SPX Spotlight 2015: Rob Kirby Interviews Kevin Budnik

It's another entry in Panel Patter's SPX SPOTLIGHT series! We've been highlighting creators, publishers, and comics related to SPX since the site opened in 2008, but 2015 marks our fifth year of extensive coverage that is unlike what you'll find elsewhere! It's a great way to create your own personal guide for the show on September 19th and 20th, 2015, in Bethesda, Maryland. Don't miss it! You can find all our SPX SPOTLIGHT posts here.

"Part of you feels a little special that you get to be there": Kevin Budnik on SPX, tabling, and other comics-related issues

(photo by Nate Beaty)

Kevin Budnik is a 26 year-old Chicago native who has been sharing his autobiographical comics with the world since 2010. His work is marked by a wistful honesty, often with a sense of quiet bewilderment at the passing of time, of the responsibilities of adulthood supplanting the perceived freedoms of youth. As I’ve said before, he has a real talent for capturing the essence of a moment in time, and he can channel angst into poetry. Furthermore, in his books and comics like Our Ever Improving Living Room and Dust Motes (both from Yeti Press), and self-published items like Flower Grow, Old Gum Wrappers and Grocery Lists, and the upcoming Handbook, he shares with honesty, humility, and humor his sometimes shaky recovery from struggles with OCD and an eating disorder.
Since Kevin will be officially tabling at SPX this year (9/19 & 9/20), I wanted to hear his take on all things expo-related, which naturally flowed into talk about his work and peers.

Rob Kirby: I’m wondering about your history with SPX: have you tabled there before? Are you going solo or partnering with a buddy?

Kevin Budnik: I tabled at SPX last year, sort of. My friend Jen Rickert invited me to put some of my comics on her 1/3 of a table. It was Jen's idea, because she's the nicest person in the world, that I could just drop them off and then go walk around. I ended up just helping her out and sitting at the table with her most of the weekend. I know a lot of cartoonists don't always feel comfortable trying to sell their work, but I like being behind the table at shows. It's less about the sales thing and more about the fact that tabling makes it easier for me to overcome the social anxiety of being at a huge gathering like SPX. There's a weird dynamic that is both humiliating and empowering. People come up to judge your work, but at the same time part of you feels a little special that you get to be there. 

This year I applied to as many shows as I could on my own (i.e. without a publisher). I applied to SPX, but didn't get selected in the lottery. I AM going to be there though!

Before I go on, here's my armchair philosophy on the application process: applying to cons can be super-heartbreaking, especially if you're like me and you take everything waaay too personally. I've heard it equated to that situation in school where they post the cast-list for a musical, or dance try-outs, or sportsball, for everyone to see, and you didn't make it. So much of the comics world takes place on this very personal level, trading zines, or putting your own experiences into these books that people may or may not like, or even hate. Sometimes it's important to remember that organizers have a lot on their plate, a lot of people asking for things, a lot of constraints, and a lot of people coming down the line expecting to be included. I'm certainly guilty of whining, or existential twitter-rants when I get rejected from shows, but it's rarely deserved and it's unbecoming to do this as an artist.

ANYHOO - this year I was invited to share a space at Zach Mason's table (along with GW Duncanson, Harris Smith, and Whit Taylor) since I didn't get in on my own. I met Zach (and Matt Trower) last year, at the table I mentioned (they were the other 2/3). Once again I've found myself in this situation where the people I've met through comics are just freaking nice, warm humans, who want everyone to have a spot to show off their work. For all of the bummer stuff that happens in comics, it's amazing how welcoming the community can be sometimes. I'm flattered and super excited - mostly to see so many friends, most of whom I have known less than a year, but feel incredibly close to! COMICS!

Kirby: I hear you. Comics people are indeed just generally great. In that vein, tell me five inspirations, off the top of your head.

Budnik: Cartoonists?

Kirby: Just five inspirations, artistically-speaking.

