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Pardon me while I lift Michael Wenthe‘s biography directly from Georgetown Day School’s website. He’s about to start teaching there, including a class on comics:
Michael has worked as an assistant professor and instructor, respectively, at American University and Yale University where he taught everything from modern American literature to The Canterbury Tales. A Rhodes Scholar, Michael earned his BA in English from Duke University, an MPhil in English Studies from Oxford University, and a PhD in English from Yale University, and. He has numerous academic publications and presentations to his credit and has a particular interest in Arthurian literature and graphic novels.
On top of that, Michael’s been doing minicomics for years. He’s lectured on comics books (including once to an audience which included Lynda Barry, Chris Ware, and Alison Bechdel), and he is now involved with a Kickstarter graphic novel campaign. Michael won’t be at Small Press Expo this weekend, but his cartooning partner Isaac Cates will be there selling books.
Washington City Paper: What type of comic work or cartooning do you do?
Michael Wenthe: I both write and draw comics, but I should note that I’ve done almost all my work in comics since 2001 with my cartooning partner Isaac Cates, and there’s no easy division between our contributions in terms of writing or drawing—-each of us both writes and draws, and we constantly share ideas, suggestions, and critiques, even if one or the other of us may do the final art for a given story.
Right now Isaac and I are contributing stories and features to an all-ages anthology series (for which Isaac is mastermind, editor, and publisher) called Cartozia Tales, which tells stories set all across the map of a fantasy world called Cartozia. I’m one of a group of eight core contributors—-four women and four men—-and we share ideas, concepts, place names, character designs, you name it. Each separate story is the work of just one contributing cartoonist (or two, in the case of Isaac and me), but the stories are informed by everyone else’s contributions, especially as the series continues and we build on each other’s established characters and concepts. We also build on the contributions of terrific guest artists, who include Dylan Horrocks, Jon Lewis, Adam Koford, and James Kochalka for the first two issues, with other great guests scheduled for later in the series.
So for the moment the genre of my comics work is kid-appropriate (but adult-friendly) fantasy fiction, which can shift in tone from playful and silly to serious and thoughtful. Before this, Isaac and I did a variety of minicomics in various tones and formats, mostly (but not always) fiction, and mostly for two series called Satisfactory Comics and Elm City Jams (after New Haven, Conn., where we used to live).
WCP: How do you do it? Traditional pen and ink, computer or a combination?
MW: Usually brush, pen, and ink on paper for the finished art, with occasional computer correction or adjustment of scans. Lately Isaac has handled the digital fixes and color work because he’s so much more proficient with Photoshop.
WCP: When (within a decade is fine) and where were you born?
MW: I was born four decades ago in South Carolina.
WCP: Why are you in Washington now? What neighborhood or area do you live in?
MW: I teach English at the high-school campus of Georgetown Day School, which is located not in Georgetown but rather Tenleytown—-just a short walk from where I live.
WCP: What is your training and/or education in cartooning?
MW: Most of my “training” has been haphazard and informal. I’ve gleaned a lot from conversations with cartoonists and scrutiny of the masters, but the most practical training has been to learn by doing. Working with Isaac has also been hugely instructive; every comic we’ve made has taught me something or other about cartooning and storytelling. By the same token, it’s great to be privy to so much of the process of our fellow Cartozia contributors: We all have different styles and approaches to cartooning, and there’s plenty to learn from and think about.
WCP: Who are your influences?
MW: While I’m sure there are others, far and away the biggest and most lasting influence on me is Walt Kelly. At age 7, when I discovered Walt Kelly‘s Pogo, I decided I wanted to be a cartoonist—-not just when I grew up, but then——so I set about imitating his work assiduously, even slavishly. As a result, my native cartooning voice has a strong Walt Kelly accent, though here again working with Isaac and others has helped me stretch my styles on occasion.
WCP: If you could, what in your career would you do over or change?
MW: For me cartooning has been an avocation rather than a career, but I can say that I would like to have cartooned more regularly and, as a reader, to have been steered toward alternative comics a lot earlier than I was.
WCP: What work are you best known for?
MW: Given the degree of coverage that the first issue of Cartozia Tales has received, it just might be my best-known work, even though it’s the youngest. Before that, it would surely be Satisfactory Comics—-our last few issues generated several reviews and a joint interview online with Isaac and me.
WCP: What work are you most proud of?
MW: Cartozia Tales. I think the project as a whole is built on strong storytelling foundations and is continuing to develop in interesting directions, and the quality of my fellow contributors’ work is a good spur to my own efforts.
WCP: What would you like to do or work on in the future?
MW: Right now it’s enough to focus on the continuing stories of Cartozia; I hope that will carry me through the next year, at least!
WCP: What do you do when you’re in a rut or have writer’s block?
MW: Either I turn to another of the many tasks of cartooning and storytelling—-there’s always some other element at hand other than the problematic one—-or I talk out the problem with Isaac.
WCP: What do you think will be the future of your field?
MW: I think I’ll pass on prognostication!
WCP: What local cons do you attend? The Small Press Expo, Intervention, or others? Any comments about attending them?
MW: I’ve gone to SPX most years, if only for a day; I love the energy and abundance of the comics there and the strength of its panels and programming. And with my wife and daughter I visited the first Awesome Con D.C. this spring, where we attended a Futurama panel with Billy West and Phil LaMarr the very day before the show’s final cancellation was announced.
WCP: Do you have a website or blog?
MW: Go to Cartozia.com for overall info about the current series (including a link to its Kickstarter page, which seeks support to fund our first 10-issue run. My earlier comics and drawings in partnership with Isaac Cates may be explored at satisfactorycomics.blogspot.com.