“So… digital comics.” Jonathan Baylis talks self publishing and So Buttons on ComiXology Submit

So Buttons 7Ever considered transferring your life’s most poignant (and mundane) moments to a comic book page? Well that’s exactly what New Yorker Jonathan Baylis did with the superb So Buttons comics anthology. From his childhood to meeting his wife, to his internship at Marvel and more, this fantastic slice-of-life collection was inspired by the likes of Harvey Pekar and Robert Crumb and features a soul-bearing look into the life and mind of a normal guy – we find out more.

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“I discovered this free newspaper called “Free Comics NYC” and I thought, “I bet I could do something like this!” “

So Buttons is your auto-biographical comic anthology series, what was the inspiration behind it and why did you decide to go for that genre rather than a more traditional fictional based approach?

JB: So… I discovered this free newspaper in Greenwich Village called “Free Comics NYC”. Turns out it was their first issue and they printed a wide variety of short comic stories and I thought, “I bet I could do something like this!” I had a co-worker friend, Mr. Alan, that went to the School of Visual Arts in NYC and had done some comics work. I came up with a little 4-pager about my dad that he illustrated and we submitted, and lo and behold, we got into the paper! That publication quickly folded after (not my fault!) but that’s what launched the beginning of So Buttons.

As far as auto-bio, my introduction to indie comics blossomed while reading Chester Brown (Yummy Fur), Seth (Palookaville), and Joe Matt (Peepshow), so I was really inspired by the genre.

The obvious comparison for your work is Harvey Pekar, but are there any other writers and artists who inspire you and have helped shape your work?

JB: In addition to the Canadian trio of creators I mentioned, and of course Pekar, I was really inspired by Julie Doucet’s work back then as well (what’s with all the Canadians?!?), and over the years have found and loved Lewis Trondheim, Jeffrey Brown, Julia Wertz is hilarious. Today I really love Noah Van Sciver and Joseph Remnant’s work (both I’ve been lucky enough to work with), as well as Gabrielle Bell, Lucy Knisley, Ed Piskor, Box Brown, Mari Naomi I really LOVE too many comics and their creators! It’s not auto-bio, but I’m kind of crazy for Michael DeForge’s work right now, but I’m not alone in that at all (work with me, Michael, I’ve got a two-pager for you!).

You use different artists on each chapter, how much of that was a conscious choice to make the book different, or was it just a necessity due to certain artist’s availability? Do you write certain stories for certain artists and which are your favourite stories art-wise?

JB: The collaboration thing comes from the Harvey Pekar inspiration of course, but it’s also how I work during the day. I’m a writer-producer of promos for cable television and there’s a lot of collaboration with editors, graphic artists, voiceover folks, etc., so my brain is just kind of built to collaborate. I think a good writer/collaborator knows their artists’ strengths and interests. Like with the “So… Basquiat” story, Becky Hawkins revealed to me that she loved travel and architecture and that inspired me to write a section about Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao Spain for her. And I think she did some of her best work because it was something she was really interested in drawing.  Fred Hembeck drawing stories about my Marvel internship is really perfect I think, especially since he did strips for Marvel Age back in the day, and that’s the book I interned for when I was there.

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Former Marvel Age Artist Fred Hembeck draws Jonathan’s stories about his Marvel internship.

I have to be THIS guy and say that I love all my stories and the work my artists created for them, but I do have a couple of faves: the above-mentioned Basquiat story with Hawkins and Victor Kerlow and a new story about a dear-departed friend, Citizen Kafka, drawn by Joseph Remnant and colored by British indie comics pioneer, Phil Elliott(!!).

You also have a lot of fun with the covers of So Buttons with Jack Kirby and EC Comics homages which really help give the book an eclectic feel to it. How important was it to create this style for your covers or was it another case of good fortune and finding artists with a similar thought process to yourself?

JB: At first, the covers came organically through ideas with T.J. Kirsch, who did the first couple of covers, but starting with Issue 3, since it was horror-themed, I felt like an EC homage was appropriate. I’ve loved Danny Hellman’s clean line work for years seeing it around NYC on the covers of New York Press (RIP!).  He did an amazing job I think.  I have this little King Kong obsession, so I asked TJ to do an homage to the 1976 King Kong movie poster for SB4, replacing me for Kong and the new Freedom Tower (which wasn’t finished yet) for the World Trade Center. My first Kirby book was Captain America 212, and Tom Scioli has this amazing Kirby-inspired style and was blessed to get that guy to pay tribute for SB5. I knew Jay Lynch through my time at The Topps Company and the fact that he worked on the original Garbage Pail Kids series made me beg him to do a GPK-inspired cover for SB6. He told me it would be the last GPK-related art he’d do, but he did it!  Danny’s back on the current cover and I already have Dean Haspiel’s art in for a So Buttons “best of” collection I’d like to make next year (small press publishers, call me!) I don’t know if I’m stabbing myself in the foot by not having a consistent title design or cover layout, but since this is for love, I just love all the covers of these books.

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Jay Lynch’s Garbage Pail Kids cover came about thanks to their time at the Topps Company together

Here at Pipedream Comics we focus mainly on digital comics, how has the growth in digital comics helped So Buttons? You are available on ComiXology, but have you released your work on other platforms? What advantages are there for smaller publishers like yourself in the digital world?

JB: As far as sales go, I get orders though my mini-comics “agent” Tony Shenton for comic book storefronts and of course do direct sales to people at conventions, of which I can only go to a couple a year, so my reach is not huge. With digital storefronts, there’s real potential to get more eyes on my stories. I tried a couple of platforms, but didn’t really make a dent. But then Comixology Submit launched and that’s been great. I think I’ve now sold more books there last year than I did physical copies at stores and conventions.  I met Chip at the Small Press Expo, which I consider my “home” con even though I live in NYC, and he was very open to discussion and ideas, and he gained some indie cred with me when he talked about helping Shannon Wheeler staple his comics back in the day. This is a guy that loves ALL comics. So I’m really happy to have my books there. I mean, look at you, you’re in England and you read my stuff! How nice!

So… your unique feature for each issue is the ‘So…’ title. Was that something you had planned from the start or just something that came together as you assembled the first issue?

JB: At first, I just wanted to call the book “So…” because I knew I wanted to play with the convention of starting each story that way. But I had this insecure fear that the first review would be “So WHAT!”  And when I was a kid and said “So what” to my Mom? She would reply “Sew Buttons” and that stuck with me.  So the book became “So Buttons”!

You can download issue #1-7 of Jonathan’s So Buttons from ComiXology for £0.69/$0.99 and for more information on his latest work visit sobuttons.com and get a fantastic free preview!

Author: Alex Thomas

Alex Thomas is the Editor and founder of PIpedream Comics. He grew up reading comics in the 90s, so even though he loves all things indie and small press, he is easily distracted by a hologram cover.