Mailbag Tuesday? Because of a particularly challenging feature this week, that is the case! Let’s get to an abbreviated, decidedly not comic-centric Q&A, led by some questions about my interview processes!
Welcome back! In your absence I had to start to my own comics feature on my newsletter. When you were first starting the site and podcast, how did you approach getting interviews? – Jon Auerbach
I had a bit of a head start with SKTCHD and Off Panel. When I first started those, I had already been writing about comics in some capacity for around five years at Multiversity Comics. I was one of the main folks over there, so I had established relationships and some level of awareness in who I was and what I was about within comics by the time I left. I was’t famous or something, but it gave me a foundation. When I was starting up SKTCHD and Off Panel, I leaned into those relationships.
It was certainly a challenge booking interviews early on at Multiversity, although part of that was because of my own hang-ups. “Why would someone ever want to talk to me?!” I thought, probably a time or two. The good news for me is I quickly realized I’m completely fine with someone saying no, at least when it comes to comics interviews. That ties into the main way I get interviews: I ask! If they say no, who cares? If they say yes, awesome! A lot of people put creators on a pedestal, but ultimately, they’re just people too. Remember that!
You’re asking about approach, though, which I suspect is more related to actually contacting people. My primary tactic is finding their website and then determining if there’s an email or contact form on said website. This is often the case. If there isn’t, I mostly rely on connecting via publishers, who obviously bring their own complications to the table. You can typically find information on working with publishers from a press capacity on their websites, with that increasing in difficulty the more notable the publisher is. I try to avoid contacting via social media as much as possible. It feels more invasive to me, and there’s a lot of noise out there, plus a lot of weirdoes. You don’t want to get lumped in with those. I’ll use it in a pinch, but I prefer avoiding it.
When you contact creators, though, be understanding. They are busy! A decline isn’t personal. They are either too busy or need to focus on other things. A lack of a response is in the same boat. But also, be clear in your email, emphasizing what you’re looking for and why they should talk with you rather than someone else, which is a real choice you are asking them to make. That can help set you apart from the rest, because typically, there are others you’re competing with.
Lastly: don’t start with Jim Lee or someone like that! Put in some reps before aiming for the top, both because that will make them agreeing easier, but also because it makes it likelier you’re not going to panic and blow the interview. I know that feel all too well from experience! Good luck!
Did your interviewing “ethos” develop organically or was it the result of deliberate study and decisions or a combination? By ethos I guess I’m referring to, for example, the extensive research you seem to do in preparation for your interviews and (perhaps in consequence of that research) your tendency to avoid questions your interviewees have already answered a million times elsewhere. Another hallmark that distinguishes your approach to interviewing from other famous comics interview podcasts is that you don’t interrupt your interviewees in the middle of their answers. When your guests are struggling to articulate an answer, you don’t fill the silence impatiently, make them feel rushed, or try to answer for them. That is such a valuable skill in interviewing, and in the comics space it seems rare, so I’m curious to hear anything about how you arrived at your interviewing “principles” even if it was an informal process. – Jonathan Olson
I’d love to tell you about my well-cultivated approach to interviewing, and how I read lots of books and listened to lots of conversations on the topic. How I spent years building up my methods, both through study and trial and error. I’d love to tell you that.
But I’m not sure I can.
It’s sort of just a thing that happened without me planning it, so I’d say it was organic. But if I had to pick four main drivers of my improvement as an interviewer those would be: a) constantly doing it for a long time, b) reading a whole lot of interviews in preparation for my chats, c) creating a plan ahead of each interview, and d) it’s sort of just how I talk! Let’s address the latter three first. In regards to item D, I once went out to dinner at NYCC with a couple comics folk when one asked me, “Are you interviewing us right now?” I said no, that’s just how I talk. I’m naturally curious! I ask questions! While I have a guide I work off of, most interviews are just me being me.
B and C can go together. I put a pretty robust document together ahead of time, most of which I ignore in the flow of the conversation, but it puts me in a position where I know what I’m talking about. Quite a bit of that stems from my own thoughts, either from reading comics or just things that pop up in my head. But a fair amount comes from the interviews I read. It’s less about the questions in those interviews and more about the answers. I want to know what creators hate being asked. I see those questions a lot. I avoid them as much as possible, unless I can reframe them in an interesting way. But I also try to consider the types of questions they enjoy, or previous answers that could be built off of. Again, it’s less about any specific question, and more about the style. But these two just come down to how I normally operate. I like being good at what I do, and this is how I would prepare for anything…which is to say I overprepare.
Lastly, the constantly doing this aspect. This is the most important part, in my mind. I look at it like this. Me getting better at interviewing is sort of like how water dripping on a stone slowly but surely erodes it. It didn’t happen because of some great revelation or some change in approach. It happened because of repetition and persistence. I read an interview. That’s a drip. I read a person’s comic. That’s a drip. I spend some time thinking about what I’m really trying to say. That’s a drip. I do an interview. That’s a drip. I talk to someone for a feature I’m writing. That’s a drip. Everything keeps dripping, until all I’m left with is…a fair to middling interviewer who is a lot better than he used to be. That’s all I can ask for.
So I wouldn’t say I have principles. But maybe I do! Maybe I’ll think of this more fully as part of a piece I was thinking of writing for SKTCHD! TBD!