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Friday
Oct212011

Profiles in Nerdery: An Interview with Mike Dawson, comic creator


photo courtesy of Mike DawsonYou may remember comic creator and Park Sloper Mike Dawson when we featured his short comic Prospect Park Dusk, Prospect Park Dawn: the clever and brilliantly-drawn piece centering around your typical Park Slope mom (who happens to be a vampire in her spare time). This summer, Mr. Dawson and Secret Acres released his quirky graphic novel Troop 142, which follows the trials and tribulations of a group of young boys in the 90's who are attending Boy Scout Camp in Jersey. He is an award-winning comic artist that I have had the pleasure of seeing on many expert panels from the Small Press Expo to NY Comic Con. In short, he knows his shit and he really loves his hood (and in a neighborhood full of opinionated grouchy pusses, he's also one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet). Because of all this goodness I sat down at the local Connecticut Muffin (or "Con Muffs" as Mr. Dawson likes to call it) and had a chat.

(Turn up the soft light on me.)

J Charles: You're a sloper. You're a parent. My question is why? 

Mike Dawson: Why am I a parent? Well, that’s in order to give life meaning and make it worth living, of course. As to why I am a Sloper? I can’t really remember why I initially settled here. I lived on St. Mark’s Place in Manhattan with my wife, and then at some point we decided to move to Brooklyn to get a little more space for a little less money. We moved to 7th avenue near Berkeley Place, which I think we chose because it was convenient to the Q stop. We got a two-bedroom apartment right above what used to be the LemonGrass Grill. It was well maintained, but you had to walk through the bedroom to get to the kitchen, there were mice, and weirdly, I remember there were no outdoor garbage cans provided by the landlord. I often recall running our garbage down and putting it in the corner trash cans at night, “under the cover of darkness”, as we would say.

 

JC: So sucky landlords and ninja garbage runs aside, how long have you lived in this fine neighborhood?

 

MD: We came here in 2004, right after we got married. We lived in that apartment for a few years, then got quite a cheap 3-bedroom on Berkeley place, between 5th and 6th. That was a good upgrade in terms of size, but it wasn’t well maintained. I think it was a situation where the landlord had fixed up our apartment and was charging a higher rent, but all the other tenants were rent-controlled and had been there for decades. I believe the landlord might have been allowing the building to fall into disrepair in order to drive everyone out. It eventually worked on us, but I don’t know about the other tenants. There was also some ongoing drama with guys sitting on the stoop of the building drinking and fighting all the time. I wrote some short comics about that, which were featured in a book of short stories called Ace-Face: The Mod with the Metal Arms, published by AdHouse. The comics were about a new father, very much like me, wrestling with himself to get out of bed and yell at the guys on the stoop, but being held back by a crippling fear of confrontation. Now we live in a nice place on 15th street and Prospect Park West, which I love, but also get depressed by, since it’s basically the kind of apartment we’d love to buy, but would never be able to afford.

 

JC: Wow, you really do love it here to stay after that. Then besides the hooligans parked out on your stoop and the ever encroching sense of being priced out of your own hood, what do you love about Park Slope?

 

MD: We had our daughter in 2008, and I couldn’t think of a better neighborhood to be raising her. Having the park right there, and all the amenities. And, of course, living near so many other kids has been fantastic. I love all the stores and restaurants. I think it’s great that we can spend a whole weekend in Park Slope and not need to go anywhere else, even though most weekends we do go somewhere else, since most of our extended families are in New Jersey. But, on the rare occasions where we stay put, it’s an awesome neighborhood. I don’t think life would be the same if my wife and I were still living on St. Mark’s Place. 

JR: What do you not love about it?

 

MD: I guess the fact that so many other people have figured out how great Park Slope is and therefore made it impossible to afford to buy a nice 4-bedroom apartment with a yard, all close to the park, like we really want.

 

JC: If you had a million dollars to spend on anything Park Slope related, what would you spend it on? 

 

MD: I would buy 2/3rd’s of a 1.5 million dollar apartment, which I bet still wouldn’t be compromise-free in terms of space, but it would probably be pretty good.

 

JC: So let's stop talking about Park Slope now. Let's talk about when you first know you wanted to make comics?

 

MD: From a very early age. I was writing and drawing comics and folding and stapling them into booklets. I used to make one copy of a comic and then pass it around to friends in school. I liked drawing horror comics, based on my childhood love of the movie An American Werewolf in London, or transforming-robots-in-a-never-ending-war-for-freedom comics, based on my childhood love of The Transformers.

 

JC: Describe you process a little for the non-nerd FIPS'ter.

 

MD: The comics I write these days are pretty personal stories for the most part. Pretty different from what a lot of people think of when they think of comics. I don’t draw Spiderman or Green Lantern or anything like that. My first published graphic novel was a 300 page book called Freddie & Me: A Coming-of-Age (Bohemian Rhapsody). It told the story of my family’s emigration to the United States from England, all set against the backdrop of my lifelong obsession with the Classic Rock band, Queen. Since about 2004 I’ve written two full-length graphic novels and the aforementioned book of short stories. I’m gearing up to work on a new long-form story at the moment.

