Dr. Manhattan: Jeffrey Lewis' Favourite Comics
, December 15th, 2015 10:22
Aug Stone talks to the NYC musician and comic book creator about bizarre autobiographies, superheroes and (SPOILER) a whole lot of Alan Moore, as he finishes his UK tour in support of new album, Manhattan
"There were always comics around the apartment," Jeffrey Lewis recalls. "They've always been a part of my life since before I can remember. I was always asking if I could buy a comic or somebody would buy me one."
So in this variation of our Baker's Dozen series, we asked Jeffrey to choose his thirteen favourite comic books. His enthusiasm, combined with his intellectual appreciation for the form (he wrote his senior thesis on Alan Moore's Watchmen and plans to publish it as a book at some point), made it truly a pleasure to listen to him talk about comics, offering his thoughts not just on the books themselves but also how they fit into the history of comics and the unique wonder each of these comics and their creators bring into our world.
"Around the mid- to late '90s, I started becoming interested in independent comic books. The mainstream just seemed to be such a wasteland of boring comics at that time. Once I outgrew the stuff I read when I was a kid, X-Men and Spider-Man and stuff, the comic book store seemed to be a much less interesting place when I would walk in. But there was one rack in the back where they would have all the independent stuff and I would just take a chance on something - 'Oh, this one looks like it has good art.' I had no idea what any of it was, but I discovered a lot of that stuff this way. And that's where my interest in comics has been since the '90s.
"In terms of folk music and punk music and comic books, I feel like all three of those forms are very connected in the sense of being people's art forms. They are very accessible in terms of how you can create them. They're very cheap to make and they're very easy to understand. It's not like jazz or ballet or opera or film. If you look at folk music and comic books and punk music, all three of those are things that somebody could wake up today and say, 'Hey, you know what? I wanna try being a folk musician or I wanna try making a comic book or forming a punk band' and by this time next week, you could basically do it. You could walk into an open mic and say, 'Here's a folk song that I made' or 'Here's my new punk band that we started last week' or you could just draw a comic on a couple pieces of paper and photocopy it and be like, 'Here's my comic book that I made.' So between punk and folk and comics, there's this very hands-on, immediate accessibility that appeals to me.
"Making my own comics has been a lifelong thing also. When I was a kid I didn't think of it as a job or as something I'd like to get better at, making comics was just something I enjoyed doing. In my youth, I was always drawing. I really liked the idea of becoming somebody like Frank Miller, who was also the artist. Being not just the illustrator but also the writer was always very appealing. And then at a certain point in my teenage years I started thinking, 'Oh, I could work at this and treat it a little more seriously' rather than just as something I enjoyed doing as a hobby."
The illustrator side of him also comes out when it comes to his records. "I always try to do some kind of elaborate packing thing. And I'm really proud of the artwork [for new record Manhattan]. I definitely put a lot of work into trying to come up with the packaging design and the artwork for it. The CD has an insert that folds out - there's a subway car on one side and on the other side it's a platform where all the people who worked on the album are standing and talking about what they did on the record. All the posters on the subway platform are advertising the different songs as if each song were a movie. The inner sleeve is the front and back of the train car. And the CD itself is like an old New York City subway token. There's graffiti on the subway for about 27 locations that no longer exist - former record stores, art supply stores and other places of interest, like an old psychedelic church that was on a street where I grew up. The subway is also being ridden by a number of extinct lifeforms that also might've existed in Manhattan in the past, and they're all complaining about how the rent used to be cheaper. But I didn't want it to be entirely subway-themed so the album cover is just shots from around the neighbourhood. I feel this is my best album packaging since 12 Crass Songs, which is probably the most elaborate thing I've done in an album package."
Manhattan is out now on Rough Trade. Jeffrey Lewis plays The Adelphi in Hull tonight before touring; for full details and tickets, head here. Click on the image below to begin Jeffrey's choices, which run in no particular order