Cartoonist James Sturm recently stopped in Seattle for an extended stay to promote his new graphic novel, Market Day, and revisit old haunts. Since leaving Seattle in 1996, James has had a busy, varied career, publishing several acclaimed comics, including The Golem's Mighty Swing, which Time magazine named the Best Graphic Novel of 2001. In addition to writing and drawing comics, James also co-founded the Center for Cartoon Studies, a two-year college in White River Junction, Vermont, in 2004. While in Seattle, James was nice enough to share his lunch with me and discuss the inspiration for his latest work, his school, and his recent decision to "quit the Internet."
Amazon.com: Last weekend, Fantagraphics held an event for you and Peter Bagge, and, in your case, it felt like a homecoming. Have you noticed a change in Seattle's comics scene since you left in the mid-to-late 1990s?
James Sturm: Well, of course when I was here, I was in my 20s, and there were a lot of underemployed cartoonists. In fact, we used to joke that you couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting a cartoonist. There certainly was a feeling that cartooning was unexplored territory; it was wide open--and of course, that [general] feeling was prevalent in Seattle at that time. People were launching Microsoft, internet start-ups, and what-not in the early 1990s. There was that spirit of, "Whoo-hoo! Let's go!" And some of that was directed towards, yeah, becoming a millionaire [laughs] through technology, and some of it was like, "I'm going to make my graphic novel." Maybe I should have hooked my wagon to a different horse [laughs].
But now I'm in my 40s, and there is still that fervent scene out there, but in talking to my students [at the Center for Cartoon Studies], people are saying, "Oh, I'm thinking of moving to Brooklyn or Portland." So I hear that Portland scene, at least for that [cartooning community], is more of what Seattle was like a short time ago. Probably owing to cheaper rent as much as anything.
Amazon.com: When introduced at the Fantagraphics event, it was noted that this was your first full-length work since The Golem's Mighty Swing, which was published almost ten years ago.
James Sturm: Right, in 2001 I did The Golem's Mighty Swing, and since then, I've done a lot of books, but this is the first thing I wrote and drew myself. In that sense, it feels a lot more intimate, more personal. [It was] a little more nerve-wracking because you can't point to anybody else [laughs].
But that said, I wrote Satchel Paige, which is for a YA audience, or at least that's how I think it was marketed, not necessarily how it was written. And then I did Adventures in Cartooning for young readers, and I'm as proud of that as anything I've ever done in my life. It was really fun to work on, and still, like a year later, it's going great guns; a lot of good word-of-mouth on that book. Plus, I got to work with two former students, so that was a really fun experience, collaborating with alumni of Center for Cartoon Studies in a way I hadn't done before.
Amazon.com: Has Market Day been gestating since The Golem's Mighty Swing, or was this a newer idea?