Dan Clowes and Philip K. Dick on Self-Publishing

OK, not really. But in the tradition of Cheryl Anne Gardner’s What a Pod Peep Reads, here’s what I’ve been reading:


The trajectory of underground comics is somewhat similar to that of self-publishing – something that no one took seriously, and now is given art exhibitions. From an interview with Dan Clowes:

Early in your career, did you find that people had a difficult time labeling you? The type of work you produced wasn’t your typical style of comic.

They still have a difficult time. I’ve been called everything from a “graphic novelist” to a “comic-strip novelist” to just a “cartoonist.” I’ve always preferred “cartoonist,” because that seems the least obnoxious.

I used to tell people I was a “comic-book artist,” but they’d look at me as if I’d just stepped in dog shit and walked across their Oriental rug. I never knew what to call myself, but I was always opposed to the whole “graphic novelist” label. To me, it just seemed like a scam. I always felt that people would say, “Wait a minute! This is just a comic book!” But now, I’ve given up. Call me whatever you want.

At what point did you notice that people were beginning to understand what a “graphic novel” actually meant?

For me, there was a sea change by 2001 or 2002, around the time the Ghost World movie was released. Average citizens like my parents’ neighbors started to say things like, “Oh, you do graphic novels! I love [Art Spiegelman’s] Maus!” A few years earlier, they would have thought of me as the lowest pornographer.

In the past, telling someone you self-published was often met with embarrassment.  Now, people are interested.

From an interview with Philip K. Dick:

SFR: Why do you think your books have sold so well in foreign countries, and not as well in America?

DICK: Well, the first answer that comes to mind is “Damned if I know.” Perhaps it’s the general attitude towards science fiction in European countries, accepting it as a legitimate form of literature, instead of relegating it to the ghetto, with the genre, and regarding it as sub-standard. The prejudice is not there in France, Holland, England, and Germany, and Poland that we have in this country against science fiction. The field is accepted, and it doesn’t have anything to do particularly with the quality of my writing, it has to do with the acceptance of the field of science fiction as a legitimate field.

Interesting – I’m in America so I don’t really know if the stigma issue with self-publishing is the same as it is in the States. Philip K. Dick once had to beg for attention, now his books are put out by the Library of America.

All that self-publishing needs to legitimize it is two geniuses on the level of Dan Clowes and Philip K. Dick. That’s all.

But there’s a similarity too between comics, science fiction, and self-publishing, in that self-publishing allows writers to create without constraint – they don’t have to worry about what editors currently think is marketable, so it doesn’t limit the imagination. Any critics of self-publishing should consider this – it’s an amazing advantage. Something, really, to be encouraged.  Yes, there’s a difference between a genre and a printing method, but the reaction to each has been similarly condescending. As self-publishing becomes more a part of the culture, it may take on the respectability of graphic novels or science fiction – two mediums that were virtually ignored, even mocked, for decades and are now part of the respectable mainstream.

  • Thanks for the shout-out Henry. I love hearing about what other authors are reading. I think it’s important that authors new to the self-publishing arena understand that we are not totally anti-traditional publishing, that there is good stuff out there everywhere, and more importantly, we read the shit out of everything we can get our hands on. I’ve always been a big fan of graphic novels and comic books too.

  • Pigeonholing Philip K Dick a sci-fi author is about as misguided as calling Patricia Highsmith a thriller author, or classifying Kurt Vonnegut as sci-fi for that matter. But apparently the Merkin Marketing Machine likes its holes.

    • Don’t get that at all. Of course he’s a science fiction author. And classifying him as that isn’t a negative. It’s not pigeonholing. If you see the interview quote, he classifies himself as a writer of science fiction.