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Interview with Mitch Clem
Contributor Interview #3

By Lauren Trout
Sunday, January 11 2009


Mitch Clem
San Antonio, TX
Razorcake Columnist/ Illustrator

Lauren: Mitch; as you get older, are you feeling burnt out on punk rock, or more excited about being involved with it? What would your 15 year old self think of you?

Mitch: Iím certainly not burnt out on it. I hear a lot from people who are, though, or from people who completely immersed themselves in the ďlifestyleĒ in their younger years, only to rebel against their own rebellion as they got older. I was lucky enough to grow rationally, to recognize as I aged and as my values changed, that punk rock wasnít a strict set of rules meant to be enforced. Punk rock, to me, anyhow, was just about individuality, and about expression, and about having a good time. Call it what you want.
My punk rock idol when I was a teenager was Aaron Cometbus. It was through his zine that I discovered the world of self-publishing, and it was through his zine that I was inspired to start a zine of my own when I was in high school, and to keep at it for years until switching gears and starting a comic, which has now been going strong for nearly seven years. Punk rock made me the man I am today.
But I can see how people get bored with it, even beyond not realizing that punk rock isnít necessarily all about anarchy and hating your parents. Peopleís musical tastes seem to stagnate around their early 20s, and people who once found great pleasure in discovering and obsessing over new bands and new sounds find themselves prioritizing music less and less, until itís just a couple preset stations on satellite radio to them, background noise and nothing else. Or even the people who still primarily enjoy punk rock, they like the same bands they liked in high school and thatís that. They say ďpunk is deadĒ and tell you all about how thereís no good bands anymore.
But thatís just it. There are. There are all kinds of good bands anymore. There are times when patience wears thin and itís harder to force oneself to give a shit enough to really seek them out, but thereís always that ďholy shit!Ē band waiting around the corner of every musical depression waiting to reinvigorate your taste for punk rock all over again.

Lauren: How would you describe your artistic aesthetic and how is it influenced by punk rock?

Mitch: Man, I donít know how to describe my aesthetic. Thatís like when you play in a band and people ask you what you sound like. I donít know. Iíve stared at my stuff for so long that I just donít know. Itís influenced by punk rock in that I make comics about punk rock stuff? Man, tough question to be number two. After I rambled for a year on that first question I feel like anything else I write isnít gonna measure up. Not like anyoneís reading this far in anyhowÖ

Lauren: Pop punk, in particular, seems to be your kind of music. Tell me how you feel about the current crop of bands that are playing that style of music and any band in particular that you think stands out from all of the mid-Ď90s imitators.

Mitch: Yeah, I like pop punk. People used to give me shit for that, too. When I was like seventeen and first started living on my own up in Duluth, there was this punk rock clique in town, basically the only people who listened to punk rock to any extent all were friends with one another, and they did not like me at all. I got made fun of for wearing Screeching Weasel shirts. Donít ask me why, because they all thought Cadillac Blindside were great. But everyone up thereís favorite band was Hot Water Music, and, I guess in reaction to how much I hated that clique, I decided I hated Hot Water Music too. And I held onto that for a long time. HWM was music for people who made fun of people for liking Screeching Weasel. Eventually I got over that, of course. I moved to a different town and then HWM started putting out good records.
God, tangent. What was the question? Pop punk. Yeah, thereís good and bad right now. As with always, some people want to homogenize everything, they want pop punk to sound like this and all the songs have to be about girls and the lyrics have to be nasal and the guitars have to be all down strokes (like Johnny Ramone, dude), etc. When the Lookout sound was ruling the land, my favorite pop punk bands were the ones who would fuck with the standards and make music that was as fresh and exciting as it was catchy and fun. My favorites back then were Sinkhole, Cletus, Apocalypse Hoboken, Scared of Chaka, Boris the Sprinkler, Cub, Everready, etc. But MTX were always my favorite because Dr. Frank is the greatest lyricist of all time (or possibly tied for first place with Aaron Cometbus).
Right now, I think Shang-A-Lang might be the best band currently active in the U.S. Those guys seriously tear it up. The Methadones are really great and the Copyrights are doing something unique with that whole formula 27 thing. All the awesome bands that could qualify as pop punk keep breaking up, though. The Ergs!, Chinese Telephones, Marked Men. Le sigh.

