COMICS!!! That’s right, comics. You love’em and so do we. Earlier this summer the TMBLWDS crew took our annual field trip to the spectacle that is Phoenix ComiCon. Through a maze of artist alleyways and swarms of cosplayers we came across an anomaly, even by ComiCon standards. Damon Begay – Phoenician, artist, publisher, movie buff, and most importantly, super-cool dude – took some time to chat with us while manning his table at the event. It was so great to see one of ours, a Native American, being featured at such a prolific event. Since then, we’ve been following Damon and his brainchild, Interstellar Comix. We caught up with Damon recently to see what he’s been up to and to share his work with our friends here at OxDx. Enjoy!
So, Damon. We here at OxDx think you're doing some pretty cool stuff. But, the question on everyone's mind is, "Who is Damon Begay?"
I am a Navajo indie comic book artist from Phoenix who loves comics, movies, video games and books. I mostly read indie comics now, because I would feel like a hypocrite if I made indie books and never picked up other people’s indie comics. Marvel and DC make it easy for me though, because I am tired of reading books about white guys saving the world.
I used to love watching Woody Allen films and movies about love, like Chasing Amy and 500 Days of Summer. But, I find myself watching more Kung Fu and cheesy, grindhouse movies. My favorite video game is Tekken 5! I play other fighting games like Smash Bros. Melee, Street Fighter 4, Marvel vs. Capcom 2, and Mortal Kombat X. I watch a lot of competitive fighting game videos, too!
Reading is the bomb. I mostly read Ray Bradbury books because there’s so much to read, and whatever my friend, Jeff Slim, recommends, like The Nonexistent Knight by Italo Calvino.
From what I can tell, Interstellar Comix is a solo operation. You write, draw, and publish your books independently. Can you share a little about your experience and the DIY approach in the medium of comics?
Yeah, for the most part I write, draw, scan, print, fold and staple all by myself. I worked on a story with Majerle Lister in Interstellar Comix #2 about an explorer’s experience going into the future. Majerle wrote the script and he gave me tons of freedom to interpret his writing visually. I hope to continue working with Majerle on more comics.
The thing about self-publishing is you’re always searching for ways to save money on printing. Luckily, I found a cheap online printer that allows me to print colored covers and add more pages to my books, which helps keep the price of the books reasonable.
Since there are more pages, I want to have more contributors to the comics, but keep it so the creators are Native American. Majerle is Navajo, too, and my girlfriend has her own web comic called The Pretty Okay Adventures of Tatum. So I am finding more awesome Native artists to work with.
That’s great! I’m sure there are tons of Native artists that would love to contribute to Interstellar Comix now that you’ve mentioned it. How’s the life of a DIY-er?
My experience in DIY comics has been a lot of learning from mistakes. For example, my first book was 16 pages and I had no scanner. The pages were 11”x 17” bristol board, so I took it to Office Max. Because of the thick and larger paper I was using, each scanned page costed like two dollars. That added up quick and didn’t even factor in the printing cost!
Since then, I’ve learned how to cut costs. I took an 8 ½” x 11” scanner, then taped two 8 ½” x 11” pages together and drew on them. Then I scanned each half separately and put the pages back together with Photoshop to save on scanning costs. Little things like this are how I saved money for a larger scanner. I believe DIY comics are filled with techniques like this. It is in no way professional and very tedious, but it was the only way my comics would see print.
Awesome! That’s definitely being creative in more ways than one. What is the most difficult part of being the creator of an indie comic book?
For me, the most difficult part of being an indie comic book creator is the RESPECT. You don’t get very much of it. I’m not a guy who demands respect. But, I do get angry when someone comes to my table and says my books aren’t real comics because they don’t have Deadpool or Harley Quinn in them.
I make mini-comics, so people are often confused by the size as well. My comics are smaller than the average comic book, so people don’t think they’re real comics. I don’t experience this often, but the few times it happened, I tend not to forget. LOL!!!
Your work initially reminded me of a happy collision between Stan Sakai and the Hernandez brothers. How would you describe your collection of work to those unfamiliar?
Whoa! Thanks. That means a lot. Jaime Hernandez is one of my favorite comic book artists. I love how he draws women with all the curves, even the non-flattering ones. Jaime has been a huge influence on my art style and storytelling.
