November 2017: CRASH
Interview: Chad Miller
Author Focus: Best Small Fictions contributors
Guest Editors Catherine McNamara and K M Elkes
Flash Frontier: Let’s begin with your graphic review of Best Small Fictions. Tell us about the genesis of this project. Why does Best Small Fictions lend itself to such a representation? How did you select which works to feature?
There were many stories left out of the comic review, all of them great. I chose the stories that sparked a simple image in my head, whether it was triangle cereal pouring into a bowl or the second identical vase. Of course, this means the artist was mixed up in the ultimate meaning. Is it ever not messy?
FF: It looks as if your earliest works were Gatoraffe, Gorhino, Panbat, and Turtlepus (here). Can you tell us more about them, and how they represent the early artist?
I drew animals because my dad drew them. Eventually I started mixing them up, to challenge myself and to discover something new. I’d write the alphabet across the top of my sketch book and with eyes closed I’d randomly select two letters, then two corresponding animals to mix. How can a giraffe’s back slide into an alligator’s tail? What details are crucial to convey the parent animals? I learned from my dad but I needed to move on.
FF: Moving from your early work, you seem to do a lot of mash-ups. Your 2014 project, X-Men Classics, combined the more modern X-Men with what we’ve come to see as classics. This project ranged from Margaret Mitchell to Raymond Carver to Kurt Vonnegut to H.G. Wells to Sylvia Plath. How did this idea come to you, to take old books and turn their covers into a mash-up with X-Men heroes? And which were the most comical, or the most profound, as you considered how your changes to the original impacted the way you imagined the characters and storylines?
Some of the cover ideas were no-brainers. Gone With the Wind, for example. A burning mansion is an X-Men trope, plus you have a Southern belle on the team in love with a rogue (pun intended). Some ideas closed circles. The group of outcast mutants who live in the NYC sewers take their name from H.G. Wells’ Morlocks, and Rachel Summers is a time traveler. If you know anything about Cyclops’s love life – with a woman, her celestial imposter, and her clone – you can see how the cover for What We Talk About When We Talk About Love drew itself.
I don’t think the mash-ups hold up through the particular stories. Colossus is always aware and even scared of his strength – unlike Lenny, for example. However, if the project has meaning, if mash-ups reveal anything new, it’s how similar everything is just below the surface.
FF: You’ve also worked with a lot of book covers. What is so appealing about book cover design? It seems, like small fictions, that there are both limitations imposed but also considerable freedom in the form. Tell us about some of your book covers and how you go about imagining the image to accompany the contents of a particular project.
FF: Your collages were featured in the 2008 issue of Columbia journal – one on the cover. Are you still working in collage? What are some of your other collage projects, and why does this medium appeal?
Here’s what I love about collage, the lesson it reinforces: preciousness is complacency’s darling. It’s where you want to stop, but not where you should stop.
I usually start with a drawing I’ve cut out, centered on the book cover I’ve ripped off a Reader’s Digest with every intent to showcase how great I drew this man’s nude hip or contorted hand. I rip yellow and aquamarine from a magazine and add a smaller drawing of a wagon or tiger. Then I shift them around. I find a composition and glue. But it’s crap, so I start drawing more or try to pull the man carefully off the page only to rip the pelvis and palm. I lose what I think is precious over and over and over again in collage. Do I miss the hip or the way the thumb swelled in the end? No. Isn’t the art itself dear? I don’t believe so. It’s outside of you when it’s completed. Un-owned. Nothing as banal as precious.
FF: You are also a writer. In fact, your story ‘Pig’ was judged competition winner in 2008 by Aimee Bender and included in the same issue of Columbia. Does your imagination as a writer overlap with your graphic imagination? When you sit down to create something, how do you know which side of your creative imagination will come into play?
FF: And finally, we see you’ve recently had a story and illustration published at Jellyfish Review, called ‘Husband in the Ear’ and opening with:
You ask your husband, “What is going on in here?” You plunge your ear with your pinky and see your blood.
A wonderfully imagined concrete presentation of written and visual material that remains, oddly, abstract. Can you talk about the relationship between the real and surreal, or imagined, or abstracted? This seems to be an area you are comfortable in. We are curious to hear more.