Ink and Drink: “We had to make comics”

Ink and Drink Comics is a collective of comic creators based in the St. Louis area.

STL SPEX (Rachel): Can you tell us more about your events and anthologies? How and why did you establish your organization and what are some of your goals?

Steve Higgins, Editor: We meet on the third Monday of every month in the back room of Schlafly’s Bottleworks. These meetings are open to the public, and anyone in the area who is interested in comics is welcome to come and just hang out. It’s really about the social aspect first and foremost, meeting like-minded people. But we also produce two comics anthologies a year, one in the spring and one in the fall, which are themed around a particular genre. These collections are open submission to anyone, and you don’t have to attend a meeting to contribute (although our meetings are where we announce themes and deadlines and where many collaborators begin brainstorming their projects).

Carlos Gabriel Ruiz, Creative Director: Necessity, which is the mother of invention and the father of circumstance. We had to make comics, and since it’s hard to get published, we just started publishing them ourselves. 

Jason Green, Editor: Our main goal is better art through community. Publishing short story anthologies as a group started as a lark, but we’ve seen how the sense of working together as a community–both in terms of encouraging each other and bouncing ideas off each other, and in the friendly competition that it fosters–has resulted in everyone in the group stepping up their game. It’s amazing to see how much writers and artists’ craft has improved by leaps and bounds in just a short amount of time.

STL SPEX: What are some of the highlights of Ink and Drink so far, in terms of experiences and/or art that was created for your anthologies?

Carlos: For me, the biggest highlight was that first book, Spirits of St. Louis. I remember having the idea in one of our meetings, then I went home and wrote an email manifesto of what we wanted the book to be: an anthology of short stories grouped around a unifying genre, done by all of our friends. I’m still amazed that we pulled it off!

Steve: I think one of the greatest aspects of Ink and Drink as a collective is the sheer scope of it. We started publishing in the fall of 2010 and we are still going strong today, with twenty anthologies under our belts, well over a hundred contributors, and literally thousands of pages of comics that wouldn’t exist otherwise. So for me it’s not really any one thing; it’s the big picture, the stack of comics on a shelf that I can point to with pride and say, “I helped make that happen.”

Jason: Funnily enough, one of the greatest experiences is watching people “outgrow” the group and do projects for bigger publishers. Christina “Steenz” Stewart came to her first Ink and Drink before she was old enough to drink but she was already a fantastic artist. Fast forward to today and she’s an in-demand editor and artist of an award-winning graphic novel (Archival Quality, published by Oni Press, which won the Dwayne MacDuffie Award for Diversity in Comics earlier this year–read it, it’s fantastic). Writer Scott Schmidt and artist Brian Atkins are doing a great action series called Final Street for Devil’s Due that’s a throwback to classic ‘80s beam-’em-up games like Double Dragon and Final Fight. Writer Jim Ousley and artist Ben Sawyer first met at an Ink and Drink meeting and now they have a few successful Kickstarters behind them, including for a sci-fi miniseries called Butcher Queen (which, full disclosure, I’m editing) coming out from Red 5. And the list goes on. We can’t take any credit for their talents, but we do get a big sense of pride and hope we helped them grow in some way. I do think it’s safe to say that they’ve all learned a lot just from being involved in the Ink & Drink creative community.

STL SPEX: What are your favorite places to discover new indie comics? 

Carlos: I love going to conventions and meeting people, striking up a conversation with them, and seeing what kind of work they’re doing.

Steve: I agree with Carlos. There’s nothing like going up and down the aisles of artists’ alley at a show and checking out what creative endeavors people have poured their hearts into and then released to the world. I remember having that joy of discovery at the first cons I ever attended as a fan, and I think this expo in particular is a great place for finding new and interesting projects by artists I’d previously been unfamiliar with.

Jason: Part of it is probably because we publish them, but I do love a good comic anthology. It’s a great way to sample a wide variety of creators and seek out more from the contributors whose work jumps out at you.

STL SPEX: What are your own artistic influences and interests?

Steve: Adrian Tomine. When I first started making comics, I absolutely wanted to follow the path he laid out with Optic Nerve, doing mini-comics first and then issues about real-life experiences. My first mini-comic is very clearly me taking a very Tomine-esque short story I had written in college and adapting into a comic script, which my friend Nick Main illustrated for me.

Jason: You’d probably never know it from reading my work, but Savage Dragon creator Erik Larsen. I’ve picked up so many storytelling dos-and-don’ts from him, both from reading his comics and from following him online for 22 years and counting. Rumiko Takahashi is another big one. A lot of people only know her from her big action series like InuYasha and Ranma ½ but she can do anything, from slice-of-life romance like Maison Ikkoku to horror like her Mermaid Saga stories. In the late ‘90s, VIZ released a bunch of one-and-done short stories by her under the titles Rumic World and Rumic Theater that showed just remarkable range–she could do absolutely any kind of story under the sun, establish a world, carry you through a dramatic arc, and leave you with a satisfying ending, all in 16 or so pages. As someone who primarily works in the short story format, she’s a real inspiration to me.

Carlos: Evan Dorkin, the writer of Dork, Milk & Cheese, The Eltingville Club, and Beasts of Burden. He is an amazing cartoonist and one of the funniest people in the business. What sort of evil genius can bastardize dairy products by turning them into a carton of hate and a  wedge of spite? Evan Dorkin, that’s who.

STL SPEX: Anything else you’d like to tell us about your organization?

Jason: Our primary goals as a group are (1) to give the comics creative community of St. Louis a place to hang out and network, (2) to publish the best work that community has to offer to hopefully get everyone in the group’s work in front of a larger audience, and (3) to use our experience as people who have been self-publishing comics for 10+ years to help people get their work out into the world. If you’re a reader interested in seeing what this city has to offer comics-wise, we hope you’ll pick up one of our anthologies. And if you’re a creator interested in meeting other writers and artists, come to one of our meetings and show us what you’ve got. We’d love to meet you!

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