Below is the transcription of the podcast attached above.

ComicsVerse: Hey everybody this is Brian from ComicsVerse. We’re coming to you from the New York Comic Con, and I’m talking to you today with the artist and writer of the new graphic novel TETRIS: THE GAMES PEOPLE PLAY, Box Brown. Mr. Brown, Box? Can I call you Box?

Box Brown: Yes!

CV: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us today. So, the first question I wanted to ask you — this is the second graphic novel you’ve done that has a nonfiction focus. You also did ANDRE THE GIANT: LIFE AND [LEGEND], which was a great graphic novel. I was a big fan of that. I was wondering, a lot of people associate graphic novels with memoirs, but there aren’t too many biographies that people have done. I was curious what draws you to doing these nonfiction graphic novels?

Brown: So, I started doing nonfiction years ago with — I did a series called EVERYBODY DIES which was a nonfiction look at religion. And, y’know, I’m just a huge fan of documentary film and, like, that just has…I don’t know, there’s something about, like…sometimes I’ll see a biopic or a movie that’s like, y’know. And I’ll just think “Why make this fictionalized?” Y’know what I mean? The real story, the things that happened in real life, are amazing! You know what I mean? Why not just tell that story? And so it just seeps into my comics, I guess? A lot of times I’ve wanted to make video games before, and I kinda just make them into comics. Or just do drawings of stuff…I did a whole series of screenshots for a fake video game I wanted to make. It’s my little way of realizing the dream. So that’s what I do.

WATCH: Want more interviews from NYCC? Check out our interview with Amy Reeder and Brandom Montclare!

CV: It’s interesting you mention documentaries. When you make a documentary there’s this sort of objectivity to the camera and I think it’s interesting that you’re in a position where you’re the artist, you have to create for us events that happened. Do you ever find your role as both the guy telling us the history and the artist trying to create something wholly from scratch ever comes into conflict?

Brown: Yeah, I mean I think there’s times where I take artistic license for sure. Sometimes you have the basics of a conversation, like what they discussed, but not like the exact things. And people don’t just sit there and discuss and talk about facts, they have little jokes with each other and interact with each other. And so I try to do stuff like that to make it feel more real. Yeah, I try to stick as closely to the facts as I can, but you have to make it interesting. I really try to do that via the art, you know what I mean? I really like the idea of organizing information in a visually pleasing way. So, a lot of this really does appeal to me. And I really love storytelling. I love the ups and downs of storytelling.  I love when you’re telling a story to somebody, tou highlight the parts that you think are interesting, and you have, innately — people can tell stories where you have a build up to it, and then finally there’s a point to the story. So doing that too, I do fiction work too, that helps inform my nonfiction. It helps me find the story and figure out ways to tell a story that might not be the myth of the hero or something like that.

Art by Box Brown from ANDRE THE GIANT: THE LIFE AND LEGEND
Art by Box Brown from ANDRE THE GIANT: LIFE AND LEGEND

CV: It’s funny you say myths, because I feel like Andre the Giant and TETRIS are massive, mythic pieces of an already huge medium. Andre being a big part of wrestling; TETRIS being a big part of video games. So what was it that drew you to the story of TETRIS for this graphic novel?

Brown: So, I saw a TETRIS documentary, and that was what kinda put the seed, the kernel, in my head. And then, also, around the same time, this was like kismet, Faith Erin Hicks who’s an artist for First Second [Books], might have seen the same documentary, and was talking to my editor about TETRIS and was like “That would make a really cool comic.” And actually she was the one who made the connection and was like “What about TETRIS?” I’m like “I just saw a documentary about TETRIS!” It was really weird in that the timing was crazy like that. But the thing with TETRIS and with video games and with pro wrestling and with comics, you’re very much…people don’t see them universally as important art forms. There’s a stigma attached to them and you’re always fighting from behind, y’know? So, I think with my comics in general, and with these two books specifically, I’m trying to break down stereotypes around these things and focus on the fact that while they are, in some ways, for children, and while people might think of them as frivolous, they’re actually really, really important to humanity. The arts are how we connect as a society. The arts allow people to be in touch with emotions that they otherwise couldn’t access, and to think of them as frivolous, even though we do sometimes do them for fun or as a hobby or something like that, it’s also what makes the world go around. Besides, like your family, the things that get you up and out of bed in the morning are often arts. The things that you do in your free time are often arts. I think we need to broaden the definition of that and that’s something I try to do in TETRIS.

