In the punk-snarky Nothing Nice to Say, then the magical-realistic Coffee Achievers, and now in the journal webcomic San Antonio Rock City, Mitch Clem has been delighting readers and enlightening music lovers for years now. Al Schroeder interviews Mitch about webcomics and music.
Let's see now… I know you were based in Minnesota, and last I heard you lived in San Antonio. I know you hated school, dropped out in the 11th grade but got a G.E.D. to spite a former girlfriend. I know you first thought of NN2S when bored, working at a gas station. This is one drawback of doing a journal comic… what DON'T we know about you that you feel comfortable giving out?
I'm a really good kisser. Ladies, how you doin'?
Your dialogue is particularly crisp and sharp. Who are your writing influences?
Thank you! But I have no idea. Who are my writing influences? How can I even answer that? That's like asking me who my artistic influences are.
Who are your artistic influences on NOTHING NICE TO SAY?
YOU THINK THAT'S FUNNY YOU BASTARD? I'LL CUT YOU.
I know who your five favorite bands of all time were at one time: Jawbreaker, Against Me!, Kid Dynamite, Buzzcocks, and Brother Inferior. Tell the truth. What current band annoys you the most? Or top five on the "most annoying" list?
No no, those were my top five AT THE MOMENT that I wrote it. Just the stuff that didn't leave my CD player that week/month. My favorite bands of ALL TIME would be 1) Descendents, because they totally got me through high school and I still love them, 2) Screeching Weasel for the same reason, but also because I took so much more out of the lyrics as I grew older that it felt much more like an album I grew up with… After the top two it's tough. Jawbreaker would be up there still, and Kid Dynamite for sure.
As far as annoying bands, Christ, there's too many to list. That's why I don't listen to them, though. The key is to just ignore the stuff you don't like and totally immerse yourself in the good stuff. So I'm gonna talk about the good stuff. AHEM:
Right now, despite the state of mainstream music being in shambles as it always is, there's actually a lot of really fantastic buzzpop and pop punk stuff emerging all over the country. The Unlovables out on the east coast along with the Ergs, who are seriously Descendents meets Husker Du, they're AMAZING… The Copyrights out of "nowhere near Chicago", Illinois are really great. They're actually based out of Carbondale, and at least one of the guy's from the Rushmores out of Chicago just recently moved to Carbondale. Which means the Rushmores broke up, which is too bad because they were great and had possibly the best album covers ever. Also, the Modern Machines from Wisconsin are still around and keep getting better.
Okay, I'm gonna sidetrack. A hundred billion years ago there was a basement show booked at the house I was living at. When I drew the flyer for the show, I had come up with some dumb joke about basement shows being tax deductable, and I had drawn two characters standing there delivering the joke. Those characters ended up becoming Blake and Fletcher, and that flyer is basically the first real NN2S strip as far as I'm concerned. I ended up getting a collapsed lung and so I was in the hospital when the show happened, but THAT BAND. WHO PLAYED IN MY BASEMENT. WHOSE TOURING THROUGH MY TOWN SPURRED THE FLYER THAT BASICALLY KICKSTARTED NOTHING NICE TO SAY THE BELOVED ONLINE COMIC STRIP BY THE GREAT AND TALENTED MITCH CLEM. Was the Modern Machines.
Who are your musical influences on NN2S? Is there anyone else you particularly like to listen to when doing your comics?
All kinds of stuff is good while drawing. I find that slightly more, I guess grandiose, for lack of a better word, type of stuff is best when drawing. I mean like prog. Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, Rush, Queensryche, even Coheed & Cambria, who, by the way, I'm fully aware I should be embarassed to like. But also sometimes They Might Be Giants, Hot Water Music, Belle & Sebastian, Fugazi… Odd to think that such a tiny amount of the stuff I listen to when drawing comics and art related to punk rock is actually punk rock in itself. Concentration music is best for work involving intense concentration, punk rock is better for driving or kicking things.
Who's your favorite character or characters? Blake from Nothing Nice to Say? Fletch? The lesbian couple in the Coffee Achievers?
I do not have a favorite character, sorry. I couldn't even get into it. I love them all. They're my friends.
I have to admire your tackling no less than three different webcomics — the gag-a-day punk-snarky Nothing Nice to Say, the "magical realism" continuing-story strip, The Coffee Achievers , and the journal comic, San Antonio Rock City. Which of the three formats do you like best? What was it like working with someone else in the case of the now-finished Coffee Achievers?
