Monday, December 03, 2007

Interview: Michael Comeau

The following is an interview I conducted a couple of weeks ago with local screenprinter and artist Michael Comeau for the Toronto Zine Library Resource Zine. Michael is an insanely brilliant guy, with a really amazing organic approach to making work. He is a member of the Punchclock Collective, a musician, and a long-time zine maker...

Do you remember your first encounter with a zine, or the "zine world"? How and when were you first introduced to them?

The first zine I ever saw was "Something Smells" which was published by this Barrie hardcore band Phallocracy. It was the secret communique from the world of the older punks who worked at a lettuce packing warehouse. It had an interview with Bad Religion. I think it was '88 or something.

Do you think your early involvement with zine culture helped inform your practice as an artist/printmaker? Please explain.
Sure zines help inform my art practice. It first taught me about engaging with an audience. It all seems like the same practice. The same ideas translated through different media. The public digests information differently. When it is between the pages of a book held intimately within arms length, an experience for the individual. Or a painting on the wall ,a t-shirt for everyone else to see as well. It appears like people can tolerate more content (words, pictures, ideas in general) in book format than they can in something that hangs on their wall or their person. It also gave me as sense of a pragmatic cultural economy. I seem to have an idea of what that labour is worth and am constantly surprised by those who either feel entitled to get things for free or art patrons that only want something for a high price merely because it has a high price.

Zine/book/printmaking involves the use of modest materials and lo-tech methods of making. (silk screening, letterpress, etc.) The same could be said for handmade multiples. What attracts you to this way of working?
I like to conceptualize projects both "idea to production" and "production to idea". When I keep means of production under my own control i know better what to expect. Many times I will start with a material or a technique to use and create content to embody that idea. Or I can tailor an idea to what means i have available. I enjoy that the production shows my decisions as well as the design. You can tell if i print something because i am less concerned if it is messy and the public seems to like that novelty because of the sterility and uniformity of mass production.

What sorts of things influence your work? (People who are influences, concepts, things, etc.)
The Power of imagination, faith, hope, i think of these things alot. Imagination can change our lives and our world. If it can be imagined it can be accomplished. I am interested how people invest their faith both actively (organized religion etc.) or passively (believe what they see on tv). I don't think alot of people see that they have a choice in the matter anymore. It appears like viewpoints and perspectives are narrowing. From what you invest your faith in you get your own sense of hope. You can't get out of bed in the morning without hope. It invigorates you to persevere through the mundane and oppressive. I believe all these things can be diciplined like exercising a muscle and it is important not to let atrophy in individuals or communities.
I like to think of culture in terms of evolution and magic. It seems like a very natural for individuals or communities with an active interior life to want to express this somehow when their views are not mirrored in the society they are apart of. If you think of cultural objects as being infused with power like spells you can see how these spells are cast and how they affect us.
For example the image of the skinny white girl has been foisted on the world repeatedly by misogynist fashion industry until finally women are starving themselves to embody this image. The spell has conjured a reality. It is a matter of spiritual health to reflect what your true values are and it is not an absolute thing it is an ongoing practice of affirmation and reaffirmation like love or life itself.
Formally I am fascinated with the touch of the artist mediated through techincal means. Like using a photocopier in an intuitive way and the manual manipulation of ink through a screen. Each step of the mediation can contain the pressence of the individual.

Zine/book/multiples are a quietly subversive form of expression/creating. What are your thoughts on this, particularly pertaining to the multiple format?
The intimate nature of the format can lead to quiet contemplation that may burn in the imagination for longer, though i fear the discipline for a longer attention span is dwindling. Singular art pieces seem elitist I much prefer a more democratic multiple format it can be much more accesible. For example you don't have to be able to afford a computer to crack open a book.

Do you have an all-time favourite zine? A current (recent) favourite?
The zine that had the most impact on me was Cometbus. Aaron Cometbus was the drummer in Crimpshine and had a great perspective about being a poor punk from Berkeley travelling and rejiocing over simple things like free coffee and fascinating people. He also did amazing artwork using a photocopier. Other favourites are the psychadooolic minis by great canadian doodlers like Mark Connery, Marc Bell and Pete Thompson they where a big influence on how i view huge ideas in a modest format (check them out in the anthology Nog a Dod). Paper Rodeo was amazing as well. It was great to see wierdos from Providence do crazy comics presented in a free newspaper format with great handdrawn ads to fund it. Great surreal fantasy comics that present anarchist, community minded ideals by the likes of Mat Brinkman, Brian Chippendale, c.f., Lief Goldberg and many others.

Working collectively figures in both the worlds of zines (zine making, zine libraries) and printmaking (collectively-run studios, co-ops). You are a part of the Punchclock Collective in Toronto. Do you prefer working collectively/collaboratively? Why is it important to you?
Working collectively is important because doing art as a strictly solitary practice can lead to a loss of perspective and insanity (for me, anyways). I like to think of myself as involved in a conversation, a back and forth with my peers and audience. I wouldn't see much point in making art for my own benefit. It helps to find a purpose and reduce creative anxiety when others are involved with the process like sharing a co-operative print shop or the final product like publishing others. When i publish others it takes the responsibility of my own work to captivate the audience. Some have accused me of having a martyr like disposition as i am uncomfortable putting myself and my work first. I like to be embedded in a cultural fabric as much as I can like doing posters for an event that has a band playing. Different layers of connection and meaning.

Do you think it is important to preserve zines as an alternative form of communication? Why? What can zine-makers/zine readers/indie publishers do to facilitate this?
Any alternative to the deafening chorous of the consumerist monolith is important to our mental, spiritual and physical health. Active resistence is valuable in any form. It may seem overwhelming but really it is for the benefit of yourself and those in the trenches beside you. It is a way to seek out any kind of dignity in sick society that wants to kill itself.
People require an affirmation of the value of their own efforts. This is something cultural imperialism trys to disuade. Cultural institutions promote their own idea of value and history and what artist are cannonized. Picasso wasn't the "best artist" of the 20th century he was just promoted that way. Humans are incapable of defining what is absoulute especially when it comes to culture. We see it reflected in unnatural attitudes to agriculture and a need to reign in attitudes of entitlement to the "biggest and best". It is important to get more involved in local culture in a more organic way. To see the natural rhythms rather than market demands.
Zine fairs are great and i am encouraged to see the diversity of work presented there (books, zines, comics, t-shirts, crafts). I would like to see the format escape the indie ghetto more without the stigma of "low culture" and for more people to see the potential of having zines as a supplement to their regular practices.

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