Artist Mitch Clem on revisting his tumultuous twenties in My Stupid Life
His long-running Nothing Nice to Say webcomic skewered the punk scene and was a secret handshake for those in the know.
If you were an Extremely Online™ punk fan during the early to mid-’00s, you are no doubt familiar with comic artist Mitch Clem. His long-running Nothing Nice to Say webcomic skewered the punk scene in very direct and hilarious ways and was a secret handshake for those in the know.
The cartoonist would go on to work for Razorcake magazine and illustrate the covers for numerous albums and singles, and eventually branch out into autobiographical work with San Antonio Rock City and its successor, My Stupid Life, both of which have been collected by Silver Sprocket in a new book, which also includes a split ‘zine with Ben Snakepit and all of his comics for Razorcake.
The book lets the reader see the evolution of Clem’s art and writing, as well as himself as a person. If you’re the sort who also had a drunken, messy decade during your twenties, My Stupid Life is going to resonate so hard there’s emotional bounceback, regardless of whether or not you know who the bands RVIVR or Big Eyes are. [Editor’s note: Although you should.]
We hopped on the phone with Mitch Clem one Sunday morning just after the book was released to talk all about his growth as an artist and a person.
The Pitch: This collection is an autobiographical tale of seven years of your life. What’s it go like for you to go back and revisit all of this stuff a solid decade later?
Mitch Clem: Oh, wow. Some of it–it’s embarrassing. And sometimes, some of those comics are kind of funny. What do I wanna say? How do I wanna answer this question? What is it like? I mean, it’s weird.
Ten years on you are married, you have a child, and you are sober. Does this seem like it’s another person?
Oh, wow. A little bit. I mean, yeah, my life was a completely different place back then. I was in my twenties through most of the book. I just used to be a little untethered balloon, just flying all over the place, and I don’t get to do that anymore.
How weird is it to have this book and know that because it is in comic book form and that you have a child and that she could theoretically read it someday?
Hopefully she’ll have enough taste that she won’t get very far into the book and she’ll be like, “This really isn’t all that.”
How does going back and revisiting old material affect how you work on new stuff?
I feel like a lot of the lessons that I learned as a cartoonist–I definitely developed through that era and I can see the growth in the comics. I don’t know if anybody else would, but I can see it here and there and I don’t know if I go back and reread it. I don’t know if there’s any new stuff to learn for myself or not.
When I’ve talked to you in the past, such as when that first collection of Nothing Nice to Say came out, some of those early comics made you cringe.
The turnaround for me of hating something after I’ve drawn it is very short.
Is this My Stupid Life collection totally inclusive? Nothing Nice to Say complete discography omitted a few comics, but does this one do the same?
It’s almost everything. In fact, there are a couple comics that were omitted–less than five. There were a couple that were kind of like, “Oh, this really doesn’t hold up. Let’s just scrap it,” but more than that, there’s comics in it that I never put online that I just had drawn, all the way back from the San Antonio Rock City stuff. There are basically unreleased strips in that section.
Regarding San Antonio Rock City, how does it have to go back and speak with your ex-girlfriend, Victoria, to be like, “Hey, can I put comic strips about our life from a decade and a half ago into a book, please?”
Yeah, that was an awkward e-mail to have to write, but that did turn out just to be a very short email exchange. But yeah, part of what was holding up the book for the longest time was I was kind of like, “Can I make a book with my ex-girlfriend in it? Is that appropriate?” I eventually finally had to ask her and she’s straight up like, “Yeah, whatever. I don’t care.”
I am really curious about the graphic novel you’ve been working on for the last year or two. How has that process been?
I think you’ll like it. It’s pretty good, if I may say so myself. That thing is really weird to work on because dealing in webcomics, one thing that I got really used to was very immediate feedback and specifically within the feedback, the immediate praise. You put up a strip that maybe is actually good and people like it and comment and all that, and you get all that adulation to boost your ego and all that at the time.
That was sort of how I went through webcomics: the whole time you’re riding this constant high, ’cause when you’re uploading stuff, people are engaging with it and talking about it and that’s fun. With this graphic novel, it’s so isolating ’cause I can share panels and stuff like that, but I don’t even want to tell people what the title is yet. There’s no “Attaboy,” you know what I mean?
As of right now, I have inked just shy of 250 pages. That’s a lot. This is already going to be my biggest book. It’s not even done yet. It’s so weird to be this deep into it and have no feedback whatsoever.
You have been working with Avi Ehrlich and the folks at Silver Sprocket for years and years and years. What is that relationship like, because you’ve put out books and zines and records that were also comics. How have Avi and and those folks been in helping you with your work?
Oh, they’re great. At this point, the relationship is so established that I feel like if I just went crazy and drew some 30-page thing, just out of nowhere, I feel like they would publish it if I asked nicely. They support me in that way and are usually pretty cool about releasing any stuff except Avi doesn’t want to do records anymore, so turn the future of Turnstyle Comics is very complicated, but other than that, it’s really cool. I love working with them.
Are you still doing illustrations for other folks?
Occasionally. I did one for I just did a cover of an LP for this band, Postage because my friend Chris runs the record label Dirt Cult Records. I just was already a fan of this band and I was like, “Hey, when are they gonna put something out again so I can ask you if I can do the cover?” And he was like, “Oh. We’ve got one coming out already if you wanna do it.”
That was fun. I don’t get asked to as much anymore as when I had more of a web presence. I think taking all the stuff offline definitely took a hit to my perceived existence. I don’t get asked a ton anymore, but that’s okay.
Well, I mean, it does seem like you’re living a much better life than the one in that is in this book. You seem much happier.
I am but still, if Kill Lincoln hits me up for an album cover, I’ll be very excited. Pass that on.
Mitch Clem’s My Stupid Life is out now from Silver Sprocket. You can buy that book here.