©Steve Brodner

Whenever comics industry observers get together to talk about the people who've made a difference in the business over the last decade, the name Eric Reynolds inevitably comes up. As Marketing Director for the Seattle-based art comics publisher Fantagraphics he helped guide the company through a disastrous distributor bankruptcy in 2001, and has overseen their very successful new distribution deal with Norton and the growth of graphic novels as a successful category in bookstores nationwide. Even more importantly, as co-editor (with Fanta Publisher Gary Groth) of Mome, the anthology for cutting edge talent, Reynolds has created a showcase for some of the most remarkable comics talents of the decade.

Reynolds was recently promoted to Associate Publisher, a title which he says simply reflects the duties he's taken on in recent years. "I was already doing a lot of things that fell outside the publicity purview, it's more an acknowledgment of that than a recalibration of what I do." Aside from being slightly more involved with the business side of things, it's more a reflection of Reynolds wide interest in both comics as an art and business.

He started at Fantagraphics in 1993 as a 22-year-old, initially as a reporter for The Comics Journal, before moving into publicity and, eventually, editing. He also found time to pursue his own cartooning and playing in a band, so obviously, he knows how to manage his time! PWCW recently chatted with Reynolds for a chat to see how the business and his part in it is evolving.

PWCW: You started out as a reporter, then turned to marketing, and now your job is something much more organically developed. How do you think working in marketing and promotion allowed your editorial sensibilities to develop?

Eric Reynolds:I think it might work more the other way around. I came to Fanta with an editorial and journalism background in college, and ended up doing the PR by default. It wasn't because I was good at PR, it was because I knew the books and was pushy. I wanted to be involved with the publishing of Fanta and saw the PR opening as a way in at a time that I was burning out on the Comics Journal. I'm not by any means a great PR guy. But I know comics pretty well and I think I'm pretty good with people. The rest could be learned on the job, and it was mostly my sincere interest in the work that steered me. So the PR sensibilities developed from my love of comics as a fan and cartoonist. Editorially, I've often resisted my PR sensibilities to indulge my more transgressive tastes, with things like Dirty Stories, Hysteria in Remission, the comics of Johnny Ryan. On the other hand, with Mome, I'm much more conscious of trying to reach a broader audience.

PWCW: What have been some of your favorite projects to work on in that time?

ER:Mostly books that I played a part in shepherding into existence. Mome, Dirty Stories, and books by Robert Williams, Johnny Ryan, Robert Pollard, Gene Deitch, Esther Pearl Watson, Daniel Clowes, and others. And there have been so many great friendships through Fantagraphics, authors and coworkers. I met my wife at Fantagraphics. Most of my closest friends I met through Fantagraphics in the last 15 years. And the cartoonists. Clowes, the Hernandez Brothers, Joe Sacco, Jim Woodring, Charles Burns, Robert Crumb, Robert Williams, Jeremy Eaton, Gene Deitch, Johnny Ryan, Zak Sally, Jordan Crane, and so many others. These are people I greatly admire and would like to think I will remain friends with even after I leave Fantagraphics. My life would be completely different without Fantagraphics.

PWCW:Mome has been around for four or five years, and it seems there are more fine emerging cartoonists than ever. Do you see a change in the development path of cartoonists since Momebegan with more access to the Internet and so on?

ER:I guess it has. When we conceived Mome it was going to be a set roster of about 10 artists and that quickly proved untenable. Part of it was the fact that we had a year and a half lead-time between when we first conceived the magazine and when we put out the first issue. A funny thing happened: several of the cartoonists who were invited to be in Momeblossomed on other fronts and got book deals and comic book deals. It quickly became apparent that the people in the original lineup already had other books they were working on. It forced us to approach things a little differently and so in a lot of ways it's become a more traditional anthology, opening it up to be a bit wider to more people.

PWCW: Have any of the Mome stories spun out into collections?

Mome #16 cover by Renee French

ER:The first serials that will be collected from Mome will be Tim Hensley's Wally Gropius, which we're publishing in the spring¾it's one of my absolute favorite things that's been in Mome. Paul Hornschemeier'sLife With Mr. Dangerousis coming out from Villard, also in the spring. Those are among the first two long form serials that ran inMometo be finished. Dash Shaw also has his collection coming out in October from us,The Unclothed Man, which will collect all his Mome short stories along with some other stuff.