Budnik: Okay, I have a few…
1.    John Porcellino. For me the beat is more important in comics storytelling–the emotional subtext. And in his stories everything is pared down, there’s not as much exposition. It’s more about the moment-to-moment. It’s great.
2.    Jay Ward, who created Rocky and Bullwinkle.
3.    My friend Hallie Bateman, http://halliebateman.com - she’s an illustrator from Brooklyn
4.    Craig Bartlett's early “Hey Arnold” strips from Simpsons illustrated
5.    For #5 let’s go with my top 5 records right now:
Sleater Kinney–The Woods
Future Islands–Singles
Polaris–Music from the Adventures of Pete and Pete
Landlady–Upright Behavior

Kirby: I love that you love Rocky and Bullwinkle – that was one of my dad’s favorites, and he got all of his kids into ‘em.

Moving on, will you debuting anything at SPX? 

Budnik: This year I'm debuting a new series of journal comics called Epilogue, which is based on my life in and out of employment in cafes, but is primarily focused on how I relate to the people in my life, co-workers, and relationships. Tonally it's similar to the book Old Gum Wrappers and Grocery Lists, which I self-published between last SPX and this SPX. I've been posting Epilogue on my blog, and serializing it in subscription-based zines since January 2015. I'll have a new issue in September. I've had kind of a busy year. Since I've been to a few shows since last September each book I'm bringing to SPX might not technically be considered a debut – but everything will be fresh to this part of the country. I'll also have the second chapter of Handbook, a 6-part memoir about my dealing with Eating Disorders and therapy. That series has been incredibly rewarding. I still cope with that stuff, so hearing people respond to the comics I make about body issues is mind-blowing. 
Kirby: Tell me about the feedback you've received on those Handbook comics. Do you feel you're getting them out to people who may downright need to see them? Is part of your motivation for drawing them reaching out to other people with these issues?
Budnik: So a lot of my comics deal with my struggle with self-image and physical anxiety, either in a roundabout or direct way. I've had a few readers reach out and say that they really relate to the things I've written. ED is a disease of secrecy, and knowing that other people deal with it is heartening. I think what makes me want to keep writing about those issues is that it provides a way of admitting to myself that I'm not alone rather than thinking about writing to reach out to other people who might be struggling. So, maybe it's actually more selfish than I let on, like I'm being patted on the back for having insecurities.

That said, any time I hear from someone who's dealt or dealing with ED in some form, it makes me feel instantly closer to them. Then I want to compare notes. Recovery is weird. It never really ends, and can feel really repetitive. Sometimes I feel like I'm saying the same things over and over, but the challenge is to keep being sincere and not move backwards in my personal life.

Kirby: One of the hallmarks of the Rob Kirby Interview for Panel Patter is the Totally Random Stupid Question (tm). What is your favorite word? 
Budnik: Magpie.
Kirby: Wow, did not see that one coming! (Mine is 'clarity' and John said 'refurbish'. We agreed both words sound like what they mean).

Budnik: Ha ha, wonderful! I would've also maybe said 'sesquipedalian'.  

Kirby: Okay, I confess had to look that up. You learn things from doing these interviews. Moving along and wrapping up, is there anything in particular you are hoping to have happen at SPX this year, anyone you want to meet, etc.? Tell us your SPX Hopes & Dreams, Kevin Budnik!

Budnik: Wellllll, I'm honestly most excited to go into SPX knowing a little more about what to expect. Last year was insane and fun and overwhelming. I met a ton of people who I've spent the last year forming friendships with, but we're all spread out, so I'm very excited to have them all in the same place at the same time.

I still feel like this will be my first time tabling at SPX—I was mostly along for the ride last year—so I'm nervous as to how it will go with my own space.

I mentioned that Handbook is six chapters long - all of those have been drawn, but not yet printed. If people react positively to this second chapter I hope it'll give me some momentum to find help printing it, I'd like to get them all together as one book before next year, but I don't know if I’ll have the resources on my own.
Kirby: We’ll really look forward to seeing you there, Kevin! Best of luck to you there and to us all!
In the meantime, if you aren’t going to be at SPX, please visit http://kevinbudnik.com and/or http://kevin-budnik.tumblr.com/ for all your Kevin Budnik needs.