This week writer Philip Gelatt, artist Rick Lacy and Oni Press served up what Gelatt calls a “smoothie made up of James Bond movies, mid-twenties malaise and toss-away scraps of social theory” in the form of Labor Days Vol. 1. It’s the story of Benton “Bags” Bagswell, a chores-for-hire handyman in London who gets involved in comedic globe-trotting hijinks.
I spoke with both Gelatt and Lacy about the book, which made its debut at the Small Press Expo last weekend and hit stores this past Wednesday.
JK: So the first volume of Labor Days came out this week. What’s it about?
Phil: That’s always been the hardest question for me to answer, and I wrote the damn thing. The short answer is it’s about a guy named Bags. He starts the book as a complete loser and borderline drunk, and then finds himself sucked into a cross-continent chase after a mysterious videotape. The book is very much about Bags, this consummate nobody and miscreant, tossed into an array of situations that he has no business being any part of and meeting an array of bizarre characters including spies, Marxists, radical feminists, gun-blade enthusiasts and fire-breathing hoodlums.
It’s kind of a “kitchen-sink” book, really. It’s an epic misadventure, political allegory, with strange mythological echoes and lots of drinking.
I really wanted the story to start out grounded in a world recognizable to any reader and then rather quickly have it cut its own break line, jump off its rails and careen at frightening speeds for places strange and unknown. It’s a fun goal to strive for, I have no idea if I’ve actually met it.
Rick: I think we’re gonna get there in Vol. 2. So hang on to your short shorts. Essentially, Labor Days is like nothing that’s out there right now. It masquerades as a simple “balls to the wall” world romp, but once you get into it, there’s no getting out. It’s littered with off beat characters and bizarre circumstances. Ol’ Benters, the every-man hero gets dragged through the muck to ends unknown. People have asked us to compare it to other books and you really can’t. You can liken the art to a certain style and the story and writing as well, but in the end, I really think that its a book that others are going to be compared to. We made Labor Days for us, and we hope people enjoy it.
Phil: You say that, but I’ve secretly always compared it to Are You there God? It’s Me, Margaret but with punches and explosions in it.
JK: So what does the title mean, exactly, “Labor Days”? I may be really off here, but when I saw it, I thought of the 12 labors of Hercules.
Phil: Oh we’re so busted. Rick, you take this one.
Rick: Sure, stick me with the tough questions. Thanks Phil. Ok, basically that is exactly what it is. One of our earliest ideas for the book was for an underlying Hercules myth tie-in, but that kind of got ground up into chuck and then stirred in with the rest of the stew. Most of the first book can be linked to myth, but the deeper you get, the more obscure to almost non-existent they are. Also, we decided that since Bags is the blue color man, the working stiff, the “laborer” if you will, it worked that way too. And these are, as they say in France, the days of his life. Weird and wonderful as they are.
Phil: A modern re-imaging of Hercules was one of the original ideas behind the story before it started to blow up into different directions. And the Hercules myth, 12 epic labors, definitely still informs the episodic structure of the book. If you look at each chapter with that in mind, you’ll see parallels. I’ve tried to treat it as a “wink wink nudge nudge” thing for the audience. If you want to look for it, it’s there. If not, the story works without it.
That being said, you also have to realize that our Hercules is a drunken, if hopefully lovable, twit so he’s not really accomplishing his tasks very well.
Oh, there is one scene in the book where Bags’s “epic destiny,” if you will, tries to break through to him with mixed results. So you know, it’s in there, if in a highly skewed manner. And these issues of destiny and heroes and etc. will be brought more to the forefront in the second volume.
What Rick says about the title is basically true: it’s a hint at the Hercules aspect, but it also relates to directly to who Bags is himself.
I never really thought about it this way before, but we kind of did the same thing that Halloween did with its title: gave ourselves name recognition by naming the book after a holiday. That’s kinda fun. Slasher films and Labor Days, who knew there was a connection?
JK: How did the two of you meet?
Phil: Oh. Dear. Well, let’s see. I guess the short answer is “in college.” Though we didn’t go to the same college. Professionally, I knew I wanted to write a comic and I knew Rick wanted to draw a comic and our collaboration was born out of that. Like a two-piece puzzle.
Though if you want a more mythologically minded version, how about this: Rick was wandering around one day through a misty New England forest, eating a ripe red apple and thinking to himself “You know what I need? I need someone to constantly make me huffy and ornery.” And then I popped up out of the stump of a nearby felled tree, smelling of brimstone and sulfur, danced a dastardly jig and held out a comic book in one hand and a blood-written contract in the other.
Rick: I ogled the odd stump-goblin man with hesitant desire. He offered me magix and freedoms. So I took the last chomp out of my witch’s apple and duly signed on the dotted line.