 

 courtesy of mikedawsoncomics.com

JC: You have a podcast called Ink Panthers, yes? Is this podcast as badass as it sounds? Why should we be listening to it? 

MD: Yes, I think the show is pretty bad-ass. My co-host, Alex Robinson, is also a cartoonist, though we try to steer clear of comics as a central topic. I like to say it’s a “lifestyle” podcast… A lifestyle podcast for the aging nerd. We talk about my wanting to be a vegetarian, and his wanting to be a hikikomori. We argue about whether Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” should be classified as a novelty song (my opinion: yes). We’ve discussed whether sentient robotic sex-toys should have human rights (his opinion: yes). We also have frequent guests, usually also from the world of comics. Matt Fraction, Dylan Horrocks, Andy Runton, Julia Wertz, they’ve all been guests inside The Panther’s Lair.

 

courtesy of mikedawsoncomics.com

JC: So my new goal in life is to be invited into the Panther's Lair. Just sayin'. Now I'm sure our readership will remember your short comic we posted back in September, "Prospect Park Dusk, Prospect Park Dawn". How did you come up with the concept?

 

MD: I was reading a vampire novel called Bottomfeeder, by Bob Fingerman. I really enjoyed the book, but as I finished it, I started thinking about how a lot of the time it’s tricky for a vampire to be a sympathetic protagonist, when they do always have the option to bow out of things. They could easily just expose themselves to sunlight, rather than sticking around and continuing to murder people until the end of time. Then I started thinking about how a vampire might be more sympathetic if he/she had someone else in their life that was entirely dependent on them, and needed them to stick around. Like, for instance, the mother of a toddler. That was the basic concept. From there it became pretty easy to look at my own life, and make the vampire/working mom connection.

 

JC: You can be honest: Do you know any vampirical Park Slope moms? We'll protect you from them I have a garlic ring in my kitchen.

 

MD: Not literally, of course. I was thinking a lot about being a working parent when I wrote this comic, obviously. I think the metaphor for full-time-working parent/vampire-who-can’t-go-out-during-the-day is pretty strong. The heartache of being away all the time and missing out on a lot of the day-to-day that goes on with your kid… I’m not going to say it’s universal, but I think it’s something plenty of parents might be able to relate to."

 

Image from Prospect Park Dusk, Prospect Park Dawn JC: Is the title a kitchy nod to the Twilight series? You can lie and say no. 

MD: I am going to say yes. I haven’t read Twilight, but my wife has. I’ve seen all the movies in the theater, thanks to her. Even though she almost fell asleep during that third one. After I posted the comic online, someone said they didn’t love the title, and perhaps a better one might have been “September Mom”, which I do agree, is probably stronger. 

JC: Ooooo yeah, I do like that title. Then is there a future of Prospect Park Dusk, Prospect Park Dawn (September Mom)? Or was that a one-shot deal?  

MD: I am definitely considering going further with this. I think there’s a lot of potential there for a rich story in this setting. All of the material with the mother and her friends just talking about the neighborhood practically poured out of me. It was so easy to write, and Park Slope could be such a great character in a good story. I could really have a lot of fun with it.
JC: What are you working on right now? Is it a comic about werewolf dad from Carroll Gardens?  

 

MD: It is about a Frankenstein in Bay Ridge who falls in love with a lady Mummy from Staten Island…  No, I’m working on a new graphic novel, and it’s going quite well. I can tell when the story is starting to click, and that’s a really great feeling. It’s way better than the times when you aren’t sure what to write about.

 

JC: After reading and really digging your latest graphic novel Troop 142, it was clear, that like me you are a Jersey transplant. Do you see yourself, swimming back up stream like a trout to settle your family in the Garden State, or are you BK 4 life? You can also choose undecided.  

 

MD:  This is a source of constant discussion in my household. All of our family lives in New Jersey, and obviously if we went out there we’d have a better chance of getting that 4 bedroom with the yard. But, the downsides would be: a much longer commute into work; having to drive a car all the time; having to buy a second car; not being able to just walk across the street and meet friends in Prospect Park for a picnic; not having all these restaurants just up the street… right now I can walk outside of my apartment, and the park, a pharmacy, “Conn Muffs”, and the Pavillion movie theater are all within 20 feet of me. However, maybe there are fewer bedbugs in the movie theaters in New Jersey, so that can go into the “pro” column for the suburbs. 
JC: And lastly Mike, I have my trusty Magic 8 Ball here. If you could ask it any question what would it be? I promise whatever answer you get, it will be true.
  
 MD: Well, sticking with the theme of your last question, maybe you can tell me. Should we Forever-Rent and stay put in Park Slope, or should we heed Montclair’s bewitching Siren’s Call?

 


from Troop 142

JC: Ok 8 Ball: Should the Dawson's forever rent and stay Slopeside?

M8B: "Signs point to yes."
JC: OR Should they move to mooking Montclair?

M8B: "Better not tell you now." 
JC: That just means he's constipated. We'll check back in a couple of years. But for the meantime, Mike Dawson is here to stay so go out and support him. 

 

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