Noah Van Sciver (it’s pronounced Sky-ver, by the way, not Sy-ver) is arguably Denver’s premier underground comic artist. His work has appeared in the Westword for the past three years, in his weekly Four Questions comic strip, and in occasional graphic show reviews as well. His own comic, Blammo, is not only a top-seller locally, but was recently picked up by a publisher in New York who will be releasing a compilation of the book next spring. His latest issue of Blammo, the seventh, just came out and gets an official release party at 6 p.m. Friday, March 11 at Kilgore Books & Comics. The A.V. Club caught up with Van Sciver to talk about Blammo, Abraham Lincoln, and the quixotic pursuit of fame as an underground comic creator.
A.V. Club: Your Blammo series is autobiographical, right?
Noah Van Sciver: It used to be. It’s moving more toward short fiction. It’s still somewhat autobiographical. I guess you really can’t escape that—even your fiction is sort of autobiographical.
AVC: When did Blammo start?
NVS: Blammo started about five years ago. I was self-publishing it. It was first a mini comic, like a ’zine—a photocopied, stapled thing. I was putting it together myself and trying to sell them for a dollar. At the Denver Zine Fest, I was trying to sell them for a dollar—I think I sold one. Then I started doing Four Questions for Westword, and the next year I went, they all sold out. Then I started self-publishing with a real printer, and then I was taking those into Kilgore. They said, “We’ll take one copy,” and that sold. Then I took more in, and they started selling out, and they were selling out faster than any other comics they had, and that’s when they offered to start publishing them for me.
AVC: So was Four Questions sort of your big break?
NVS: That helped me locally. Nationally, what helped out a lot was my older brother was a well known comic artist, so I think a lot of people picked it up out of curiosity from that. And the rest of it was just me busting my ass a lot, sending [my comics] out to comic shops and stuff. Now, I think I’m known more for [Blammo] than Four Questions, which is what I want. I don’t want Four Questions to be on my tombstone—I love it, but I want to be known more for my book than this. We’ll see when the Abraham Lincoln book comes out. I have my own story I want to tell from that. If you get too historically accurate with it, it’s not going to have a linear narrative.
AVC: You mentioned the Lincoln project the last time A.V. Club interviewed you.
NVS: That was around the time I started, about two years ago. It’s about Lincoln in Springfield, like a young adult Abraham Lincoln, and how he dealt with his depression and his relationship with Mary Todd. It ends in 1842, way before his presidency.
AVC: Abraham Lincoln seems like a pretty unusual subject for a graphic novel. What made you decide to tackle the early life of our 16th president?
NVS: Blammo drew me to it. I was doing a short story on his duel with James Shields. As I researched it, I became more interested in Abraham Lincoln in his time before the Civil war. He’s my favorite president—he just seems like a cool guy. There’s not a lot out of there about Abraham Lincoln at that point in his life. I was interested in him because of his depression, and also because he came from nothing. I feel a kinship to people who come from nothing, because I come from a very large, very poor Mormon family. I’m trying to do that in comics—come from nothing and achieve something, which I guess is stupid, but it’s what I’ve got.
AVC: It seems like a huge project, considering you’ve already been working on it for two years. When do you expect to have it out?
NVS: I made it my new year’s resolution to finish drawing it this year, so it will come out sometime in 2012. If I’d written my own story, it would have been done a while ago, but there’s all sorts of details, like having to redraw all the door knobs, or finding out that windows didn’t look like that then.
Every Lincoln book I’ve read will describe things differently—the same story is told differently every time, so it’s hard to tell what I should be illustrating. Like Lincoln going to a prostitute and not having the money to pay her, I’m putting that in the book. If I can fit it into the overall story of the book—like him going to a prostitute could be because he’s really lonely—that’s in the book. But rumors of his being gay, that’s not in.
AVC: How do you feel about your progress toward fame and fortune in the cartooning world since your last A.V. Club interview two years ago?
NVS: There has been a lot of progress over the past two years. I am a lot more well known for what I am doing. The comic book I started, it had already been going a few years, but I didn’t know where it was going, but now it’s almost one of the biggest indie comics going [recently], since a lot of the big comics from then have stopped. I am sort of like the last comic standing. Who knows where I will be in two years from now? Maybe we’ll be talking about this and laughing.
I am actually seeing people [being influenced by me]. People e-mail me to ask if they can send me a comic. They’re sending me these hand-stapled comics and asking me what I think. It’s great. If you’re not going to be paid a lot, you might as well meet like-minded people and start a gang.
AVC: What do you want people to know about you?
NVS: I don’t know what I want people to know about me—one thing I started in this last issue is a history of Joseph Smith and the Mormon church, and my upbringing in it. This issue has a brief history of Joseph Smith and how the Book Of Mormon came to be, and later they’re going to be stories about me.
AVC: Are you currently active in the church?
NVS: I fell away from the church when my parents divorced. I went with my mom, who left the church. There’s nine people in my family, and half of them are in the church and half aren’t. It’s kind of weird—there’s half of my family I can curse around and half I can’t; half will read my comic and half won’t.
AVC: What’s next for Noah Van Sciver?
NVS: I know that I will continue doing Blammo, but I don’t know what will happen after that. Maybe I will just collect the autobiographical stuff, maybe I will win a Pulitzer, but still keep doing Four Questions—I will be a Pulitzer winner working at Westword. That’s what I am working toward.