Interview With Sam Henderson About Magic Whistle and Self-Publishing

Hey we have a special treat for you today. Coming to us from our friends at Alternative Comics is an excerpt of an interview done with Sam Henderson. Check it out and be sure to stop by their site to check out Sam's titles and the other Alternative Comics titles available. Again, this interview wasn't performed by us, but we were happy to run it. There's also a great video at the bottom. Sam Henderson has been creating his hilarious one-man anthology comic for 20 years and 23 issues. We talked to this much-beloved creator about what got him started, what he's learned along the way and what he has planned for the future.

How did you get into self-publishing?

I didn't know this was something I could do! Actually, I did my first self-published comic when I was ten, so when I say I've been doing them since 1980, I'm actually not that old. I was doing things in high school with this guy Bobby Weiss as sort of dress rehearsal for what I wanted to do in the future. I knew other people had jobs as insurance salesman, accountants, or whatever. As a fan of comics and cartoons, I'd read about how the artists would say they didn't have to get up early or go someplace ever day, which sounded good to me.

How did you discover the small press network? What were some memorable experiences with that?

As a kid, when my family went to a city, I'd want to go to a comic store . At that time there were only a dozen in the whole country. They had comics other than the Marvel and DC fare, which looking back were just R-rated versions of the same. Comics like CEREBUS and FLAMING CARROT were the strangest, most esoteric things I had ever seen. Sometimes they would plug other publications that were also xerox comics. I'd send away for them and they also had plugs for even more obscure comics and I found out there were other high school kids doing xerox comics too, often with print runs like ours of only 20-50. We also realized you could make comics by cutting them or folding them in half, something that appealed to us when the only other method available was places that charged 10 cents a copy, fifteen cents for colored paper.

Later, when I went to SVA, there were people with which I had more in common, and I could talk to personally and not just through the mail. Some people were impressed that you could make your own comics and zines with a xerox machine. I did a magazine that way with Tom Hart and later you.

The school had mostly people majoring in illustration and fine arts. I went to the school for its cartooning major, and most of the students in those classes were aspiring Marvel and DC artists I wanted nothing to do with. Kurtzman and Eisner, two of the most famous comics artists of all time taught there, and I was disappointed they pandered to the franchise comics wannabes who didn't even know who they were.

It was impressive that anyone ever made comics that at the time. It was before there were more, cheaper, printing technologies like different inks and bindings and papers— or just the ability to scan a comic and put it online for free with an audience however big or small.

MagicWhistle0_SamHenderson_Coverc48b8eWhat were some early experiences you had with other people publishing your work?

Screw and New York Press were a cartoonists’ best friends in the 90s. As far as other places, it's interesting the difference between then and now. For color work I had to make stats and wait for them overnight, then paint the back of them with acrylics and drop them off at the office in person. Now I can do everything in Photoshop at home (sometimes naked even) in less time, and just e-mail a file with finished art. For larger work or multiple files I can just send a disk of the final copies and nobody else has to deal with the originals.

Another obsolete way of coloring was Ruby-Lith, overlays for each color, and you wouldn't see the results until the thing was printed. One of my first jobs was a Screw cover that had a person being fisted with a brown substance coming out of them. When it was printed, either I made a mistake or they did. The shade of brown, which was meant to be a combination of the color overlays, was printed as red so it looked like blood.

Magic Whistle #1 - how did that come about?

The mini-comic? I just wanted an audience for whatever cartoons I was doing. I was doing mini-comics that had different titles and I needed an overall title so people could keep track of what I did with a numbering system. Most comics then were one-person anthologies. The goal was eventually to have this appear on slicker paper and sold in stores like LOVE & ROCKETS or NEAT STUFF (which became HATE). Mini-comics are kind of the open mic for that kind of thing. The name “Magic Whistle” came from jokes my roommate Mike Rex and I would make about theoretical TV show plots. There were still people all over the country doing mini-comics, and we traded with each other through the mail except now they were in their twenties and didn't aspire to work for superhero comics either.

Magic Whistle Vol.1 #10 was the first non-xerox, regular comic format issue. What's the story there?

It was the next logical step. Each issue had increasingly more readers and I didn't feel the need to keep doing hundreds of copies of my comic. There were too many to fold and staple myself. I was still paying extra for reductions. Some clerks didn't even know what you meant when you said you wanted copies on both sides. When I made copies myself you had to pull scams like slamming the xerox counter on the table to make it go back to zero. By that time I was having work printed in mainstream publications, and printing something offset was cheaper anyway.

You restarted the numbering with Vol.2 when Jeff Mason signed on as your publisher. What's the deal with that?

Jeff Mason was a fan of comics and had some extra money from his day job. He decided to give a bigger audience to work he liked. People were seeing my work in other places but I didn't have a comic of my own (the ultimate achievement for any cartoonist). Going back to number one seemed the right thing since now twice as many people could see it. If I were to continue with number 11 people would wonder where the other ten issues were, when really they were just self-published comics I didn't make enough copies of to have in stores.

The Star Wars Insider editor put out a collection of your small press stories? That's crazy! What's the scoop?

He was doing zines and other publications as well and since he had a bigger platform he could showcase the work of his friends. The work I mentioned before under different names and early MAGIC WHISTLES had only been seen by people I knew, though some considered it just as good as anything companies like Fantagraphics were publishing.

SceneButNotHeardForReview-1Anything else you care to add?

Comics have changed a lot since I started. There aren't as many xerox shops anymore and they're not necessary. There aren't as many “floppies” anymore. Most cartoonists start with full length books. Comics have much more credibility with fewer “BAM! POW! Comics aren't just for kids anymore!” magazine articles. The world of comics is no longer such a sausage party. Things that used to be available only at comic stores you can now get at Barnes and Noble or through Amazon. There are more college level courses, more conventions that aren't just fall TV previews. People like Dan Clowes and Chris Ware, once the subject of those “BAM! POW!” articles are now doing NEW YORKER covers. Comics have a fine-art aesthetic and I'm doing my best to fit in.

What's going on with you now? What's the direction of Magic Whistle?

I've been around the block. I've been in mass-market magazines, nominated for awards, was even a writer for SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS, and have gone back to self-publishing. In some places I'm either God or persona non grata. After years of depression and bitterness from no longer being wanted in animation, it's time to get back on that horse. I've returned to a cartooning world where everyone is at least ten years younger and doesn't know who I am. I went a year without doing any comics at all because I had a girlfriend who wanted co-credit.

I'm doing MAGIC WHISTLE again to continue where I started. I tried doing my stuff in book form for a while but it didn't seem right. I like having letters and guest artists. I'm still too big and too old to be back in mini-comics, and don't need to lose credibility. No offense to comic collectors, still the majority of my readers, but I think what I do is more for people who watch the COLBERT REPORT than read BATMAN. Right now I'm attempting to put out MAGIC WHISTLE a few times a year and to appear in other anthologies. And I’d like to be in publications that pay actual money, so I can afford to continue doing MAGIC WHISTLE. In order to do that I'm giving a few pages in the issue to others, from newbies to big-time illustrators and everywhere in between. Jeff Mason doesn't have the enthusiasm he began with and quit publishing gradually as his artists went on to bigger publishers. It's good to have a new publisher that has known me for 25 years and knows the market and how I think, so I can continue doing MAGIC WHISTLE the way I want. It makes me feel better when someone like Kim Deitch wasn't really known until his forties. I plan to still do MAGIC WHISTLE into my sixties no matter what. No matter what I'm doing, this comic is where I belong.