Walking into Push/Pull Gallery in Ballard felt like entering your cool high-school friend's basement. Framed comic book–ish art was scattered across the venue's bright teal walls. On the snack table: Flamin' Hot Cheetos, Dinamita Chile Limón Doritos, a bowl of frosted animal crackers. I think there was a pinball machine there? Cans of Rainier issued from some endless 18-pack. A handle of Jim Beam floated around. A few artists stood behind tables, pushing one-off zines, pins, and prints.
All were gathered for the release of the penultimate issue of Intruder, a comics-only newspaper published quarterly and distributed for free in local cafes, comic book shops, and record stores. Many in attendance sorta looked like comic-book characters of themselves. This was especially true of the Intruder contributing illustrators. There was the guy with tattoos crawling up his neck, the guy with the comically long sideburns and an oversize T-shirt, the guy who was three-quarters shaggy beard and one-quarter baseball cap, the guy with a handlebar mustache, the nerdy guy with '70s hair and glasses who was wearing carpet-colored clothing—all outcasts from different eras.
The people who showed up represented a sizable portion of the Seattle comics community, which seems to have picked up steam in the last five years. Short Run, an annual comics festival, started back in 2010 and has grown every year since. Intruder started publishing in 2012. Dune, an egalitarian comics drawing collective that meets once a month at Cafe Racer, has been going strong for four years and just released its 41st issue. Cold Cube Press—a local press that publishes comics, other visual art, and literature using a Risograph—started in 2015.
James the Stanton, the guy with the comically long sideburns, has been publishing his Gnartoons series since 2005. At the Intruder party, he told me he moved to Seattle from the Bay Area in 2012 because the scene here seemed more active. He said people in the Bay Area seemed snobbish, and the scene in Portland felt too established. But then he visited Seattle, met the Intruder crew, and sensed that a lot of people were working on new stuff.
Local comics artist Mita Mahato felt similarly after seeing the first issue of Intruder come out. "I remember being excited by the format to the point where I was scanning pages and sending them to friends and saying, 'Look at what's happening in Seattle!'" she said to me in an e-mail. "The Intruder was doing something different—or maybe it was a throwback? Not mini-comics. Not personal zines. But a FREE collaborative comics newspaper."
After the next issue, the paper's 20th, Intruder is closing up shop. "It's not fun to make anymore," said editor Marc Palm (handlebar mustache guy) at the party. It takes a lot of work to gather all the pieces, and it's a little costly. Partly because of Intruder's relative success, the regular contributors are getting really busy and so are even harder to wrangle. James the Stanton has a new book coming out. Palm has got a book coming out. Tom Van Deusen ('70s hair and glasses guy) is writing a regular strip for Vice. Aidan Fitzgerald is running the aforementioned Cold Cube Press. People got demanding art jobs.
"There's this idea that you have to get bigger, get glossy, to grow," Palm told me. "Can't this thing just stay one thing, and can't everyone just admire it for that?" he said of the paper. This ethos is reflected in the paper's consistent style. Every issue looks the same: two-color covers (black and one other color), ink on paper, 12 to 20 pages, just the comics, thanks.
The idea for the paper started in Van Deusen's apartment. "There was a little collective of us sitting around drawing and playing records and stuff," Palm said. "Someone had a copy of Smoke Signal [a comics-only paper based in New York]. We loved the newspaper feel, so we thought, 'Why don't we just make a comics newspaper in Seattle?' In the last 30 years, there'd been only two: the Seattle Star (in the mid-to-late '80s, which often featured Peter Bagge) and one other." Palm told the 11 artists gathered around that he'd handle the logistics. In addition to contributing a piece, he'd collect all the work, lay it out, and communicate with the printer. "The big push was just to make things and get things done," he said.
The group's aesthetics ranged from in-your-face hairy/gloopy/crosshatched stuff to clean-line story-driven stuff, but all of the artists share a similar temperament: dark humor, dread, misanthropy. Many of the pages feature huge illustrations that are so densely drawn, you feel the urge to look for Waldo. In terms of content, the comics match the concerns of many young people working for not very much money in the city. The politics are often broadly anticapitalist and paranoid. Lots of romantic troubles. Lots of depression. Lots of parodies of masculinity. The general lesson seems to be that humans are shitty, terrible, gross monsters doomed to a life of failure and unhappiness, and many of the comics offer nuanced permutations of that idea.
A good example can be found in Max Clotfelter's contribution to Issue 10, called "Rough Things I've Seen on My Daily Walk to Work." It's a nine-panel grid of gnarly objects Clotfelter found on the streets of Capitol Hill. Lots of blood. A handmade dildo outside of Club Z. A quart-sized bottle of orange juice filled with vomit. And, "worst of all," the destruction of the neighborhood by corporate developers. Seth Goodkind's strangely affecting page in the latest issue is a parody of John Mellencamp's song "Small Town" and features a suicidal small-town clown.
Not all the drawings are gross and gloopy, but many are. I asked Palm what gives. He said he was influenced by the underground comics of the 1960s, which didn't fit into the comic-book world of superheroes. "We wanna draw sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll," he said. Plus, the style is fun for him. "It's like you're a mad scientist."
But he hastened to add that the attention to grossness, dread, and ugliness also works against the impulse so many have to try to escape reality. "You need to look at the gross stuff," he said. It's true that much of life comes at us filtered, glossed up, and prepackaged. Grossness, decay, chaos—these characteristics often indicate problems in systems, and the refusal to examine those problems means they won't ever get fixed. Training yourself to not only regard but to closely examine images that initially repulse you can serve as good citizen training.
Though Intruder is bowing out after the next issue, the paper has already made an impact on the local comics community. Palm said a comics-only paper up in Bellingham called Emergence and another one in Portland called Vision Quest cite Intruder as their inspiration.
Kelly Froh, author and codirector of Short Run festival, said that Intruder got a lot of comic artists and comic enthusiasts to see the fun again, "When you can pick up free comics at your record store, or at a block party on Summit Avenue, that's making comics as accessible as they should be," she said.
"Cartoonists like to complain a lot about how making comics is lonely and isolating," said Colleen Frakes, author of Prison Island. "Intruder and other collaborative publications make it feel less lonely."
Palm told me that he's happy to teach anyone who is interested how to make a paper like Intruder, but he's got no plans to hand off the name to anyone else. His hope is that younger comics artists read the paper and then get inspired to do their own thing.