I have to say, as proud as I am of NN2S and as much as I'm grateful for all that it's brought me in terms of success as an artist and meeting new friends and a true sense of accomplishment, I think SARC is a good deal more fun to write in that there are no restraints involved. With NN2S, towards the end especially, I really felt overwhelmed with this idea of, "okay, I need to write a new strip, what should it be about? What happened? Who's newsworthy?" etc… It was topical to the point of being very limiting as a writer. And, as an artist, I had so clearly solidified this iconic look for so long, I really couldn't break away from it. I still get emails from people about whether they prefer black and white to color. And that's cool and all, it's good that people care at all, but you can see where it's difficult to strech your legs a bit in that situation.
So yeah, where NN2S limited me, SARC has pretty much just open the floodgates completely. I can play around with how the characters are designed or how the universe looks or what I can and cannot write jokes about, and who's going to think what about what and how I can make a joke out of a current event. It's very freeing, it's a blast to write and to draw, and I really think that comes across when you read it. Or maybe I'm just full of myself entirely, that's another real possibility.
As far as tCA goes, that was quite an experience. I'm really proud of how it ended up overall, I think it's a really good comic from start to finish, which really is how it should be read. There are some kinks still in it for sure, and Joe and I are in full agreement that we're going to go in and fix the story up a bit where it needs it (like the ending especially), and then well collect it in a book. A final, definitive comic. It's going to be really cool.
I really had a lot of fun working with Joe, he's a stupefyingly brilliant artist, seriously, he should be in a museum. Not just his art, I mean he himself should sit there at a desk in the middle of a museum and just draw shit and let people gasp. We're working on starting a new comic, a new story-driven adventure comedy whatever thing. It's going to be called the Rain Dogs, it's going to be really cool. Joe described it as "Waterworld meets Firefly", which is really about sums it up. You'll like it.
You were, I believe, the first punk webcomic, and relatively few comics have followed you in this selfmade genre—Questionable Content is the only one I can think of that references current music almost as much as yours. Why do you think there are ten thousand gamer comics, thousands of fantasy comics, but very few focused on music?
There was another comic before me online that referenced underground music as a thematic element, and that was Life's So Rad. It would be totally unfair not to give that comic props for coming before me. It was still more indie than it was punk, but that was still before indie was flavor of the month type stuff, Pitchfork wasn't around yet, you weren't hearing it on the radio. So props. Big ups to LSR!
Props also to Cat and Girl! CaG I'm pretty sure was around before me, though I'm too lazy to check, but she was definitely playing around with jokes about underground stuff. She had the "Hipster Scouts" back when "hipster" was still an insult (well, before the hipsters decided to claim it as a badge of honor). Also, her comics are way funnier than mine.
ALSO, some kids from Michigan do a ska comic called 21 Dead Monkeys, and it's GREAT. That one focuses very heavily on the music and the scene. Any NN2S fans who like ska at all need to read it, it's great.
What was your very best concert experience? Who was playing, and where?
I've had a few. Well, a lot. What a huge question. One show that really stands out was Scared of Chaka at the 7th Street Entry in Minneapolis just before they broke up. They were really tight even though they had a new bass player, they played an amazing mix of songs, and they were really nice and funny and just plain entertaining. It was really a lot of fun, I wish they were still around.
Also there was the Queers here in San Antonio not too long ago. Nothing really remarkable about it beyond just being a great show, but it was so full of energy and the crowd was so into it. The pit basically extended all the way to the back wall, I mean NO ONE wasn't dancing. It was incredible to be in the middle of so much positive energy. They should play every weekend just so we can all get together and do something like that more regularly.
There's a billion other examples, those are just a couple off the top of my head. Flogging Molly was amazing live, Groovie Ghoulies are always a lot of fun, the Briefs, Dillinger Four, Toys That Kill, the Epoxies… I hope someone out there has SoulSeek queued up right now and is actively searching some of this stuff out, otherwise I'm just dropping names here. YOU! READING THIS! Go seek out these bands! Also listen to This Bike is a Pipe Bomb and Visqueen and the Grabass Charlestons (well, damn near everything on No Idea Records, for real, best label ever), and Tiltwheel and theO Pioneers and the Marked Men, and, and, AND… Okay, I need a breath.
What are your future plans? There was some talk of an indie movie version of NN2S. Is there still interest in that? Do you have any other plans you can give out?
My plans are all TOP SECRET. I sure as hell am not gonna tell the likes of YOU anything! But really, no big movie plans, nothing so grandiose. SARC will be a print comic/zine very soon, that is news I'm comfortable leaking right now. NN2S is rumored to possibly have the same fate as well, a life in print as a zine, but we'll see. No promises on anything yet. All I can promise for now is that SARC will be around for a while still, that I will be working more in doing flyers and album art, that I'll keep illustrating the Nardwuar column in Razorcake for a while, that I hope to get more work in magazines in the future, and that the Earth is hurtling rapidly into the sun oh god oh GOD WHO WILL SAVE US OH HERE IT COMES I REGRET NOTHINNNNNNGGGGGGGgggg……….