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Interview: Comic Writer Seth Kushner On His Kickstarter ‘SCHMUCK’
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Schmuck: Seth Kushner

I was recently given the opportunity to write up a Kickstarter Spotlight for something called SCHMUCK: A Graphic Novel and, as it so happens, I was granted a chance to have writer Seth Kushner answer a few questions about his work on the project.

SCHMUCK is a semi-autobiographical collection of stories based around Seth’s quest to find love in the Big Apple. This graphic novel promises to be an entertaining read and one with which I can personally empathize. Check out the gallery after the interview for a sample of what’s in the comic itself! Without further ado, continue below to see what Seth had to say and to check out some preview images.

Geeks Of Doom: You say it’s semi-biographical, how much of the actual portrayed events occurred in real life? Will any of your former dates recognize themselves in this?

Seth Kushner: That’s a very good question. I actually live in fear of the inevitable day when I’ll get an angry email from an ex after she’d happened upon my comic and recognized herself. I’m not in touch with any of my ex-girlfriends, so they’d really have to find the comic by accident, (or read about it here!) but I am facebook friends with several of the women I’ve dated who appear in the comic, and it’s only a matter of time before one of them says, “Hey, that me! Seth IS a schmuck!”
Everything in SCHMUCK is based upon things that happened, but since story is more important to me than sticking to hard facts, I allowed myself artistic license to enhance the dramatic and comedic moments.

I changed everyone’s name (including my own) so I could think of the people in my life as “characters” and allow myself the freedom to deviate from factual reality and instead focus on the emotional truth. Once I did that, my writing got much better.

GoD: The work comes off as pretty self-deprecating from the bits I see on the KS, is this a constant theme throughout the comic or is that just a skewed perception on my part?

SK: No, you’re very correct. My alter ego Adam Kessler is self-deprecating, as I am. One thing I thought about a lot while writing SCHMUCK was how I would portray myself through Adam. I wanted to be honest in my portrayal. I never wanted him to be too “cool.” I wanted him to be an imperfect human with foibles and insecurities. He would be superficial and petty at times, and he would sometimes be a schmuck, as the title suggests. There are many parts of my story which I could (or should) find embarrassing, but I found the act of laying myself bare is therapeutic and it’s these aspects that I believe readers will relate the most. There are parts where you might hate Adam, or feel ashamed for him, but I think you’ll understand him. If I did my job well, you’ll find him overall likeable.

GoD: Is the comic centered so much on NYC that people who are unfamiliar with the terrain will have trouble reading it or is it just a back drop for the comic? Realizing of course that the focus is on the character, but sometimes NYC has a life of its own in books, comics and film.

SK: New York City is the backdrop of the story and it’s also a character, to some extent. As you’ve said, NYC is familiar to everyone in the free world through movies, TV and comics, so I don’t think it will be off-putting to anyone. It’s funny, my wife’s family (Yes, I’m married – SCHMUCK spoiler alert!) is from a small town in northern Minnesota and when they visited NYC for our wedding they all wanted to go shopping on 5th Ave., and go to Macy’s and Times Square, etc. I think it’d be difficult for people not to have a relationship with NYC.

My character in the story has a particular relationship with NYC, in that he’s lonely in a city of 8 million. I think those feelings are universal.

GoD: You are offering a lot of incentives with this KS, which one of the reward levels is your favorite and why? I also want to note that even at lower level pledges, there are several rewards that include signed editions (some with several of the artists)

SK: Yes, there are lots of signatures involved with the rewards. I think folks who appreciate printed books also appreciate having the author’s signature. I’ve never care about celebrity autographs, but I’ve always placed value upon a signed book.

My favorite reward is the actual book itself, of course! That’s the thing I’ve devoted myself to making. However, I think the reward level with the book and a copy of the SCHMUCK DIARIES is very cool. The SCHMUCK DIARIES is a collection of prose essays that act as a companion to the comics and help fill out the story. It’s going to be printed like a floppy comic and it’s designed by Eisner Award winning designer Eric Skillman (who also designed the main graphic novel) and it features original illustrations by Pierce Hargan, a young artist who drew one of my comics. Not everyone knows about Pierce yet, but everyone soon will.

Also very cool are the one-on-one comics consultations with Dean Haspiel, Nick Bertozzi, Gregory Benton and Josh Neufeld. These are expensive, but I think well worth it and very valuable for aspiring cartoonists. Those guys are all my friends and also master cartoonists and storytellers. They’ve all drawn episodes of SCHMUCK and I learned so much from working with them. I hope folks take advantage.