JK: What’s the creative process like between the two of you? Are you guys in the same city, or do you work together virtually?
Phil: Yeah we both live in New York but even so the collaboration is mostly virtual. We do a lot of brainstorming and etc. via e-mail and instant message and then get together periodically to see where we are (and also drink). As for story stuff, I usually start out with some ideas of what Bags and our cast of characters should do, and then Rick will swoop in and fill in the gaps with some ideas, lines of dialogue and etc. And then I’ll scurry off to my corner and do a draft of the script. And then we’ll toss that draft back and forth a bit till we’re happy with it. Labor Days is very much a collaboration through and through.
Rick: Like peanut butter and jelly. I’m the jelly, I think. While Phil is writing, I’m usually designing characters and costumes, at bars drinking too much, hitting on girls who’s ages are undetermined and playing with my friends who think they’re Jedi. Once Phil finishes drafts of the script, usually by chapter, I get a happy lil’ present in my in-box with his word-smithing on it. From there I thumbnail out everything in a small sketch book, explode those to my desired drawing and inking size and begin the long damn process of drawing the book. Once those are signed, sealed and delivered to Oni press for scanning, Phil and I plot out all the word balloons and rewrite some of the dialogue. Then we chomp on our finger nails until the proofs get back with the lettering, nod and wink at each other, stamp it and send it off to the printers with a pat on the ass.
JK: How was SPX?
Phil: SPX was a blast. I’d never been before and I was really impressed by the show. Just on an artistic level, there was an impressivly heavy load of talent circulating in that room. And I definitely came home with some books that are really amazing.
As far as Labor Days at SPX, I think it did pretty well. It was fun to sell the first copies of the book face-to-face. We did have a little sign at the Oni booth that had an array of different slogans for the book, trying to attract those wandering eyes. We’d change the slogan every hour or so. Rick, what were some of those slogans?
Rick: “Labor Days: It’s better than being dead,” “Labor Days: It’s like getting swallowed by a killer whale” and “Labor Days: Toss the Pin, Keep the Grenade.”
SPX was certainly a lot of fun, and also so damn exhausting. This was our first real go at working a full day con. But we met some really cool people and picked up some fantastic comics that you can’t really get anywhere else. I also ate and drank a shit load of vittles. At one point, con goers got wind of my credits and decided that I should review their portfolios. Which was fine to a point, but when some of them walked away without picking up a copy of Labor Days: Vol.1: Hell Bent for Pleather, I had to walk away and leave the table to Phil before I got huffy.
Phil: That should be your policy at the next con. “No portfolio reviews unless you buy my damned book!” Also, “Hell Bent for Pleather” isn’t the actual subtitle of the first book, just for the record. Rick just loves pleather more than anybody should.
JK: What were some of the books you picked up at the show?
Phil: Let’s see here, I’m really into Justin Madsen’s Breathers series, so I got the third issue of that. I love his off-beat sci-fi sensibility, and I find his art really captivating. Blackmane by Michael LaRiccia, which I haven’t read yet, but my girlfriend has and assures me is pretty remarkable. Oh and this other thing I’m really excited about, Bryan Ralph’s Daybreak that is set up all in first person, like if the old 1946 version of Lady in the Lake were a post-apocalyptic comic book. Very interesting.
Rick: I got Julie Wertz’s Fart Party which I couldn’t wait to get my hands on. It’s hilarious. Nate Powell’s Swallow Me Whole, which won best debut book at SPX (Labor Days was nominated for that too). Also, PIXU from Becky Cloonan and a load of mini-comics and self-printed stuff, like Sea Freak by Jonathan Case. Oh, and I finally picked up Hope Larsen’s Chiggers … because, ya know, I’m just a girl at summer camp at heart.
JK: What else do you have going on right now, project wise?
Phil: Right now I’m hard at work on Labor Days Volume 2. Which I tentatively like to call Labor Days Volume 2: Just Another Damn Day. I’m doing another book with Oni that isn’t quite ready to talk about yet. And then I do some screenwriting nonsense too. I wrote a small budget horror film that the producers keep telling me will shoot sometime soon and am working on some other stuff on that front.
Rick: I’m trying out for the circus, because anything has to be more lucrative than arting comics … even sticking my head in a lion’s maw. But, no, seriously folks I’ve just got the first draft of the first chapter of Labor Days Volume 2 from Phil, so I’ve dived head first into that. I’m also illustrating a new Star Wars comic for Dark Horse with inks by the luscious Matt Loux, a fellow creator at Oni press, which has yet to be solicited. I’m also still keeping my knives sharp with commercial and TV animation work over here in NYC.