Thursday, May 27, 2010

Calliope Nerve Interview Series: Astor Gravelle

Astor, thanks for your time. Tell us about being a publisher. What did you learn (both good and bad) from running Landswaster Media?

I loved being a publisher in that we controlled the content, the distribution, and the website. I don't like being subject to the arbitrary rules of bigger publishers, particularly when they go bankrupt and sell your book without your permission to another publisher, which is what happened to me. Screw that, I don't like other publishers to control my books. Good experiences: the people. I loved the people we published with, the conventions we did. Those were tons of fun and, of course, getting paid for what we published. I loved those times. We met lots of people who we are friends with today, such as Don Fields, Jason Marcy, Joe Meyer and lots of others. Meeting other professionals was fun.

The unfun things? The crash of the distributors in 1995. Before 1995, it was wide open with 13 different distributors to go through. After 1995, there was just one: Diamond Distributors. They are greedy bloodsuckers and I won't have a thing to do with them. Later on, it was BookSurge. At first, they were great. They dealt with independent publishers, pushed titles. They got bought by Amazon. That ended a great relationship. Lulu as well started okay. But not so much now. They keep raising their prices.

What is the legacy of Landwaster?

Legacy of Landwaster: Queer Empire has evolved out of this, as a webstrip from the graphic novel. The Adventures of Psychotix. Psychotix still lives on in the Queer Empire webstrip. Queer Empire is more of an all-encompassing strip that stars an ensemble of Roman and Celtic characters in the time of Emperor Tiberius. There are still more webstrips in the works. Queer Empire has it's own site:

With the closure of Landwaster are you still in the publishing business?

Yes, strictly e-books and webstrips. Publishing on paper is getting too expensive. Plus, with the advent of the I Pad, it's all going to e-books. you should see how many books in my library I happily turfed because I can find so much I need in e-book and PDF format.

How do you feel the I-Pad and the advent of the e-reader will effect the future of books and publishing?

I welcome the I Pad and e-reader. At my stage in life, I want to pare down, not continue to acquire. I'm worried about over consumption and the environment too. I think the I Pad is going to make everybody rethink what it means to own stuff. I know its opened my eyes.

As a publisher and creator, how do you market your work? What's worked for you and what hasn't?

What has worked is word of mouth and doing our marketing strictly on line. What hasn't worked, especially in the 21st century is conventions and distributors. Distributors are redundant middle men who are also gatekeepers. Conventions are simply too expensive to do anymore. Nobody should go to a convention and not expect to lose money. They are fun, but not part of a good business model.

You have illustrated, been an author, photographer, edited and done cartooning. Tell use about some of these projects?

I started out with Yendie Wildcritter in 1990. Wow 20 years ago. She still rattles around on my blog but is still a backburner project. Then I did Roger Fnord, a goofy skateboarding time traveler. My favorite one of that series was Roger and the Magic Lamp, which parodied Disney's Aladdin.

My foray into the big time was being published by Carol Publishing Group. That was Underground Office Humor. You know those funny office cartoons that float around. I collected a bunch of those and some funny work stories and that was the essence of Underground Office Humor. Carol Publishing went bankrupt and my book ended up with another publisher. In the contract I was supposed to get the book back. This is why I stay away from big publishers now. Then I began to collaborate with Kerry Griswold to ink Queer Empire, which is what I'm working on now.

Ron has his own projects. He's training himself to be a 3-D artist. 3-D is where it's going.

What or who influences you creatively?

Aubrey Beardsley, Wally Wood, Jack Davis. The Usual Gang of Idiots who wrote and illustrated Mad Magazine in the 60's and 70's, the Zenith of that magazine.

What's on your recommended reading list?

Linchpin by Seth Godin. It's a great book to inspire creativity. Actually, Purple Cow and Tribes, both by Seth Godin are great books for creative people to read. He's my business guru.

Are you prolific?

I'm prolific in spurts. I'm going through another prolific burst. In between operations and procedures, that is!!

Listen to music while you create? Who?

I couldn't create without music. I listen to a lot of Reggae such as Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley, Sean Paul. I listen to a lot of Satellite Radio: 80's New Wave: DEvo, Dead Milkmen, They Might Be Giants, and a lot of dance, hip hop, funk, such as Ludacris, Immortal Technique, George Clinton, Beastie Boys, Timbaland. I couldn't not mention my favorite band of all time, though: ELO!!! ITunes is my best friend.

Have you received any accolades for your work or your publishing? Do accolades matter to you?

I've received accolades from my readers. Those are the only accolades that matter, really. I've never been influenced to read a book based on whatever award it got. I read them based on if I'm interested in the subject or if I pick it up and like it.

Are you an underground artist?

I certainly started out as one with some of my really risqué titles such as Teen Mutant Sex Scrap Book, starring Yendie Wildcritter in compromising positions, selling zines through Factsheet Five. Mike Gunderloy once described TMSS as a Tijuana Bible for the 90s. I still do some underground stuff, so I guess I am.

Who is your ideal reader?

My ideal reader is a renegade misfit who hated high school and wouldn't go back to a reunion unless to firebomb the fuckers. Oh, and who is smarter than most of the chowder heads he or she works with. Having an ample bit of cynicism and agnosticism helps.

Define success.

Success: Doing what you love to do and making money at it. NOT having to work a gerbil job. Having just enough to be worry free. How much stuff do you actually need? Is bling that important at the end of the day or is living the life you want to live more important? I'd say living the life you want more important. BEING DEBT FREE!! That's success these days. Watching those Dollars4Gold commercials an eye opener on how important acquiring bling is. Really. To be able to sell it at 10¢ on the dollar? Wow, doesn't consumerism get you far in life?

You emigrated from The United States to Canada. Why? How are the two nations different and similar?

I'll never move back to the U.S. Yes, I miss all my friends and family who still live there. I really miss Maryland. The beautiful mountains, the old history of Frederick. My dear friends, ALL my friends, nationwide. I want to visit more when my autistic daughter Alex gets older and more comfortable to travel. I want to do a Stateside tour and visit everybody, including you and your family, I have lots of friends in Ohio and Indiana. Indiana is where I'm originally from.

But I don't miss the horrid interest rates on the credit cards, the thieving banks, the pillaging-looting health insurance system, the skyrocketing property taxes, and the general lunacy of the Glenn Beck-Rush Limbaugh crowd. I just had a septoplasty where my deviated septum on my left nostril was fixed. It was 100% free. I like the free health care. Alex has benefited too, getting her own Educational Assistant and free occupational therapist. Alex is guaranteed a pension when she turns 18. I may get a disability pension because of my arthritis, if it comes to that. But there are more options here. Plenty of grants for artists to get if they do Canadian content. It's damn cold up here, sure, but they payoffs are plenty.

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