CV: You do a nice job right in the beginning, I think it’s the first 20 or so pages of the TETRIS book, you have this whole treatise on the history of games, which fits into what you’re saying, treating it more like an art form. I was curious, what is your research process like when you do these books, because I remember when reading the Andre the research bibliography that you had in the back was pretty extensive.

Brown: I did a bibliography for this, but it got, for some reason, accidentally cut out of the first edition. It’s online, and it will be in the second edition, so it’s a similar process. You voraciously seek out everything that’s ever been written about the subject before, and then as you get into the research you start looking for the people. Are these people still alive? They might have some opinions about these things. Or maybe there was something they didn’t quite say in all these other things. It was difficult to reach out, to find everybody. I got to talk to a handful of people. Gilman Louie, who was involved on the business side of the TETRIS thing, and he gave me tons of insight. They didn’t know how to market TETRIS. Even though it was instantly addictive, they still had to market it.

LISTEN: How outrageous is JEM? Find out in our interview with artist Sophie Campbell!

CV: How do you market just blocks falling?

Brown: Right, that’s when they came up with the whole evil, coming from Russia, this evil, or dangerous thing that snuck out of Russia. But it was important, because it helped sell the game. And at the time, the U.S. was obsessed with Russia, kind of. If you look at media at the time there was tons of mysterious…they were our “enemy” let’s say, but also our rival. We were really fascinated by how they do things and how it was so different than the way we do things. They didn’t have profit to motivate them, and that was like inconceivable to us at the time, y’know?

CV: What I’m also curious about is when you are doing the research do you ever get moments where you’re like, “Okay that’s something I definitely need to visualize,” or there’s some things where you say you know what that’s better off being some kind of narration, narrative box, something like that?

Brown: Yeah, I mean, there’s certain details sometimes when you’re working on it where you’re just like, that’s not all that important to the central plot. You kinda skip over here and there. But y’know, there’s always stuff you come across that’s surprising. There’s a part in the TETRIS book about one of the creators of TETRIS that ended up killing himself and his family, and that was like shocking as hell. And I almost thought about not including it, but I felt that I had to because one of the themes of the book is about the perils of capitalism. This is the same thing that you look at when people win the lottery and their life goes to shit. Like they stop talking to all their family. We think of success like that, as just like a cure all for everything, but as Notorious B.I.G. said, “mo’ money, mo’ problems.” In some ways it exacerbates existing problems in things like that. It’s something that maybe couldn’t have been talked about in 1990 because there was too much animosity still towards communism, but I think enough time has passed that we can look back at those things and see what aspects of them did work. The idea that an artist could create something without having to worry about…I mean, not that he didn’t have worries, he had a job and stuff, he had to do this in his free time, but at no point was he thinking about selling it. It changes… the way a lot people think about their own art and their own art work. What if it’s just something that you do and you don’t have to make money from it or worry about that stuff?

CV: Especially when modern video games seem so driven by commerce and making money.

Brown: Yeah…what I found in the research is the thing that makes a game really good is not the graphics, it’s not the story, it’s all these things working together to create a strong experience of play. That’s what TETRIS did so great. That’s the purity of game making, is to make the actual play part of it the highlight. So a lot of times, it’s so driven by technology that things aren’t good unless they’re the top, top notch graphics. TETRIS is such a good example where they didn’t have any of that and it was still was successful.

box2
Art by Box Brown from TETRIS: THE GAMES PEOPLE PLAY

CV: So when you first started out you said you were working on a nonfiction book called Everybody Dies —

Brown: EVERYTHING DIES.

CV: EVERYTHING DIES, excuse me, and now you’re working on your own independent press, Retrofit Press, can you tell us a little about how that all got started and what you guys have been putting out?

