Comics: Brian "Box" Brown on Retrofitting the Medium

Retrofit Comics - encouraging the medium’s growth one artist, one issue at a time

By , Columnist

James Kochalka

Just in case it’s not been made clear before now, at present the comics industry, like much of the publishing industry, is in a state of flux.

The advent of multiple formats, presentation platforms and distribution systems—including such diverse elements as the Internet and, digital editions and nearly ubiquitous eReaders of all variety of description, among many other factors—have left many in the business more than a little concerned about the future and what kind of changes are yet to come.

Others are seizing the day, and those new opportunities, using this paradigm shift to remake and remodel the creative, editorial and marketing of their comics, if not their companies and their very lives.

Yet another group sees the wisdom held on both sides of this growing divide, people who are unafraid to embrace change and seek out the possible futures available even as they work to preserve those practices and ideas from the past worth saving, or even embracing wholeheartedly.

Brian "Box" Brown, the founder and Publisher of Retrofit Comics, is just such a man. In fact, he’s already embarked upon what some might call a quixotic quest to keep the single issue “floppy” alive in an increasingly collected and downloadable world.

Brown recently set aside a few moments to discuss Retrofit’s roster and releases, and why he’s chosen to help foster the future of the medium by publishing a small group of handpicked artists in a format that—at least according to some—is on its last legs.



What is Retrofit Comics, and who’s doing what behind the scenes?

Retrofit Comics is small comics press based in Philadelphia. We're working on publishing small saddle-stitched alternative comics, the kind that rose to popularity in the 90's and early 2000s.  Remember? Daniel Clowes Eightball is an example. We'll be publishing a new comic by a different artist every month for the next 17 months.   

Why did you establish the imprint, and what made now the time to launch it?

I really believe in this format for cartoonists, especially those in the early parts of their careers. It allows artists to experiment and establish a readership. For a young artist, a graphic novel is, in my opinion, not the best place to start out. 

For one thing they take a really long time to make. If you're not serializing it in print comics or maybe online, that's a long time where no one is seeing your work. You're not getting feedback from an audience, which is really important especially when learning the medium. Then you have to publish the thing. If you're an emerging artist, that is a big investment—either by you, if you self-publish, or a publisher. 

Furthermore, it's bigger investment by the reader. The reader has to be willing to plunk down $20 or more on an unestablished artist; it's a big risk.  

What’s so important about having indie floppies appear regularly on comic shop shelves? What does that shorter, ultimately disposable format offer that the graphic novels format doesn’t?

As a fan of indie comics and a regular user of public transportation I envied mainstream comics fans. Every single week for a few bucks they can get a comic to read on the bus, in the bathroom—this where reading happens, deal with it—or just while laying in bed. But, if I wanted to stop at the shop and get something to read, it's $15, $20 per book. So, you have a few artists that you can follow and save up to buy their books. 

Artists are still self-publishing comics of this size, and publishers should, too. Younger artists can go to the web, and that has been a good outlet too, but for my tastes I prefer to read comics in print.

Well, who are the creators involved in this endeavor, and what are some of the reasons you choose to publish these particular people?

We have the best artists in the world. If there is one thing I am not nervous about in this endeavor, it's our talent roster. I know that each and every one of them can and will deliver amazing material. 

They're all "alternative" artists, but that's not really a genre. They work in different styles and tell stories of all different types, but they're all rock solid cartoonists. I've gotten to know them throughout the years working the different conventions. 

We have artists who are relatively new faces (like) Pat Aulisio and Brendan Leach, and artists who've been in the business a while, (such as) Tom Hart and James Kochalka. There are also a few women in the line-up; I know five out of 17 isn't exactly equal, but it's not like I was searching out women to fill the ranks. I just looked for artists I liked, and who would be willing and able to produce quality work for Retrofit.

JamesKpreview2.jpg What books have already come out, and what might you have to say about them?

James Kochalka's book Fungus #1 is our first book and I'm really proud of it. It was released the first week of September and is out in stores across the country. It's about some mushroom guys and other characters that live in the Vernal Pools of Maine. James actually went out and did field research for them.  He did comics about his research which you’ll find here, here, and here.

The next book, Drag Bandits by Betsey Swardlick and Colleen Frakes, is about these bandits who dress in drag! A new take on the Scarlet Pimpernel, if you will. Colleen and Betsey are alumni of the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont and are well versed in how to make awesome comics.   

Both sound like a lot of fun.

Well, what’s coming up, title- and content-wise, in the near and far future?

November and December will see (books from) two relative unknowns named Pat Aulisio and Josh Bayer. I'm really excited for both of them reach a larger audience.  They're work is really visually stunning and dramatically different from the first two books. 

Pat's book Bowman is his foray into the world Arthur C. Clarke developed in 2001: A Space Odyssey, but with Aulisio's classic use of the juxtaposition of wild visuals and crude humor. 

Josh Bayer's work, Raw Power, features G. Gordon Liddy as a character. Josh's work is as original as it comes. I was talking with Jessica Abel this weekend and she described him as mostly wanting to be Gary Panter, but there is part of him that really wants to be Jack Kirby, and anyone who's read his comic ROM can attest to that being true. 

In 2013, it's just a non-stop thrill ride of all kinds of different stuff. 

How can readers grab copies of these beauties for themselves?

The first thing they should do is demand that their local shop start carrying Retrofit comics. If that doesn't work, they can find a better shop from our retailers list

If that's not possible, they can order from our website. They can also buy subscriptions (for four and six months) from the site. That way they'll never miss an issue.

What do you hope readers get from your efforts?

I hope they get to see more comics by more artists than they've been able to in the last few years. 

How about the artists involved, what do you hope their work with Retrofit does for them?

I just hope that I was able to provide them with a legitimate avenue for their art work, and helped to get their work seen by tons of eager eyes.

What about you? What do you get from making Retrofit happen on a daily basis?

I'm just happy to help. In the future, I'd love to keep the party going and continue Retrofit past the 17 months currently scheduled. I'd love for Retrofit to be in every store in the country and be a legitimate avenue for comics artists.

Anything else to add?

Retrofit comics will be at lot of indie cons throughout the country. The next bunch of shows coming up is MICE in Boston, PIX in Pittsburgh, and the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival, in Brooklyn--naturally. 

Subscribers can look for the new issue in their mailbox, and everyone else can follow us at and on twitter @retrofitcomics 

 Also I, Box Brown, am a cartoonist. I won’t be publishing my own work as part of Retrofit—I see it as a conflict of interest—but, thankfully, other people will be. My new book The Survivalist will be out in December from Blank Slate.

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Thanks again!

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