Cole Closser is a cartoonist who seemingly hails from a bygone era. He is a graduate of The Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont, and his debut book Little Tommy Lost: Book One premiered this month at SPX.
Closser was kind enough to answer some questions about his tale of lost boys, dastardly adults and high adventure, as well as his inspirations and his thoughts on comics in general.
Little Tommy Lost: Book One has touches of Harold Gray, Chester Gould, Winsor McCay, and more. What do you think makes the newspaper strips of the past so special?
The same things that make the paintings of Degas or Matisse special, I guess. It’s all subjective. I like what I like.
You’ve referred to Little Tommy Lost: Book One as a “pretend strip from 1931,” and the strips themselves look faded and worn, as if they have been wrenched from the past. Is the author of Little Tommy Lost: Book One the Cole Closser of today, or has he also been plucked from out of time? Perhaps he is a mixture of both?
I did make an effort to have the strips feel like artifacts from the past. There are few things more exciting to my nerd brain than “discovering” some long lost strip and then losing myself in it. I wanted readers to have a similar feeling with Tommy—like they were rummaging through someone’s clipped collection of something that nobody else remembers.
The author is just the Cole Closser of three years ago—since that’s when I drew the strips. I’m pretty much the same guy, still. I think Seth wrote (in Wimbledon Green) about how some comic collectors and fans are sort-of slaves to nostalgia, trying to recapture a lost thrill from childhood—while others (even worse) pine away for eras before they even existed. My childhood was a little rough, so I guess I’m one of those weirdos who gets nostalgic for times I never actually lived through. I love art and fashion from the early twentieth century, but I wouldn’t actually want to exist there. If I could really go back in time I’m sure I’d be struck with a lot of disappointment, step in some great big piles of racism and misogyny (or grab hold of a beautiful glass doorknob dripping with disease like that one Maakies strip).
Little Tommy Lost was the first longer story I’d worked on, when I was making up my mind about whether to pursue drawing comics publicly or to stay hidden and let the work pile up around me. I wear my influences on my sleeve, so it seemed natural to make a kind of homage to the work that inspires me.
Little Tommy Lost: Book One is a pastiche that inspires feelings of nostalgia, but it also feels like a very personal statement. What would you like readers to take away from Little Tommy Lost: Book One?
I think everybody’ll take something different away from it. I’d just like them to have a good time with it. Comics aren’t just for grown-ups anymore. The gap between adult and children’s media seems to have widened to a nearly obscene degree. Many kids books are getting dumbed down and sterilized while a great deal of adult comics seem to either be aiming for literary/historical highbrow respectability or scatological/profane lowbrow credibility. I’m aiming for something in the middle of all of that, and out of it altogether. Tommy’s just highbrow enough for your historian aunt, lowbrow enough for your drunk uncle, fun enough for your baby brother, and sincere enough for your mama.
Can you give us any hints about Tommy’s continuing adventures?
Pirates, monsters, lost boys (and girls), and a quest. Tune in.
Photo by Linda Walker