Brown: It got started because I was self-publishing and I had a subscription for my self-publishing stuff. I found that, for one thing, if you do a subscription, you can get a lot of money upfront to help kind of fund your way through this thing, and also, when a new issue came out, the old issues would start selling again. And I just kept thinking “I wish I could make these comics faster; if I could put out a new one every month I could make a living.” So that’s what got me thinking about doing a subscription service with other artists where there was something that came out every month, but I can’t work that fast. I think one year I put out five issues and that was the most ever, most pages I ever did in my life that year.

CV: Because you do most of the work on it. Do you letter as well as ink?

Brown: Yeah, I hand letter everything. It’s like the “European style” or “auteur style” comics.

CV: It’s the complete Box Brown experience.

Brown: Yeah, yeah, because all of that stuff is important to me because I can’t really…I could never…I could I guess, if someone paid me to, but I couldn’t really write without drawing a comic. I never sit down and write a script; my writing is all done both at the same time because I can’t really get from point A from point B with just words. I need the pictures to help me get there.

CV: You’re a very visual thinker.

Brown: I guess, a little bit. So a lot of the works that we focus on with Retrofit are people that are working like that. Also, when I was coming up with this idea, the graphic novel was taking over, and it has. And it’s a great thing, but it’s very hard to just sit down and start with…start making a graphic novel because it’s such a huge thing. Especially when you’re first getting started, by the time you’ve finished the graphic novel, your style will have developed so much throughout those 200 pages or whatever it is. So I think the short story is really, really important because it allows people to develop as artists, but also, you can kind of say things with a short story that you can’t really say with a big, long…graphic novels sometimes feel very epic, whereas you can do a short story that’s just about a single feeling and can still be very profound, and simple, and cheap. It doesn’t require a big investment from the customer.

WATCH: Want insights into the current Captain America book? Watch our interview with writer Nick Spencer!

CV: It’s kind of amazing how it parallels the actual printed word of short stories and novels. Now novels are taken so seriously, but if you’re first starting out, you gotta write short stories.

Brown: Yeah, I always think short stories get short shrift. So I try to do…you know, fight against that. And it’s going really good. Every book that comes out blows my mind. I’m always so happy working with the other artists. It really does help inform my own artwork, just working with other artists and seeing how they do things, and everybody’s approach is a little bit different, so it’s all fun for me.

CV: Any Retrofit books you would recommend to anyone who wants to check it out for the first time?

Brown: Our two most recent books, or three most recent books are all really great. OUR MOTHER by Luke Howard is about his mother; it’s an autobiographical, kind of, story, because there’s a lot of weird other stuff in it, but it’s informed by the fact that his mother was mentally ill, so it’s about dealing with that. We did a book with Eleanor Davis called LIBBY’S DAD which is about a girl’s sleepover. She really captures this feeling of, not only excitement about the sleepover, but also these weird fears that girls have at that age. Then we have another book called I THOUGHT YOU HATED ME which is by Marie Naomi which is about two women’s friendship from children until adulthood. I think these are all subjects that don’t really get talked about in mainstream culture. I think they’re not only brilliant, funny, and visually appealing, but also important. We don’t strictly publish important works, but all the people I work with I feel like are doing interesting things.

box1

CV: How about yourself? Are there any books, I know TETRIS just game out, but are there any books we should keep an eye out for on the horizon from you?

Brown: So, I have another one coming out from First Second that hasn’t been announced yet, but I just finished the first draft on Sunday, so we’re in the editorial process there, so that’ll be out maybe next year, maybe the year after, but sooner or later.

CV: Great, we will have to keep an eye out for that. Any final things you want to tell readers? Anywhere we can find you online?

Brown: You can come check out my website boxbrown.com, and I’m always on twitter @boxbrown. And then there’s retrofitcomics.com and @retrofitcomics.

CV: Well, thank you guys for listening, I hope you enjoyed it. Make sure you check out Box Brown’s TETRIS: THE GAMES PEOPLE PLAY and make sure to check out all of our continuing coverage of New York Comic Con, signing off.

Advertisements

Show ComicsVerse some Love! Leave a Reply!

Check Also

MYOPIA #1 Review: Making Contact

MYOPIA #1 is a dense sci-fi epic that introduces us to a wildly entertaining and dystopian…