John Benjamin Thomas: An Unsettling Talent

Posted: Wednesday, January 23, 2002
By: Darren Schroeder

Cover of John Benjamin Thomas: An Unsettling Talent

Unsettling, that was the word that sprung to mind after reading the comic that John had sent us for review. In it he created a compelling psychological drama as the main character retreats from life into her bed and a world of dreams. The story was annoying, but this was in large part due to the skills that John has at his command. He made me think of the character as a real person. I decided to find out more...

Darren Schroeder:What is your full name?

John Benjamin Thomas

DS: Age?

JBT: 30

DS: Favourite web site?

JBT: I don't really have one at the moment.

DS: What was the first comic you published yourself and how did that come about?

JBT: The first comic that I ever did was Inbred Picnic #4 in 1999. (Issues 1-3 were in the personal writing/punk vein) I've also put a #5. I never even thought about drawing comics until my mom died in 1998. She was very much into drawing at the time of her death. I ended up getting all of her drawings and her drawing table, plus all of her art supplies. At first, I tried doing a couple of paintings and then one day after reading Love and Rockets, I felt like trying to draw my own comics.

DS: What sort of stuff had your mum been drawing?

JBT: She mostly drew self portraits, flowers and trees and stuff

DS: Would you go out with someone just because they had access to a photocopier?

JBT: No, I wouldn't want to be stuck in something if the photocopier broke down.

DS: Who do you see as the target audience for your work?

JBT: I'd say a big part are the Indie/underground music, comic book, and zine people, but It's pretty much open to anyone who is interested. (the far and few)

DS: What is that keeps the larger audience from discovering the small press?

JBT: I think it's the availability of the small publishers. It seems like a lot of people do small print runs and sell their work mostly by mail or stick them in record shops and smaller bookstores. The crowds that frequent those types of places are already familiar with self published comics and zines. There are people out there that discover them on their own, but most people seem uninterested in searching for anything unless they are shown how.

DS: Have you tried your hand at self promotion of your comics and how did it go?

JBT: I always carry a few comics with me when I'm gallivanting around town. I've actually sold a few straight out of my backpack to people on the street. I have a couple of friends that try and sell a few for me too. I also send a ton out to publications that do reviews. That always generates a few orders.

DS: Any common themes in your comics?

JBT: So far, the subject of death has appeared in each of my comics. I don't know if I want to break away from that or not. It's still a very intriguing subject for me. There are so many different ways of looking at it.

DS: Do you like trading comic with other creators or do you think people are ripping you off when they won't pay cash?

JBT: I love trading. I'll trade with anyone for almost anything. I recently traded comics for a rubber bat and for a loaf of walnut bread. I've also gotten beer, a mixtape, numerous drawings and a telephone from the 1930's to name a few. Getting other people's comics is nice too.

DS: If it takes three people 20 seconds to build a stack of comics 1 foot high, how long would it take them to stacked up all the comics you own?

JBT: I'd say about 240 seconds. I have way more than I need. I'm too emotionally attached to them. One day I'd like to go through all of them and weed out what I don't want any more. It's a hard thing to do though. Each one reminds me of different parts of my life. It's like throwing out one of your favorite childhood toys.

DS: Do you cover the cost of producing your comic with sales?

JBT: It partially covers it. I usually end up buying food and supplies with whatever money that I make.

A locked Chest
DS: What's the most surprising reaction someone has had to one of your comics?

JBT: My step-dad started crying once when he read a story called " a little walking session" that's about me taking a walk and having a conversation with my brother who died at birth.

DS: What is the general reaction of family and friends your comic creating tendencies?

JBT: They have nothing but good things to say about it. I've gotten a lot of encouragement from them.

DS: What do you think happened to the punk spirit from the late 70's?

JBT: I was just a geeky kid listening to the Bay City Rollers in the late 70's. I didn't get into it until the mid 80's. I think there are some folks who are still keeping some aspects of it alive. Like letting your self go and not being afraid to experiment with life, finding out about things for your self instead of taking someone else's word for it, simplifying things by not having to rely so much on modern conveniences like cars, cell phones, tv, etc. There are still good things you can get out of it, but like everything else, not all of it is going to be good.

DS: What's the one thing that plugs in that you couldn't live without?

JBT: Probably my record player. I love kicking back and listening to records. I could live without it, but I would miss it terribly. I think I would be able to adapt. I'd have to make my own music, maybe find some other people to play with and listen to. Self sufficient music goes a long way.

DS: What instrument would you most like to learn to play and why?

JBT: I've had this idea in my head for the last couple of years to play drums on a cardboard box. I've seen it done on a Buddy Holly documentary. It had a nice raw sound to it. I think it would be cool to have a guitar and cardboard box duo.

Talula looking at you!DS: Would they be comic boxes?

JBT: No, actually it's a water-pack box that is lined with wax. I got it from work. They are used to pack and send flowers out in.

DS: Vinyl verse CD's, which is the best and why?

JBT: Why vinyl of course. It's cheaper, it sounds better, it smells better and it comes in a much more beautiful package.

DS: What comics have you read recently? Why did you like/dislike them?

JBT: I haven't read that many lately. I think the last one that I read was the newest King Cat. It was a kind of sad, but hopeful issue. It made me think about the different turning points in my past. I think it is quite an accomplishment when a writer can raise some kind of feeling out of a reader.

