Interview with Chainsaw Comics
Editor-in-Chief Aaron Brassea Has Been Publishing For 10 Years
Currently playing on Chainsaw Comics: Winston Churchill encounters Abe Lincoln’s ghost, recollections of growing up Christian and queer, a retelling (read: improvement) of Star Wars, The Phantom Menace, and a heart-wrenching tale of Craigslist Missed Connections. The variety is eclectic and obviously not micro-managed. That’s the way Editor-in-Chief Aaron Brassea likes it.
Chainsaw Comics has been bringing stories together for over ten years, with its inception in 2002. Brassea describes the site as an “online comics anthology,” where contributors post one comic a month, often working on one or more serials. Contributors “are pretty free to do what they will. As a basic philosophy, we are kind of story above technical aspects of art, but as we’ve been going, we’ve became better artists,” Brassea says. “But I think story is what binds it all together.”
Brassea is one of the four monthly contributors, posting the first Wednesday of the month (he is responsible for the Abe Lincoln comic, if you were wondering). He contributes a number of comics, including “The Shelter,” and “Chainsaw Guy.” Brassea has been writing “Chainsaw Guy,” the namesake of Chainsaw Comics, since the early 2000s. While Brassea now runs Chainsaw Comics, regularly publishes his own work in print, and is featured in various anthologies, his love affair with comics has gone through a rocky period.
“I first started reading comics in late elementary school and junior high, mostly super hero kind of stuff,” Brassea says. “My brother and I at the same time came to the decision that we were just going to stop buying comics because we were spending all of our money on it and we couldn’t decide which one we would keep and which ones we wouldn’t, so we just kind of went cold turkey.”
Brassea’s interest in comics returned when he started college at Azusa Pacific University in Southern California, where he graduated with a degree in Art. “In college I started reading ‘Sandman’ and more independent type stuff,” Brassea says. “I got a book called Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. It’s kind of the basic philosophies of how to make a good comic. [It is] less of a how-to and more of a ‘this is how comics work’ type thing.”
Brassea’s renewed interest in comics eventually inspired him to start writing his own, eventually leading to Chainsaw Comics. When Brassea and some of his college friends decided to pursue writing comics to post online, Chainsaw Comics was born. “Of the four who originally were going to be doing it, it ended up being me and just some other guy. When we started he kind of dropped off after a couple weeks,” Brassea says. “So for a couple months, it was just me updating every couple weeks. And then another guy that I actually met on the American Elf Forum, Jamie Dee Galey, he started doing every other week and eventually we actually built up to four regular artists.”
“American Elf,” a journal-style comic by James Kochalka, has been a major influence on Brassea and Chainsaw Comics. Brassea met one of the current contributors, Bren Collins through the forum as well. Kochalka “does an autobiographical comic that he posts everyday,” Brassea says. “American Elf” has inspired Brassea’s project, “My Life in Scribbles.” “It’s all stuff that happens with his family... influenced by [Kochalka], I started doing one at the beginning of 2009 and I’ve been putting out a yearly collection every year.”
“My Life in Scribbles” documents Brassea’s daily life using a very minimalist illustrations and very personal, and often very humorous subject matter. Started in 2009, “My Life in Scribbles” describes some pivotal years in Brassea’s life. “What was really cool about it is that the year after I started doing it, my wife got pregnant,” Brassea says. “The second volume went through the pregnancy and the first couple months of my daughter’s life. So its like the first book kind of documents what our life was like before Cora was born, the second one goes through the pregnancy and the birth, and the third one is life with a small child. So it will be cool to look back at that years from now.”
Creating “My Life in Scribbles” requires Brassea to write a comic everyday. This dedication to his art has made comics more engrained into his life, he says.
“I was reading an interview with a friend recently where he said he thinks in comics now,” Brassea says. “I think that’s definitely true, especially with my autobiographical comics, that even as things are happening, I can kind of picture ‘Ok this will be the first panel, this will be the second, and that’s the third panel.’ Just the pacing and timing is kind of built into my brain now.”
There are many reasons why Brassea feels so at home with comics. For one, you can communicate more directly with your audience when you are creating comics than other forms of media, he says. “Comics compared to like, movies, they are so much more of a personal medium,” Brassea says. “Even a low budget movie, you are going to have lots and lots of people working on it. But a comic only has one or two people working on it, so you can get your vision across without having to collaborate with 100 different people.”
Furthermore, Brassea points to the combination of images and text as a powerful way to tell a story. Catching a glimpse of a comic may capture a reader’s attention more so than prose, he says.
“If you look at a big page of text, you might just kind of skim it or just look at a title,” Brassea says. “But you don’t feel as obligated to read it as most people do with comics. And I think the pictures, you see them without consciously reading it, so you are already taking in half the story before you even decide, ‘Oh yeah, I’m going to read that.’”
While Chainsaw Comics continues to produce funny, personal, and sometimes gut-wrenchingly honest stories in its tenth year in existence, Brassea still sees room for growth. “Most of what we actually publish physically has been my own work,” Brassea says. “But since there really isn’t a lot of money in it, I don’t even really want to make offers to people because I wont be able to offer enough money to them to make it better for them than doing it themselves.”
However, Chainsaw Comics did begin publishing a print anthology, starting last year. The previous year’s theme was “Fear”, this year it will be “Joy.” “We told people to just go whatever direction you want with that,” Brassea says “However you want to do the writing, however you want the art to be, we just wanted a nice variety of stuff.”
The results were sometimes silly and sometimes serious, but always-engaging comics that could only have thrived in a venue like Brassea’s: a place where artists are always free to tell their stories.