Interview: Lane Milburn
Lane Milburn is a cartoonist based in Chicago, IL. His book Twelve Gems was published by Fantagraphics and he has self-published many other smaller works, including a weekly strip for Vice in 2015 titled Envoy.
CYA: You've experimented at length with in-depth, longer form storytelling and mini comics as well. Regardless of the amount of time your characters spend on the page, they seem to have established views, motivations and a lot of personality. Does a character's future in your work always stem from a story or a script? Have certain characters had a longer 'lifespan' or at least a longer time in your work that you imagined when they first were conceived?
Lane Milburn: Thank you for saying so! Lately I have been writing a little in advance, but I don’t work from completed scripts because I don’t really feel alive if I’m not drawing. There’s a character with the head of a goose and a muscular body who first appeared in Lugubrious Dunes, one of my first mini-comics from 2006. He played a role in my graphic novella Death Trap and made a cameo appearance in Twelve Gems. His lifespan in my work has been long, as I’ve tried to squeeze in cameos for him in each of my projects. I’ve cut that out now because it was feeling too self-referential and silly. Beyond that, my characters tend to be confined to the works they originate in. It’s nice of you to say you think the characters have clearly established motives and personalities. That is something I am working harder to develop, or at least make more human and less caricatured.
CYA: In the past you've mentioned that almost nothing is done digitally in your work. Have you experimented further? What do you think a computer can bring to work that you couldn't that would appeal to you?
LB: Over the last 2-3 years I have changed very many things about my approach. I’m not doing any cross-hatching these days, and I’m coloring my current project in Photoshop. I love how Photoshop allows you to play with color relationships, something that feels very painterly to me. I also have been spending a significant amount of time cleaning up the pages and trying for a more clean and spare look overall.
CYA: With a book like Twelve Gems which took over three years to complete, where does the drive come from? What makes you know that story you're on is the right one versus having other ideas in your head that seem worth your time?
LB: I love working on big books and I never lack for motivation. It’s hard for me to say how I can tell when a story is right. I think it’s a good sign when I’m generating lots of ideas with relative ease that can fit into the story at hand and expand on it.
CYA: On your blog you've been posting work in progress shots from a new project called Lure. What can you say about the project, what you've enjoyed about exploring this story and if you're at the point where you know where the finish line is?
LB: Lure is a graphic novel I’ve been working on for about a year and a half, and I’m really excited about it. I think it’s a major step up for me in storytelling and character development. It grew out of the remains of Envoy, a comic I was serializing online. The only thing it has in common with that project is the name of the main character (Jo Sparta) and the setting on a nearby planet called Lure. It’s about a group of artists collaborating on an art project in a corporate setting. Not sure where the finish line is, but I’d like to have it done within the next couple of years. I also have to give the book the time it needs to develop.
CYA: What is it like for you as a creator to juggle creating a long story interspersed with smaller projects at the same time? Is there a natural ebb and flow to stop work on one and create another?
LB: I wish I could say there was a natural ebb and flow, but it’s just difficult and painful. Deadlines determine how much time I’ll spend on what project and when, haha.
CYA: What's the longest you've worked on a project before realizing that it wasn't working or that there wasn't an end in mind that you'd be happy with? What does that feel like?
LB: I spent about a year working on Envoy before scrapping it, and that was heartbreaking. I had (and may still have) this habit of launching into big projects with lots of ideas on the visual and world-building fronts, and little human foundation. I decided to scrap Envoy because I thought the story was a heavy-handed and unwieldy mishmash that ultimately wasn’t about anything. I think maybe I kept the name of the planet and the main character in order to feel like I was carrying on with it, even though Lure is so very different from Envoy. It doesn’t feel good to have lost so much time, but I take heart in knowing that Lure will be a step up. Showing the new book to my partner Anya Davidson and my dear friend Conor Stechschulte and getting their feedback has been very helpful.
CYA: Where do you draw your most intense inspiration or motivation to make comics? Is it a state of mind you've always had in when it comes to creating art since childhood or is there a new drive after successfully creating projects and seeing things from your imagination fully realized after investing so much time and care into your work?
LB: It’s a very interesting question, and I definitely think the childlike motivation is the essential one, keeping myself interested in a world I’m creating in my mind and on the page. When I was a kid I wouldn’t show other people what I was making. So I’ve always been making things for myself primarily. I feel very lucky though to have a few people interested in what I’m doing, and that is a motivator too.
CYA: In the independent comics industry, there is the struggle of making it work mixed with the rewarding aspects of being a part of worldwide network of amazing and talented weirdos. Where have you found that fit in this space? At any point has the reward seemed to not be worth the challenges?
LB: Actually I have always felt that the social/communal rewards of being a cartoonist are immense. Being part of a worldwide network of amazing and talented weirdos is what makes the work worthwhile. I was just in London earlier this month for Safari Fest, and it was so amazing to meet so many European artists I’d admired for years. I also met a handful of British readers who knew my stuff, and I was very moved.
CYA: Do you draw every day?
LB: I actually don’t. I used to draw in a sketchbook all the time, but now I focus my energy on comics pages. On my days off from work, I draw from morning until night. I cram a lot of reading and studying into my days as well. I’ve just begun teaching myself Japanese, and my friend Zach Hazard Vaupen has helped me get started.
CYA: Where are you at right now with your current projects? How do you feel about the one most recently completed that's out in the world and how do you feel about your primary work in progress?
LB: My most recent projects are a zine called Corridors and an ongoing comic called The Gig, both of which I’m pleased with. The Gig is being serialized in Berzerker, a new anthology published by Breakdown Press. It features some of my favorite contemporary artists as well!
You can visit Lane's personal blog for work in progress photos and diary sketches. You can purchase his minicomics, comics and original art from his webstore. You can also find Twelve Gems at Fantagraphics and Berzerker at Breakdown Press.