DS: How do you try to accomplish this in your own work?

JBT: I just write about whatever I feel like expressing at that point in time and hope people reading will connect somehow or at least see things from where I'm standing for a brief moment.

DS: Why do you think people like creating and consuming fiction?

JBT: I think people like to be taken away to a different place inside of their head. It's always nice to have some kind of escape from everyday life. It's even nicer when you can create that escape yourself.

DS: What does the term small press mean to you?

JBT: It means taking matters into your own hands and not letting boundaries getting the way of your inspirations.

DS: Have you had any formal art training?

JBT: None, I just sat down and gave it a go.

DS: What work have you been doing recently?

JBT: I've been writing some shorter pieces. There is one that is like a bitter apology to the bossman and there's one that is sort of like a finding true love kind of thing. I'd like to try and submit them to a few anthologies. I'd also like to do a longer piece at some point.

DS: What kind of comic community exists in your home town of Sacramento?

JBT: I know about 3 or 4 people in this town that draw comics. I know there are a few more, but I have yet to meet them. Everyone usually keeps to themselves. We might run into each other on the street from time to time. There's a couple of folks that I go to the alternative press expo with. We might even get a table this year. I'd like to round everybody up some day and put out an all local anthology.

DS: What do you think of the alternative press expo? Any good lost weekend stories?

Talula AngelJBT: I've had a great time every year that I went. I've been to three of them. I always spend too much money and come back with a backpack full. I still have stuff that I haven't read yet. I always feel like a little kid who is going to disneyland for the first time. We actually got lost one year in San Jose. We ended up walking around at some college looking for comic book fans until we called up Slave Labor and asked them how to get to the damn place.

DS: Do the local shops support the local creators?

JBT: There has been a couple that have carried my stuff along with a couple of music stores. Things sell very slowly though. The comic book stores mainly carry all of the superhero books. It's pretty hard finding any alternative titles, let alone any small press titles. I do better on my own

DS: What was the last thing that made you cry?

JBT: I can't remember. I think it was when my mom died. Sometimes I cry in my sleep, but I don't think that counts. I come close to crying, but I never quite get to that point. It's an old habit of mine.

DS: Are depressing comics a good or bad thing? Why?

JBT: It's definitely a good thing. There's a lot more room for different kinds of stories in comics. Everything can't always be uplifting and cheery. There has to be a balance of different emotions. Just like in real life. A person should be able to see both sides and get something beneficial out of each one. Everyone goes through depression at some point in their life, but not everyone chooses to acknowledge it.

DS: What is your view on censorship?

JBT: I feel that it's unnecessary and that I can live without it. I censor censorship.

DS: Liquid paper or correction tape, which do you prefer and why?

JBT: I've used liquid paper, white paint, and white ink. I'm not really happy with any of them. Sometimes I just cut cut pieces of paper and glue them over the mistake. I hate messing up. My friend Michael was telling me that there was a white ink pen that works well for him. I think I'll give those a try next

DS: What other materials do you use on your comics?

JBT: I draw on bristol board. I use micron fine tip pens and one of those penbrushes along with different sized brushes. I've also used a Q-tip, a wooden match stick sharpened to a point and my finger tip. I'm always on the lookout for something to use.

DS: How often do you sit down at the drawing table and work on a comic?

ImpactJBT: It's a very sporadic sort of thing. I've gone for many weeks without drawing anything. Then I go through periods where all I do is write, and then I'll put something together and start drawing up some ideas to go with the writing. If I drew as much as I drank beer and listened to records, I'd be an alright artist. Actually, all three of them go well together.

DS: List the contents of your wallet.

JBT: I have a bank, health insurance, video rental, and a social security card, a bunch of change, 20 bucks, a picture of my daughter, and a picture of an old man that I cut out of the newspaper. People always ask me who he is and I tell them "I don't know".

DS: You ever finished drawing a story then decided not to publish it?

JBT: I usually write all of my stories before I start drawing them. If I don't make it very far on a particular story, I'll just stop doing it before I start drawing pictures for it.

DS: How do comics make your life better?

JBT: They make me excited and spark something in my mind that's comparable to the love I have for music, my friends, quiet time, dollar pints, sleeping all day with my girlfriend, and so forth.

DS: Who would you ask to perform the soundtrack to your life?

JBT: A song each by The Need, The Bananas, David Bowie (glam era), The Cure (early stuff), Unwound, Tina Turner (when she was singing with Ike), and The Bush Tetras.

DS: What's the worst idea you've ever had?

JBT: It would probably have to be my "Raffi vs Yanni" idea.

DS: Which was?

JBT:I was going to have a battle between Raffi (the children's singer) and Yanni (that new age guy). The battle was going to take place either in a playground or a bar. Raffi would posses the power of the children (kinda like aqua man and the sea animals) and Yanni would have special powers that came from his moustache. I think I was smoking a lot of pot when I came up with it.

DS: If you had an unlimited budget for a comic, what would you produce?

JBT: I'd have better paper for the covers, more pages, and have it would be bound instead of stapled.

DS: What question should I have asked you?

Zelly's illustration for the Back coverJBT: Who drew the pictures on the back cover? My daughter Zelly drew them. She's done four for me so far. She's seven years old and is the neatest kid that I know. Someday she's going to make her own comic or storybook or whatever.

PO Box 163463, Sacramento, CA 95816, USA

Review of Sweet Dreams For Talula

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