The following is an interview with Harvey and Eisner-nominated cartoonist and editor Glenn Head, who is also the author of the soon-to-be-released graphic novel, Chicago. In this interview, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor Barbra Dillon chats with Head about his inspiration for writing the book, his six-year creative process for the project, and what makes the comic book medium such a challenging, yet rewarding, medium!
Barbra Dillon, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor: Later this year, Fantagraphics will be releasing your original graphic novel, Chicago. What inspired you to tell your story, and what do you hope that readers will take away from it?
Glenn Head: Chicago is a story I’ve been wanting to tell since I first began doing autobiographical comics thirty-some years ago. It’s a coming-of-age story about leaving everything behind: safety; sanity; normalcy; family; friends; and school – just to roll the dice to see what happens.
First of all, I want readers to be engaged, entertained, drawn into this tale of a slightly nutty nineteen-year-old kid from the suburbs who just takes off and drops out. But, then I really want them to feel for him, his struggle, for how it feels to be homeless, crazy, alone. To experience the journey through his eyes as he grows up.
BD: Given your close connection to the story and the 6-year creative process of its development, was it challenging to finalize the project or did you easily know when it had reached its completion?
GH: Finalizing the project wasn’t that difficult—drawing the whole thing was! Finding the essential part of the story is, for me, the most difficult part of doing an autobiographical narrative, because there are always a lot of things going on in one’s own life, but what are the essentials? One was the relationship between myself and my father. This represents—in one way—innocence versus experience. My conversations with him are the jumping off point for the story. Him offering me “good advice” on how to live and me ignoring it. This is a story about the artist’s need to experience things firsthand.
BD: You have amassed an incredible resume of cartooning, illustrating, and editing. Why do you feel that Chicago stands apart from your previous work?
GH: Chicago is the most ambitious, unflinching autobiography I’ve ever done. Most all of my comics have been at least semi-autobiographical, but this one really is about my own life and how various events affected it. Fear, anxiety, love, starvation, insanity, art, suicide. All are explored in Chicago. And, in great depth.
BD: Having worked in various mediums of sequential art (cartoons, graphic novels, etc.), do you find that some mediums are more challenging or rewarding than others? Likewise, are there any other storytelling mediums in which you have not yet ventured but would be interested in doing so?
GH: Sometimes, I think comics is the hardest art form, because so much is required of the artist. It’s a complicated form to work in, and it really has to function on a very basic level. I’d love to make movies. I think I’d rather watch a movie than look at a comic, even! But, I can’t imagine working with other people. How do you get them to do your bidding? I can barely get my daughter out of bed in the morning! Dealing with a huge cast, crew, and budgeting just to realize your vision? Forget it. I’ll deal with the torture of drawing a graphic novel instead!
BD: Are there any other upcoming projects in the works that you are able to share with our readers?
GH: I’m working on another memoir right now about my childhood. Much of it takes place in a boarding school in Mendham, NJ, in the early 1970s. Chartwell Manor. It’s quite a harrowing story.
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell fans who want to learn more about Chicago and your body of work?
GH: Chicago is the end result of decades of work in comics. Not just the six years it took to draw it, but the things I learned by editing anthologies like Snake Eyes and Hotwire, and drawing shorter autobiographical and fiction comics. I feel like everything I’ve learned or dealt with in comics made its way into Chicago, just on a much more ambitious and yet very personal scale.
And, hey . . . Chicago is available at Fantagraphics.com. ComiXology is also a great place to get comics—try them. There’s also your local comic shop; those guys are the best! They’ll be carrying Chicago. Independent bookstores, they carry graphic novels, so they’ll carry Chicago, too. Buy it, you won’t be disappointed! It’s a powerful, fast read—but also deeply personal. It’ll take you someplace you haven’t been before.
Check out my website, too: glennohead.com. It shows a lot of what I’ve done over the years. Do it now!