Lauren: You recently had a collection of your ďNothing Nice To SayĒ comics from a few years ago published in book format. Was it frustrating to have to focus on all old material while you were getting the book ready?

Mitch: It wasnít frustrating to have to look at them, because Iím very proud of those strips. What was frustrating to me was the expectation that I had to return from a NN2S hiatus and make new strips to drum up some attention and interest in the book.
I have a rule as a cartoonist: Donít make comics you donít want to make. I learned a lot of self-discipline in the first several years I spent drawing NN2S every other day, and learned how important it is for an artist to remain prolific, to constantly be creating no matter what. Art improves, writing improves, etc. But what took me a while to figure out was that itís possible to keep busy without stagnating on one project. I started a different comic, a NN2S spin-off, called the Coffee Achievers, which was more of a story being told than a bunch of punch lines. That was very rewarding. Then I returned to NN2S. Then I made an autobiographical comic. Then I returned to NN2S. And so forth.
The point is that, if you focus on constantly trying to better yourself in the confines youíve created for yourself (i.e., having to write jokes only about punk rock), it gets frustrating when you grow beyond those confines, and you have to take a break and do something else, something with a whole different set of rules you can work at bending and improving in.
This is verbose. I swear thereís a point.
I grew out of what NN2S was, which was a punch line strip about punk rock. Setup, exposition, punch line. Setup, exposition, punch line. All about punk, has to be about punk. That gets old. I mean, how many different ways are there to say that straight edgers are stupid?
And that was where I was at when assembling the book. I was on a hiatus from NN2S at the time and really didnít want to have to do it again. I love the old comics and I love the characters and, again, Iím very proud of everything Iíve created under the NN2S banner. But I didnít want to have to do it again, and I knew I had to.
But! It dawned on me that I made my own rules, I could break them. Iíd found great joy in doing ongoing story arcs with NN2S, and decided I should just focus on telling funny stories instead of just telling jokes. And I changed the format, so instead of a strip, itís a full page comic. And itís new to me now, and itís freeing and itís exciting and invigorating and I love it again, I love doing it as much as I ever have.

Lauren: Why do you publish most of your work on the internet instead of in print? Have you ever made your own paper zine?

Mitch: I did a paper zine in and shortly after high school called Summerís Over. I published nine issues. No one read them.
When I was inspired with the idea to start NN2S, I thought of several different means of publishing it. I thought about just making it its own zine, but felt like I wanted to try something new. I actually flirted for a while with the idea of making one comic a week and printing out copies on one sheet of paper, then mailing them all over to record stores to hang up. I had this ludicrous fantasy of people going into the record store to check out the new NN2S. I was like eighteen, cut me some slack.
I hadnít heard of webcomics, I didnít know that was done, until my friend Pat showed me Penny Arcade. And I realized that was it. Put it online! Itís cheap, itís instant, and itís easy. Awesome. And thatís why I started it that way.
I continue to publish comics online first instead of print because itís instant gratification. I get immediate feedback about what people like and dislike about each strip as I make them. The praise keeps me motivated to continue and the criticisms give me ideas on things to improve. If I were to put out an issue of comics, thatís a minimum of twenty-some pages to make it worthwhile. Two comics per page, thatís forty comics. Forty comics would take months. Literally at least two months if I really pushed myself. But when there arenít people out there waiting for a new comic, itís hard to give a shit. Does that make sense? I motivate myself through fear of disappointing my readers. I update because I have to, because otherwise people get mad. And thatís fair! Thatís fair for them to expect me to live up to my claims of being a cartoonist. If nothingís going up immediately, no one knows, and so no one cares, and so I donít care, and then I just lay around on the couch all day reading Green Lantern comics and occasionally breaking to masturbate.

