Thursday, May 29, 2014

Ant Sang Interview


Ant Sang's Dharma Punks along with Adam Jamieson's Blink was one of the few New Zealand comics I was aware of in my teens that was available nationwide through bookshops and newsagents via Australasian distributors Gordon and Gotch. I had picked up the first issues of Ant's first series Filth on a rare trip to Auckland and finding Dharma Punks in a local book shop was impressive to see, for the progression in Ant's work and the fact it was now available in provincial New Zealand where access to comics and especially local ones was limited.

New publishing venture Earth's End have run a Dharma Punks kickstarter this month and successfully funded a collection of the eight part series within days. Three stretch goals have also been achieved with expanded back matter scheduled for inclusion upon reaching a $15,000 target.

Backers can expect an A5, 400 page collection with embossed cover, UV spot and french flaps with all eight full colour covers of the original series included in the book.

Please consider supporting the Collected Dharma Punks on Kickstarter.

The Dharma Punks synopsis:

"It's Auckland, New Zealand, 1994. A group of anarchist punks have hatched a plan to sabotage the opening of a multinational-fast food restaurant by blowing it sky-high on opening day.

Chopstick has been given the unenviable task of setting the bomb in the restaurant the night before the launch, but when he is separated from his accomplice, the night takes the first of many unexpected turns.
As the story unfolds, it becomes clear there is more at stake than was first realised, and the outcome of the night's events will change all of their lives in ways they could never have imagined."

The following interview with Ant Sang is excerpted from a longer piece covering Ant's career in The New Zealand and Australian Comics Interview Zine #2: Ant Sang available from the Pikitia Store in June.

What were the first comics you read?
I've been through heaps of phases of comic reading. The earliest comics I remember reading were cheap funnies. Richie Rich, Casper, Uncle Scrooge, that kind of stuff. When I was around six years old one of my favourites was Burne Hogarth's Tarzan of the Apes. I've still got it sitting on my bookshelf to this day.

What got you interested in making your own comics?
I tinkered with combining words and pictures when I was a kid, but I wasn't consciously trying to make comics at that time. It wasn't until my early twenties that I had the thought of actually making comics. I was studying graphic design, and going through a big existential crisis after a classmate died. A friend who was also into comics lent me a bunch of 'alternative comics' - Dan Clowes, Chester Brown, Julie Doucet - and it was a real revelation. For the first time I realised that comics could be raw, crude, angry and could talk frankly about a lot of issues which really connected with me. I was taken by the DIY ethic of a lot of the 'alternative comics' and figured that 'yeah, anyone can do comics', if they had something to say. It was soon afterwards that I started making my first mini-comic, Filth, to explore the thoughts going on in my head.

I remember a boom in self published comics in Auckland around the time Filth came out, I recall the work of Andy Conlan, Karl Wills, Adam Jamieson, and Willi Saunders amongst others, were you part of a comics community then?
Yeah the mid-nineties was a really exciting time in the Auckland comic scene. So many great comics were being made then, and there was a real camadarie amongst the Auckland cartoonists. We met for regular comic meetings and saw each other socially. Cornelius Stone used to have big parties at his flat in Mt Eden and he lived with Barry and Willi at various times. It was also a good time because it felt, not with just comics, but with music and film too, that there was some kind of cultural revolution in the air. 
Did you plan to have newsstand/bookshop distribution for Dharma Punks before starting the series? Did you approach any publishers with the work?
When I started working on The Dharma Punks, it was my first attempt at a long form story, and I didn't want it to be just a continuation of Filth. I felt it terms of story and production that I had to do something different. I had to up the ante I guess.

I had been to a heap of conventions by this time, hawking mini-comics at the NZ comics tables to a largely disinterested crowd. Over that time I had the chance to think about the mini-comic scene and came to a few conclusions. One was that a lot of potential readers didn't give mini-comics a chance because they just looked too weird. Too scratchy, too DIY, too lo-fi. I figured people were scared off them. And secondly, people are more likely to pick up comics which they recognise on some level. So my plan with The Dharma Punks was to try to package it differently and to promote the hell out of it, so that people would know about it. This wasn't the done thing at the time. I remember when I talked to another cartoonist mate about the idea he looked at me and said ' what are you going to do, walk around with a sandwich board?' So anyway, I found the cheapest printer I could find, and got the covers printed in colour, on a thicker stock. And I managed to get pretty good coverage on student radio and tv and magazine interviews. It seemed like a real media blitz, for a New Zealand comic anyway.

I can't remember when I thought newstand/bookshop distribution would be a good idea. It certainly wasn't the plan from the start. Probably not til quite close to the first issue being released. In the end most copies were still sold from comic shops, but having the comics on display at the newsstands/bookshops really helped with promotion and being visible.

I'm pretty sure I approached a couple of overseas publishers, probably some of the better known alternative publishers, but I don't think I heard back from them...

How long was the gestation process of Dharma Punks before the first issue came out? How far into the series were you when it launched?
The gestation period of Dharma Punks will have been about four years. When I finished Filth in 1997 I wanted to work on a longform story, but I had to brush up on my writing as I hadn't ever done a comic of substantial length. So for those four years I read heaps of screenwriting books, drew a number of aborted attempts of Dharma Punks, and tried to figure out what the storyline should be.

Did you receive much feedback from Dharma Punks original publication?
The immediate reaction to Dharma Punks was great. The comic shops here in New Zealand were super supportive, and there seemed to be quite a buzz about the comic. Even folk who don't normally read comics were apparently heading into the specialty comic shops and asking for Dharma Punks.

Did you anticipate the response to the Dharma Punks Kickstarter? What were your expectations?
Well, y'know we were hopeful of meeting our goal, but as the launch date approached we all got increasingly nervous about the response to our campaign. We'd been planning the campaign for close to a year, so a lot of planning and discussion had gone into it. We felt there were a lot of people who wanted this to happen, but you never know how it will go until you actually go ahead and do it for real. The first few days were crazy. I couldn't help constantly checking in to see the latest running total. Fortunately the Dharma Punks fans came through and we reached our initial goal within five days.

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