together.
DS: The contributors for the comic I edit all say they make comics for other comic creators, not some wider audience. Who do you see as the target audience for your work?
KT: That sounds like an accurate statement for my work as well. Other artists seem to be the ones that respond most to my work. I've never really had a specific target - just like minded folks. Humour seems to be such a subjective thing.
DS: You said that "I've always wanted to do my own comic book" Why?
KT: As someone who grew up on comics, it just seems like a natural progression. A lot of people talk about it, I just wanted to actually do it (no matter how bad it turns out:)
DS: What comics have you read recently? Why did you like/dislike them?
KT: To be honest, only small press/indie stuff recently. I haven't been keeping up with the alt/mainstream releases...
DS: If a film was made of your life, who should play you?
KT: Flipper. Now that would be something to see.
DS: What was the name of the first comic you published.
KT: Raging Sanity.
DS: How have you been treated by the comic shops in your home town? Are they supportive of small press and the efforts of local artists?
KT: If you're into the mainstream drek, they're great. If you're into anything else, they suck. They're so afraid of trying anything different or original. Alternative comics don't really exist locally, except for the mail order services. Hell, the local indepent bookstores have been better to me than the comic shops. It's rather depressing actually. It really makes me wonder about the future of comics, when the comic book shops are already a lost cause. Then again, I may be a bit bitter. Just a bit.
DS: Zinehead seems to be developing as an important part of your participation with Sunburn. How did that come about?
KT: By request actually. I was maintaining these lists anyway, and when other zinsters heard about them they wanted a copy to, so I decided to include it with Sunburn itself. It seems to work well that way, so that's the way I've left it for now. Including it as a removable insert seems to work well.
DS: What part does your website play in your interest in comics? Does the web keep you from doing comics or do comics keep you from doing the web?
KT: Oh both I suppose. The problem with the web site is that technology is changing so fast I have trouble keeping up. I just try to keep it simple.
DS: Are the people who call comics art out of their minds or what?
KT: No. Comics are an artform. The problem is that some people seem to forget that visual communication is the main idea here. In order to effectively break the rules, one must learn the rules in the first place.
DS: Are you happy with the increasing number of international contributions to Sunburn and how have the local contributors reacted to this trend?
KT: Ah.... now there's a big stinky can of worms. Sunburn started out as a citywide comic anthology. All the artists were from Winnipeg (Canada), and that seemed to wrok well. As time passed, and I progressed from issue to issue, local artists began to lose interest in Sunburn. At the same time, I was also making contacts in other cities, with other like minded anthology publishers and artists. At the same time that i was losing local artists, i found them being replaced by artists from across Canada (as I was able to spread the word on Sunburn). It didn't take long before I began to get submissions from America and Britain, and all heck broke lose when I pursued the wordless comic issue. I had artists from various continents submitting. The locals, unfortunately, weren't too happy with this. Oh well. Regardless, I've settled upon an open door policy - where I'll accept submissions from anyone. From anywhere. I find it inspiring to see how much underground comic talent is happening out there - I just wish that more of it found a place to happen.
DS: What do you think the role of an editor should be?
KT: Ah... that's a dangerous question. Everyone seems to have a different idea on this one. I've gotten into some lively debates onb this one, especially with artists involved (yeppers. it sure doesn't take much to get onto someone's shit list some times).
Personally, I feel an editor's presence should be felt, not seen. That is, the editor should be in full control of the publication, but should let the content speak for itself. And yes, that means making that dreaded decision about what should go in and what shouldn't. I believe in taking an active role, and that includes helping some artists (those who will accept help) or rejecting others (such as those obsessed with satanic porn, for example). Unfortunately, it often comes own to subjective decisions where one has to follow ones "gut instinct".
Now as I reach issue 13 (which will get done as soon as i get my butt in gear), I try to let Sunburn speak for itself. Certain material seems to fit, while other doesn't. No one has really challenged me on this aspect (oddly enough).
DS: What qualities make Maus your favourite comic?
KT: It's power. The subject matter. The talent of Art Speigelman. It's a "novel" about a real event, about real people, and about it's real consequences. I wish there were more of these type of graphic novels. The last good I've seen was Howard Cruse's Stuck Rubber Baby.
DS: Does the superhero genre hold any appeal for you?
KT: It could, but in general I find it disappointing. Way too much formula.
DS: How do you finance the cost of Sunburn?
KT: I try to get it to pay for itself (which hasn't quite happened yet), but generally it's out of my pocket. I keep the print run fairly small, nothing too extravagent. The latest issue will probably be just 200. What i can afford.
DS: What is the strangest place you have drawn a comic?
KT: The strangest place I have drawn a comic? When I was "backpacking"... traveling on the cheap, living out of a big ass backpack.... I had a sketchbook with me, and i drew in all sorts of crazy places. Bus terminals. youth hostels. by the side of the road (when i was hitch hiking). That's
about as crazy as I got.
That is all for now. A big thanks to Karl for spending time talking to us. If you have any questions you want answered, post them to us HERE.
Sunburn, the web site
Reviews of Sunburn at Broken Pencil
References to Karl at Broken Pencil
If you have a comment or question about Small Press then feel free to contact me