I saw what the Hernandez brothers did in Love and Rockets and their anthology of stories, mixing ‘slice of life’ with weird, out-there science fiction, and I copied it, or at least tried to. I love Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo comic. I read a good amount of the book, but never took any direct inspiration from it.
One aspect of Interstellar Comix that I particularly enjoy is the varying storylines. One minute we're battling gigantic monsters with G-Ma and her giant robot. The next minute we're immersed in a character expressing real human emotions in a relatable setting. How do you manage to shift between storylines and keep things interesting?
When I first started making comics I could never get past 8 pages. My interest in the story would be gone by then. I kept hitting this wall until I read a comic published by Image called Catalyst Comix. It’s a 24 page comic that tells three stories in each issue.
I thought I could tell a longer story if I broke it into chunks. So, I would want to draw robots, then I would want to draw some romance, and I would continue this way until I had enough pages to print a full book. There is no secret to juggling the stories. I just have too many story ideas to settle on just one. So, I decide to tell them all at once.
As a Native American artist, how do you incorporate cultural identity into your work?
In my early childhood I was raised on the Rez, but my family was not very traditional. So I didn’t know a whole lot about Navajo traditional culture or the language. After I finished high school in Phoenix I started to get serious about making comics. One comic I wanted to make was about the Twin Monster Slayers. While researching for the comic, I found that I wanted to know more about the Navajo culture and the language.
I incorporate cultural identity into my work by making most of the main characters brown. Right now that is all I feel like I can do, make more characters Navajo with similar backgrounds as myself. Once I learn more about my culture and become a better writer, I’ll integrate more into my comics.
As for now, I think my comic G-Ma comes from me being Navajo. It is a story based in the future, where the Navajo Reservation is one of the few pieces of land left in a world mostly covered by the ocean. It is up to a grandma and her four grandkids to pilot a giant robot to protect the Rez from mutant monsters and other people looking to steal some land.
As a Native American, I feel the topic of land always comes up. I am very grateful to be one of the few tribes that were able to keep the land we are originally from. G-Ma is about me protecting what little is left of my heritage, and imagining myself as a grandparent and how I would teach my grandkids.
Your books are available in both print and digital formats. As an indie publisher and as a fan of comics, what are your thoughts on print vs. digital comics?
I got this question at the perfect time. I think I actually have an opinion now. Before I would have said print would always win, because you don’t need electricity or an Internet connection. I recently got the app, Comixology, it’s amazing and very convenient.
I think what Marvel is doing is great, selling the physical copies with a code to get the digital version as well. I feel like both are needed. I still live with my parents and have limited space, so now I can conserve space and keep buying books. Also there are lots of books I want to read but don’t need to own.
Now I try to only buy physical books of characters I collect or of creators I love. I have one PDF of some old, terrible comic books I made in high school and during the early years of college called The Ups and Downs of a Teen Comic Book Artist on Gumroad. Also, two of my ongoing series, Sexually Active and G-Ma, are on a web comic site called Tapastic.
If you had to choose one song that best describes your work, what would it be?
I think it would be This is the Day by The The. I feel like the song is about nostalgia. All my stories are about high school, past relationships, and old Godzilla and Power Rangers stuff I used to watch.
Nice pick! That’s a great tune, lyrically poignant yet very optimistic. I dig it. What can we, the fans, look forward to from Interstellar Comix in the coming months?
I want to do a Kickstarter or Indiegogo because I am drawing faster than I can afford to print! Over the summer I made a 24 page comic in 24 hours called Living Weapons and I am almost done with Interstellar Comix #5.
Where can people find your books and follow along with Interstellar Comix?
I am on Tapastic with two series, Sexually Active and G-Ma. Interstellar Comix on Facebook, Danger Comics on tumblr, and 92kickstart on Instagram.
Thanks for your time, Damon! Any final thoughts?
Thanks! This is officially my first interview! Hopefully my answers made sense.
There you have it folks! Straight from the man himself. Now go out and follow Damon, support his work, secure your street-cred now so you don’t have to lie to your friends in 5 years about being into Interstellar Comix way back when. Thanks for reading!
TMBLWDS is the blog machine of OXDX founder, Jared Yazzie, and crew. Check out TMBLWDS for behind the scenes action. MUSIC. FOOD. TRAVEL. STUFF.