PWCW: Who are some of the young cartoonists whose work you are most excited about?

ER:What is young? Unsurprisingly, many of my answers would be people from Mome. But that's the great thing about comics unlike other art forms, you don't need to be "young" to establish yourself if you have something to say. I think Dash Shaw is pretty incredible and will probably be seen as a quintessential part of a new generation of alternative cartoonists. I like Jon Vermilyea and Laura Park a lot. But I'm also excited about people like Tim Hensley and Esther Pearl Watson, Al Columbia and Jordan Crane, even though they're all closer to my age.

PWCW: It seems that art schools all take their cartooning courses a lot more seriously now, and there are more and better grads than ever. Do you look at the people coming out of schools like CCS and the Savannah College of Art and Design?

ER:The really hard part about editing an anthology like Mome is that there are more decent cartoonists out there than ever, particularly in regard to craft. There's a lot of good looking comics so it's a matter of winnowing it down to the stuff that resonates with me that I think deserves a wider audience. There's a lot of good stuff from CCS, MCAD, SCAD, SVA, any number of decent cartoonists coming out every year.

PWCW: What are some of the projects you have coming out in the next few months that are most dear to your heart?

ER:I'm finishing up a new book collecting Robert Williams' paintings from this decade. It's called Conceptual Realism, and it's pretty fantastic, and will be the catalog for a big exhibition of his at the Tony Shafazzi Gallery in the fall.

PWCW:Fantagraphics has branched out a lot, with art books and prose books¾do you see yourself doing more art books in that "Pop Surrealism" vein?

ER: I really admire Williams and feel like he's the king of that hill. He's the Jack Kirby of that movement. Working on this book really reaffirmed how great he is, and he spawned this whole massive West Coast movement, a lot doesn't of which doesn't come up to the same standards as his. I see a lot of that stuff that's real good looking but doesn't particularly excite me in the way that a comic does.

As for other art books, [Fantagraphics Art Director] Jacob Covey did his Beast books that were really amazing. He's about to put out a book of the art of Dutch artist Femke Hiemstra; she's great and he did an amazing job packaging it. He's also doing a book of art from VHS boxes of low budget B movies and exploitation films from the early 80s called Portable Grindhouseand a collection of the sci-fi cover art of Richard Powers.

As for other projects I'm excited about, I'm really excited about the Nancy books [ a recently announced reprinting of Ernie Bushmiller's Nancy comic strip], and also, I've been promoting the Monte Schulz novel, This Side of Jordan,that's coming out next month and it's been a real pleasure to get to know him. I'm eager to see how that does when it comes out.

PWCW: Let's wrap this up with a business question. What do you see as some of the particularly challenges for Fantagraphics in the coming year? It's been a difficult time in the book retailing business.

ER: The book industry has been in a state of flux for at least a year or two years. I think that's going to continue as everyone adapts to the larger challenges that print media is facing, and that's going to affect anybody that publishes in print. It comes down to electronic delivery and the shrinking book market in general and just how you navigate these sorts of things.

For instance, Amazon has been outr #1 vendor for the last few years, but the Kindle is going to affect the way that they sell books. As they change, it's going to affect how they buy and sell our books. Not necessarily bad things, but things that need to be considered and planned ahead for.

PWCW: A lot of people are talking about the continued niche-ification of how all pop culture is marketed. Fantagraphics has always been a niche, in terms of publishing art comics, but do you see any further nichification with various lines and so on?

Robert Williams Conceptual RealismER: I don't know about that. One of the things that's encouraging to me as the economy affects us all, is that I feel we haven't ever had a lot of fat and we haven't been one of those publishers that, even in more prosperous times, has over extended ourselves. So in a weird way I feel we're better positioned to deal with the economy and this year so far that's proven to be the case.

Without making it sounds like we're totally awesome, we face the same problems that any understaffed, under-funded company does, but we're streamlined, and there's not a lot of fat to be cut. We're in a better position to stay competitive through tough times. Don't get me wrong, it's been a slow year—not a disaster, but we've felt it a bit. But we've also seen signs this summer that it's starting to get a little bit better. If we can get through this year as we expect to, by Christmas and early next year, things will level out.