This week, I’m speaking with Spike, the creative dynamo behind Templar, Arizona and a couple of other real gems of comics. It’s a fascinating discourse into puppies, ink wells, and a few easy tips on how to be the cover of a Tom Waits album…
Spike: I can’t get my new puppy to go on the newspaper, but other than that, pretty good.
I work on my comics full-time, maybe ten or eleven hours a day. I’m starting to get faster at it, too; Templar, Arizona began life as a weekly comic, but I think I’ve got in in me to sustain a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule, soon. Which is probably a good idea, since the story is long-term and the action advances so slowly. Anything that gets this done sooner, you know?
I have enough material to put out a print collection of Templar, which is a big step. Big. I’m going to submit an application for a Xeric Grant, hopefully that’ll cover print costs. I’ll probably lose again, but what the hell, I have to try.
Fleen: Ooh! Tell us about your puppy! Everyone loves puppies!
Spike: Well, Harvey’s an American Hairless Terrier, and he’s almost five months old. I got him the day after my birthday. (He was supposed to come ON my birthday, but the breeder lives in Louisiana and they had a freak freeze, so shipping was canceled on the 18th.) He likes to chew blankets and quilts and people, he’s about six pounds, he’s very shy, and he does his business in a litterbox, so it’s not like I’m turning the poor little thing out into the Chicago cold three times a day to relieve himself.
A lot of people assume I must have allergies since I went through the trouble of getting a hairless dog, but nah. I just like freaky-looking dogs.
He’s Harvey because about half of the skin on his face is black and half is pink, right down the middle, and he reminded my husband of Harvey “Two-Face” Dent. It really fits him, too. He acts like a Harvey, although not exactly THAT Harvey. More like the Harvey that bags your groceries at the supermarket and writes complicated video game programs for his graphing calculator. He’s the Harvey with the asthma inhaler and the t-shirt with the big wizard airbrushed on it. If he could read, he would subscribe to Dragon Magazine. And role-play a Drow. Without irony.
Fleen: Spike is a fairly generic nickname, used by a lot of people for a lot of different reasons. Do you have a story behind yours?
Spike: It’s… dumb. There’s this band called Skankin’ Pickle my husband listened to, they have a song called “I’m In Love With a Girl Named Spike.” Back when we were proto-boyfriend/girlfriend, he said it reminded him of me. I said that was cool with me, and I started signing it to my comics. Turns out the song’s about a character from Degrassi Junior High or something. Oops. Whatever. I’m all attached to it, now, so it’s way too late. Everyone calls me Spike. Fortunately, I’m into it.
And I like Spike because it’s so generic, not despite it. It could be a man, It could be a woman, it could be somebody’s pet boa constrictor. It’s totally meaningless, it doesn’t tell you anything about the person other than that they’re pretentious enough to use a pen name. It’s a little tougher to make assumptions about what to expect from them, which is always good. It’s the unique name that’s become ubiquitous. Like Mackenzie. Or Chandler.
If I had it to do over again, though, I’d probably marry Casey Sorrow, so I could steal his surname and sign my comics with my birth name and be “Charlie Sorrow.” Can you even fucking believe how incredible that would be? Like I should be leaning against a brick wall in a Broadway alley in a torrential downpour, loading a .22 and tipping my fedora to keep the rain off my stogie. I would be a Tom Waits album.
Fleen: Youâ€™ve lived in Chicago, Washington, D.C. (or at least the suburbs) and Atlanta. Is there somewhere you want to live that you havenâ€™t?
Spike: Everywhere but Chicago, really. I love Chicago, even when the wind chill factor is trying to kill me. One of the things they never tell you about this town is that, maybe once or twice a year, there are spectacular lightning storms. I mean, strikes every two seconds, deafening thunder, and no rain.The last one woke me up and 4 AM and I just spent ten minutes watching all the lightning smack into the Sears Tower and arc over the Loop. It was practically Biblical.
But yeah, anyway: The DC suburbs are just boring. You can’t really hold that against them, though, since suburbs are designed to be boring. It’s their purpose. But I’ll probably talk shit about Atlanta until the day I die.
I went to college in Atlanta because I didn’t have a choice about it. You could argue that I was determined to not enjoy myself, and you might have a point, but the city didn’t exactly fail to meet unfavorable expectations. It’s not even really a city, more like a big office park ringed by apartment buildings, with Olympic detritus scattered here and there. I didn’t have a car, and the incredibly inadequate public transportation meant I couldn’t go anywhere besides a couple of malls and Little Five Points, which was an island oasis of Interesting in the sea of Oh God Please No.