Finally, I’m offering photo lessons and photoshoots. My “day job” is that of freelance editorial and advertising photographer. I’ve shot lots of celebrities and people of note for many publications and I’ve published two books, so I hope people will find it cool. My work can be seen here: I’ve already got a few people who’ve signed up for both options.

GoD: Tell me what the game plan is for Hang Dai. I know this KS is about more than the comic, it’s about creating an environment for several of you to breathe life into your work. What influenced you to “bundle” the comic and the indie publishing imprint into one KS?

SK: You’re right that we four who make up HANG DAI, Dean Haspiel, Josh Neufeld, Gregory Benton and me, all want to breath life into our work, but most importantly, we want to do this independently. We’ve all nearly worked ourselves to death on books for publishers, for which we ended up making NO money. I recently received my first royalty check for my 2007 photo book and it was for $355.58. That check came after seven years, for a 240-page book, which consisted of 300 photoshoots and took three years to make! So, clearly “traditional” publishing is not supporting my living, when ideally, I would like it to be a real source of income.

However, my Kickstarter is not to finance HANG DAI Editions, just SCHMUCK. But, SCHMUCK is the first book completed and ready to publish through the imprint, so if my graphic novel is funded it will be jumpstarting the imprint as well.

GoD: What would you say to someone who is fence sitting and hasn’t decided if they want to spend their hard-earned money on your project? What would you use to convince them to help you with this?

SK: Listen, we all have to be choosey with our hard-earned dollars. I know I have to be. SCHMUCK offers a universal coming-of-age story about love and loss and love. It’s awkward, funny, sad and uplifting. If you’re a fan of Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor, Jonathan Ames’ (who wrote the forward!) writing, the films of Woody Allen, Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, Bob Fingerman’s Minimum Wage, and works by Jeffrey Brown and Nick Hornby, then you’ll probably dig SCHMUCK. Also, it’s got stunning art by 22 super-talented cartoonists and the book will be a beautifully designed package. Finally, by supporting this SCHMUCK, you’ll be lending a hand to an independent creator to make his dream project on his own terms in the most pure way possible.

Growing up, my mother often called me a “Schmuck.” It was part insult and part term of endearment. For the uninitiated, “Schmuck” is a Yiddish insult, an obscene term for penis, usually referring to someone who did a stupid thing. It was the first title that sprung to mind for my semi-autobio graphic novel.

The idea to write a book came partly from inspiration and partly from need for self-analysis. Back in 2003 I was single and miserable. My post-high school to late 20s string of long-term relationships had come to an end when I was callously dumped by my dream girl and I was alone for the first time in my adult life. I found myself unprepared for meeting adult women and jumped between fix-ups, Internet dating and random hooks-ups, and I was mostly failing at them all. But, as depressed as I was, I found myself collecting stories. I was experiencing life outside of my comfort zone, and I was sharing these stories with my friends. A close female friend found my tales of woe particularly entertaining and encouraged me to write them down.

Flash forward to today, and I have a full graphic novel anthology of 21 “schmucky shorts” which together tells my full narrative.

I was blessed to work with a bevy of GREAT cartoonists to agree, including; Josh Neufeld (A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge), Nick Bertozzi (The Salon), Dean Haspiel (The Fox), Kevin Colden (The Crow), Gregory Benton (B+F), Leland Purvis (Resistance), Sean Pryor (Pekar Project), Bobby Timony (Night Owls), Noah Van Sciver (The Hypo), Omar Angulo (Hurricane Wilma), Shamus Beyale (The Grimm Fairy Tales), Ryan Alexander-Tanner (To Teach), Nathan Schreiber (Power-Out), Stephan DeStefano (Lucky in Love), George Jurard (Beacon Lights), George Schall (Dark Horse Presents), Tony Salmons (Vigilante), James Smith (Gang of Fools), Skuds McKinley (Rumble Moon), Jonathan Allen (Vacationland), Pierce Hargan and Christa Cassano (Breakers).

I want to thank Seth for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions and for giving us the chance to see a bit more of what makes this graphic novel so unique. I encourage you all to check this Kickstarter out and hopefully you’ll like it as much as I did and can spare a few bucks. There are some great rewards to be had, not the least of which is the graphic novel itself! The Kickstarter page is here but it ends on April 16, so don’t hesitate…go now!


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