"He just kept trying to marry the ideas of comics and punk rock," says inkwasher Amanda Kerr, speaking about her conspirator Mitch Clem's vision for Turnstile Comix. It's a match well made, given the similarities between the two art forms. Both were looked down upon as smut when they first emerged and both strut around with an irreverent and stripped-down gait. And both punk and comic fans have undying love and shelf space for physical mediums.
In the third installation of Turnstile Comix, the creative pair of Mitch Clem and Amanda Kerr (working as Nation of Amanda) published a 40-page graphic novella on the fantastical and fascist-fighting tour story of alt-indie trio Lemuria. "This was the first one in which I approached the band," says Clem. "The interview getting the comic started was like, 'OK. What do you got?' Are there any crazy stories? And they said, 'We got one really long one.'"
Out on the Silver Sprocket label and publishing house, the comic follows the events of Lemuria's 2011 tour through Russia. Like any YouTube dash-cam footage from the Federation teases out, daily life in Russia is a low-functioning, highly insane affair. As the band discusses the merits of Dinosaur Jr. and Archers of Loaf, they run into problems caused by stray dogs, Nazis, mob shakedowns, more Nazis and erratic weather patterns. Carefully, cleverly, Clem and Nation of Amanda balance the gravity of the dangers with the absurdity and humor of a band getting an inside view of daily Russian dysfunction.
Turnstile Comix began in 2011 when Clem and Nation of Amanda turned the scope of their creative nonfiction comics toward their favorite bands. "I had been doing autobiographical comics at that point and I had been stretching them out into longer things instead of just strips," says Clem. "At some point, it became doing comics about other people."
The first two comics tackled the stories of Minneapolis' The Slow Death and New York's World/Inferno Friendship Society, with short introductions from Clem. In these short, meta-narrative spurts, Clem delivers some of his most cheerful work, instating the project and making potshots at himself. It's a creative way to reestablish the Turnstile approach and, more importantly, it's fun, reminding the reader of the fanzine joy that inspired the idea in the first place. "The first story in issue one was five pages of my own personal story when Slow Death had played in San Antonio," says Clem. "I had embarrassed myself at the show and I wanted that to be a through-line in all of them."
In the intro to issue three, Clem drew himself as a loose-tied narrator who walks us through the long process that goes into a Turnstile edition. First off, Clem turns an interview into a narrative script. The storyboard gets meticulously penciled in, then inked over in broad, playful lines. The draft then visits a scanner, where Nation of Amanda takes over with the extensive inkwash process. "I use india ink and water," says Amanda. "It's gradated so you get blacks and whites and it's more tonal. Like watercolor but only with black ink. It's a lot of waiting for things to dry, waiting to see how they end up and painting over them again."
Once the inkwash is on the page, a little gravitational force is added to ensure the product stays flat. "All the largest books in our house are used to crush the wet paper," says Clem. "When you watercolor, you need to crush the paper under weight so it doesn't wrinkle." An encyclopedic book from the Louvre becomes particularly handy for the pair, lending its weight to the comic in progress. From conception to print, Turnstile's third edition took a year and a half.
Printed by Silver Sprocket, the comic also includes a cream colored seven-inch with exclusive cuts from Lemuria. On "Christine Perfect," singer Sheena Ozzella clarifies her place in rock 'n' roll. "I'm not a Stevie, I'm a Christine McVie," she sings, favoring the less flashy female member of Fleetwood Mac. Bassist Max Gregor navigates a binding line in a fat punk tone as the band relays two minutes of '90s-leaning indie gold.
Last year, Clem's vision of telling artists' stories took the next logical step—creating space for artists to tell their tales. With the publication of the As You Were zine, Clem began curating a space for punk-loving cartoonists to tell short stories in themed issues: house shows, life changes, the notorious pit. Both the As You Were and Turnstile catalogs are available at store.silversprocket.net.
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