Lauren: Have you ever drawn a comic, then later regretted it and taken it down from your website?

Mitch: No. I have drawn comics and then regretted them to some extent, yes. I wonít tell you which, but I would say I have probably done a good dozen or two comics that I am downright ashamed of. Some of them I think are too preachy, some of them are too mean spirited, some of them take stances I donít necessarily agree with, and some of them are just downright not fucking funny even a little bit. But I keep them all up because I feel like taking them down would be a betrayal to the fans.

Lauren: Do people know a lot about you from reading your comics like ďMy Stupid LifeĒ? What are some aspects of your life that you donít usually mention in your comics?

Mitch: I donít mention all the sexual three-ways and swinger parties we attend regularly. Or that I hate Jews.
No, I kid. Um, I donít know what people do or do not know about me through my comics. I really do say stupid things constantly, just like in the comics. I do love Amanda very intensely, more than words can describe, just like in the comics. I genuinely am preoccupied with sex probably more than is appropriate just like in the comics. But everything is changed here and there to make the punch lines funnier, so the line between fiction and autobiography is fuzzy at best.

Lauren: Are the people who read your web comics the same people who read your Razorcake column or buy records by bands that youíve done work for?

Mitch: Maybe? I donít have the stats on what kinds of demographics read Razorcake, I donít know how many crossover fans there are. I imagine a good number of my fans checked out Razorcake for the first time through me, but Iím sure they kept reading because Razorcake really is a genuinely awesome magazine. Plus, I donít think my presence in the ĎCake is prominent enough that people would pick it up just for me. I think everyone picks it up for Snakepit.
As for buying records, I do know that some of my fans will buy records just for my art, Iíve heard of that happening, but, again, I couldnít tell you to what extent. But I can hire some focus groups to find out if youíd like.

Lauren: You were in a band beforeóthe name of it is eluding me right nowóbut is it more nerve-racking or gratifying to have a live audience when youíre playing music versus having an anonymous internet audience for your artwork?

Mitch: Yes. I hate playing music in front of people. Iíve gotten used to people hating me over the internet, people hating me in person is just too much to take. Plus Iím pretty shy around new people unless Iím really drunk, at which point I make a total ass out of myself. So any sort of situation where anyone knows who I am is usually uncomfortable for me. But I still love playing music and I wish I could be in a band that played shows and people loved us. I just know that wonít happen, so Iíll stick to comics.

Lauren: What is your day job right now, and what do you wish you were getting paid to do?

Mitch: I am a cartoonist full time. I make my money off ads on my site, merchandise revenue, and freelance illustration for bands and record labels. My dream job would be getting paid to eat pizza and read Green Lantern and Flash comics.

Lauren: Tell me your favorite...Album cover (that you didnít illustrate):

Mitch: HŁsker DŁ Metal Circus is probably my all-time favorite album cover, that thing is absolutely fucking flawless. The chairs, the backwards letteringÖ Ugh. I wish I could make something that amazing. Beyond that, Iím a really big John Yates fan, I think heís just great.

Lauren: Thing about living in Austin:

Mitch: I live in San Antonio!

Lauren:Razorcake contributor to illustrate for:

Mitch: I rarely illustrate for anyone besides Nardwuar, but he would still easily be my favorite. I think heís a great guy and I love what he does.

Lauren: Old- school comic book illustrator:

Mitch: Jack Kirby.

Lauren: Thing about being engaged:

Mitch: Knowing how lucky I am that I actually somehow managed to find the perfect person for me who I wanted to spend my life with, and that she wanted to spend her life with me too. And being able to say sappy bullshit like that with a straight face.

Lauren: Criticism youíve received about your comics:

Mitch: ďItís just not funny.Ē






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