The Comic Queen

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Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Lonnie Allen "The Icon": Review and Interview

Earlier this year, I stumbled across a mini-comic by Lonnie Allen called “The Cheerleader & Other Stories.” I enjoyed a couple of the short stories contained in the comic and was curious about what else Allen had done. Allen was kind enough to send me three other comics.

Lonnie Allen’s Mini-Comics
The first, published earlier this year was “Tell Tale Signs,“ a short tale of the dangers of alcohol told entirely by using icons you might find on street signs along with other symbols ingrained in our psyche. He also sent “The Boxer” #1, another compilation of short stories more traditionally drawn, which debuted at SPX, The Small Press Expo, held October 1-3.

Boxer Cover from www.squidworks.com The last mini-comic he sent was “USA War™ Instruction Manual,” which is included in the SPX 2004 Anthology currently available. This latter comic employs an iconic style and appears exactly like an instruction manual for a do-it-yourself bookcase or TV remote control. However, Allen’s manual is a biting, and very funny, satire of the U.S.’s treatment of war and the American populace.

You can see sample pages of The Boxer or order comics at Squidworks, or see Allen’s homepage at Dadagraphics.com, and read his online comic Mammalbot.

Interview with Allen
Recently, Allen agreed to talk with me for the following interview conducted via email.

First, a little about Lonnie Allen himself:

TCQ: Give us some history on Lonnie Allen -- how did you get into making comics? Have comics been a part of your life for a long time?

Allen: My father was in the military, so I moved around a lot. When he'd make trips to the convenience stores, I'd tag along and began to notice comics. Comics have been a part of my life for a long time. I can remember reading comics in 1st and 2nd grade. Neither one of my parents are comic readers, but it was something I was really attracted to. I remember my favorites were "X-Men" and "Daredevil." I used to trace over the drawings over and over when I could. I also remember those issues being really tattered and eventually thrown out. It wasn’t until much later that I realized one could keep them in good condition to reread.

TCQ: What do you do for a day job -- or do you?

Allen: I work in digital prepress for a printing company. Printing knowledge is very valuable in making professional looking comics without a budget.

TCQ: Who are some of your favorite creators/comics and/or authors/books?

Allen: When I was that kid tracing daredevil artwork; I was tracing over David Mazzucchelli artwork, although I didn't know or care about that at the time. Later, I was really attracted to his "Batman: Year One" artwork. I remember thinking the art was so different and cooler than anything I'd ever seen before. By then, I started taking note of who was drawing and writing what. I followed Mazzucchelli into the alternative press stuff with his Rubber Blanket series and Drawn & Quarterly appearances. I lived in Clovis, New Mexico at the time. We had one comic book specialty shop in town, and the owner was helpful with ordering anything weird that I was into.I picked up the first "Love & Rockets" trade paperback, and I became hooked on those for a while. I've collected mainstream and alternative comics ever since. My favorites are of course, Mazzucchelli and his "City of Glass" adaptation. I love the Hernandez brothers' work, especially Gilbert's. The more recent stuff that I really dig is Rick Smith, Jeff Smith, Chris Ware, Ron Rege, Juliet Doucet, John Pham, Sam Hiti, Allison Cole, John Porcellino, and a bunch of other people I can't think of now. Overall, the small press is just amazing these days. As far as mainstream creators: I try to follow Ed Brubaker, Alan Moore, Frank Quietly, Paul Pope, and Grant Morrison when finances allow.

Now, about your work:

TCQ: Are you an artist who creates more with an audience in mind, or is your work more personal, more for yourself, that is?

Allen: Haha. I think it's telling that you're even asking me this question. I actually do write for this imaginary audience (and it'll probably stay that way :-)). Rick Smith mentioned recently that my storytelling requires more effort than usual from the reader, and people may not want to put forth the effort.

Originally, I wrote more personal stories as in "The Cheerleader and Other Stories," but as time passed, my focus has shifted to broader spectrum of content.

TCQ: At least what I’ve read by you, you’ve primarily created very short stories – do you have any desire to try your storytelling in a longer format?