And then there was Freaknik, which was in full swing while I lived in Atlanta. It’s on Wikipedia if you need the gruesome details, but just imagine Mardi Gras descending on a city that didn’t plan it and wasn’t prepared for it, and you’ll have a pretty good idea.
The cherry on the sundae was probably the racism. Not the rebel flag, pick-up truck, The South Shall Rise Again, Pabst Blue Ribbon variety, which was actually pretty sparse, but the kind that sent me nasty, all-caps emails when it found out I was dating a white guy. You know, instead of them. CLASSY, ATLANTA.
So yeah, fuck that town.
Fleen: What are the proper swears to shriek at the top of your lungs when you manage to drop a full, open inkwell on the carpet?
Spike: “JESUS FUCKING SHIT!” is not only artist-tested and fuck-up-approved, but conjures up a delightful mental picture.
Fleen: Do you feel that itâ€™s an artistic statement that your main character in Templar is essentially voiceless? Or is it just the necessities of the story youâ€™re telling?
Spike: I would totally amend that with “…for now.”
Ben’s voiceless, but I really don’t intend for him to stay that way. It IS out of necessity at this point in the story, because he’s our “gatekeeper.” He’s the character other characters reveal things to, he’s our in. Everything’s as weird and alien to him right how as it is to us, so I can launch all the tiresome expositional monologues I want. He’ll open up more when he feels more comfortable and gets a little direction, but I’ve been trying to pound it into people for the past 100 pages that he’s some skinny, clueless, sheltered kid from the suburbs, and he’s painfully aware of that, and he wants that to change. You don’t hop on a Greyhound from Washington state and death-march it all the way down to Arizona if you’re comfortable with where you are.
I’m really into the idea that, a year from now, people are going to be annoyed with what he ends up being, because he started out this cute little introvert in oversized clothes. And I have DONE THINGS. And suddenly, he’s not this adorably helpless little Bambi analog.
Fleen: What is the single, absolutely coolest thing you have ever seen?
Spike: Uh… hm. Jeez. Nothing on YouTube counts, right?
Okay, well, my mother’s Jamaican. Her hometown’s a little mountain village called Christiana, and we used to visit every year when I was a kid. One time, I had to help my mother and the maid bring in the laundry off of the line because a rainstorm was coming. You could tell, because you could see it rolling in from the distance. It was a massive cloud of white vapor, curling around the green peaks of the mountains in the distance and rushing towards us like a tide rolling in. You could see the sky turning dark behind it, where it had been, even though the sky was still blue over the farm. It felt pretty epic. When it hit, there was a line of rain sweeping across the yard towards us. It smacked into us like a wall. Very heavy drops.
Wow. I’m easily impressed by meteorological phenomena, aren’t I?
Fleen: What makes large women so fun to draw?
Spike: Gravity! That, and no one gets fat in the exact same way, so there are a million ways to do it. My sketchbooks are packed with all of these rough sketches of chubby girls, and they all look different. And they’re usually next to the random men and male bodies I draw, who all look like Russian gymnasts. It’s so very Greco-Roman.
I’m already predisposed to inking in these big, swoopy curves, and that’s basically all fat chicks are made of, when you think about it. The stylistic conventions I’ve padlocked myself to make it look good.
Fleen: Whatâ€™s the most important thing your fans should know about Templar?
Spike: It’s not sci-fi, it’s not the near-future, it’s not a small town, and the comic doesn’t star Reagan.
Sorry about that last bit, everyone.
I probably just lost half my readers.
Fleen: Whatâ€™s your favorite style of Doritos?
Spike: Nacho. I kick it old-school. Cool Ranch slippery-sloped Doritos into the black mire of comic absurdity.
Fleen: Iggy, Sid, Henry, or Jello?
Spike: HENRY. Just the other day, I seriously considered buying a WWHRD? tee from another webcomic, but the drawing of Henry on it didn’t look enough like him. I love Henry. I almost got to meet Henry last SDCC, but the line was cut off literally seconds before I got there. SO SAD.
The weird thing is that I’m pretty lukewarm about his music. He jokes about being “The “Liar” guy from MTV!”, but really, that’s how I originally knew him. Then, a couple of years ago, after I started listening to a lot of his spoken word albums, I began having dreams about him. I’ve had about four or five. In the last one, we lived together in a treehouse in the jungle like Tarzan and Jane. It was not a bad dream.
I don’t exactly find him attractive, or unattractive. It’s like he’s exempt from that, because that’s not what he’s for. I just want him on my side when the bomb hits. He’s the guy I want to build my post-apocalyptic society around. I would make him kill you with a pipe if you busted a deal in Barter Town.