Lonnie Millsap: 'My being a black cartoonist seemed to make people want to typecast me'
Millsap at Meltdown Comics, March 10
Cartoonist Lonnie Millsap (yes, he's aware that his name rhymes with a country singer's, so if you chat with him you can skip the "Any Day Now" reference) can frequently be found in Los Angeles comic book shops at book signing events.
Last year, Millsap's art was featured at the American Visionary Art Museum's special exhibit "What Makes Us Smile?" co-curated by Matt Groening, Gary Panter, and AVAM founder/director Rebecca Hoffberger. He is working on his third book, tentatively scheduled for a July release, with the working title I Stepped on a Duck!
Matt Groening and Lonnie Millsap at the AVAM luncheon, 2011
Courtesy Lonnie Milsap
OC Weekly: You list Panter and Groening as artistic inspirations on your website and then last year, they invited you to be a part of the "What Makes Us Smile?" exhibit at AVAM. How did that come about, and how did it feel to gain that recognition?
Lonnie Milsap: It felt validating because I've been doing this for so long. Gary was a teacher of mine when I was 17 and that experience has inspired me to draw for all of these years. I submitted a lot of things and got a lot of rejections for so long, but at the end of 2009 I finished my first book and sent it to Gary with a note basically saying, "Look what I did." He was excited by it. Gary was in my corner to get me involved with the exhibit, and now Rebecca and I are close, too; she treats me like family.
Did Panter's work influence what you do?
I always liked Gary's attitude in his work, and I tried to carry that attitude into my own work. I try to be irreverent with the characters I use in my cartoons; I try not to follow any logic. I don't want them to be obvious; I want readers to have to think sometimes for the laugh.
It's fun to come across things that aren't predictable, to laugh at things that are unexpected.
Gary's stuff always made me laugh, it was so out there. I always wanted to be like that, but in my own skin.
Is that why do your cartoons have animals, food, and other items speaking? Because you know that toothpaste actually can't speak, right?
In the real world, I guess they can't talk. But in my world, I imagine what they'd say if they could. Inanimate things talking is just kind of funny to me.
You're a native Californian but spent many years in Atlanta. What prompted your return to LA?
When I completed my first book in Atlanta [in 2009] it was ready for distribution, and Atlanta's reception was okay at times, but the Atlanta vibe doesn't seem very open to my sense of humor.
Also, my being a black cartoonist seemed to make people want to typecast me, suggesting I cover certain topics. The thing is, the situations [in my cartoons] aren't black or white situations. From time to time, I'll do a politically tinged cartoon, but the humor is the focus for me; it's meant for everyone.
I thought there would be more options available in California and I was right; the people have been more receptive to my humor here. My humor is more off-beat and doesn't fall into a certain category. I consider myself a niche cartoonist and I'm fine with that as long as I find the people in my niche. I want them to know I'm out there.
Will you be at ComicCon this year?
Yes! I'll have two books and some original cartoons with me. I'll likely have some t-shirts on hand at WonderCon, too.
At ComicCon 2011, you shared a table with Keith Knight, right? How did that come up?
We met in passing one day last year and then three weeks later he invited me to share a table at ComicCon. I don't think anything like that would have happened without meeting him (or at least that quickly).
Last year I split a hotel room with Ken Tanaka and Keith and it was great--it was like high school. This year, I'll be sharing a table with Ken (Keith adjacent), but I've graduated to my own hotel room.
How did you happen to meet Keith Knight last year?
I'd only been back in L.A. for three or four months when I stopped by a book festival and Keith was there. I told him that his book cracked me up and mentioned that I'm a cartoonist, too. He asked me if I had any books. Luckily, I always carried some in my car. He laughed [at my cartoons] and then a couple weeks later, he invited me to share a table at ComicCon.
Los Angeles seems to be working for you! What's next for you and L.A.?
I'm looking toward getting a syndication deal and perhaps some representation.
And I'll keep drawing, signing, and do a book a year, if I can.
I've also started running. It's strange, but oddly satisfying, although the only physical difference I've noticed is that my watch fits more loosely. I guess I've lost that pesky wrist weight.
Where to see Lonnie at this weekend's WonderCon:
Small Press Booth 032 under his company, Rollyhead Publishing, Friday through Sunday.
Additional 2012 events to see Lonnie:
L.A. Festival of Books - Comic Art Professional Society Booth April 21-22
Big Wow Comic Fest - May 19-20
Book Signing- Wacko/Soap Plant - sometime in May
Comic Con 2012- Small Press Table K-2 July 11-15
Alternative Press Expo 2012, October 13-14
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