Allen: I have. After I complete a few more short story obligations I have for "Mauled" and "Potlatch," I want to buckle down and complete my graphic novel.

Tell Tale cover from www.squidworks.com TCQ: Of the four comics I've read, you use quite different styles. “The Cheerleader & Other Stories” and “The Boxer” are done in a more "realistic" manner while “USA War™ Instruction Manual” and “Tell Tale Signs” employ a much more iconic style. How did you come about this latter style? What about it appeals to you as a creator?

Allen: I've drawn for as long as I can remember. Throughout high school, I worked at crafting a photo realistic style, but when I studied art in college, they began to focus more on conceptual art. I was somewhat resistant to it. So much of the conceptual stuff seemed to paint (no pun intended) craft as a lower skill, but then about a year ago, T. Motley a fellow member of the Squid Works, a Denver based cartoonist co-op, and a great cartoonist, brought up the point that most comics are not much more than storyboards for films. I thought about that for a while. In a way, I came back to the ideas that were taught to me in college, even though I didn't appreciate it at the time. I began to think about what would work as something unique to comics which is how I came up with "Tell Tale Signs" and "USA War ™: Instruction Manual." Both styles appeal to me. I'll never give up drawing even though I say I will sometimes, and I like the challenge of conceptual comic making.

TCQ: To interject my own opinion into this interview, I though “USA War™ Instruction Manual” was your best work. It gave the message or story (and the art as well) more directly and cleanly. How did this mini-comic come about? What motivated you on this one? Talk about how you created this one.

Allen: Thanks. I touched on this subject in the previous question, but I'll elaborate by saying that I'm upset at our current political situation. This year, SPX's theme was war so I decided to make a satire. People don't like being preached to unless it's damn funny. My work isn't usually so didactic, but I'm outraged on daily basis by the news these days and I'm trying to change things in my very small way. I'm happy that it's in included in the "SPX 2004 Anthology," as it will reach a wider audience. I just hope I'm not preaching to the choir.

TCQ: Many of your stories have similar themes – the consequences of our actions/lives, significance yet insignificance of our lives, the circular nature of being. While these are quite universal themes employed by many storytellers, this seems to dominate your work. What appeals to you most about these subjects? What is your unique take on these themes?

Allen: Let me say that I'm a closet Buddhist. I read a lot of eastern philosophy which probably affected my writing. I also read too many naval gazing science books like: "Chaos," "Hyperspace," Joseph Campbell and Carl Sagan stuff. I'm more of existentialist than anything, but I think there are definite consequences to our actions, karma, if you will. Yet, for all the wonderful and horrible things that go on; over enough time, they'll become insignificant. So in a way, they were always insignificant. You catch me? Obviously, we can't go through daily life keeping this in mind; it's impractical. As an artist, however, I can allow myself to contemplate this idea. They appeal to me because they are the big questions, but I'm not conceited enough to think my take on these themes are unique. The best I can hope for is that they are unique to comics.

TCQ: What are you currently working on -- any upcoming projects to look for from you?

Allen: As I've mentioned earlier, I have some short stories planned for some anthologies like "Mauled" and "Potlatch." I have written a story for a comic called, "Crazy Asian Girl" which will be drawn by John Peters of "Forty Winks" fame. You can check out some of his sketches for it at: http://www.gypsygirlpress.com/CAG/. The book is lighter than most of my stuff, and is some of my best writing, if I do say so myself. I also have another story that fellow local cartoonist Paul Niemec is working on. It's something more in the "Heavy Metal" vein. I have another issue of "Boxer" lined-up which I plan to release this year. Finally, I hope to complete a longer narrative piece by the end of next year. The graphic novel is tentatively titled, "Lone Star State" that will take place in Texas circa 1988-1989. It will involve a death of a high school student and his circle of acquaintances. I started it a couple of years ago. I had about ten pages inked and fifteen drawn at the time when I lost them on our light rail. I was so discouraged at the time that I put it away. I still have the script, so I hope to complete it by the end of next year.

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