This July some 130,000 fan kids will shuffle into the San Diego Convention Center to ogle strong-jawed movie stars and snap selfies with spray-tanned models in Marvel superhero ensembles. Fantagraphics cofounder and president Gary Groth will be at Comic-Con International too, manning a booth stocked with the thinky comics and graphic novels that define his Roosevelt-based brand. Three years after the loss of business partner Kim Thompson and the near collapse of their company—home to such industry juggernauts as Daniel Clowes, Jessica Abel, and R. Crumb—Groth updated us on the state of affairs at his beloved publishing house. Now if he can just get through that cretinous convention.
In 2013, after Kim Thompson died, you launched a Kickstarter campaign to keep things afloat. How’d it go?
It did the trick. Since then, we’ve published a number of profitable books and gotten on our feet. We’re doing probably better now than we have in the last 40 years.
Is your audience expanding?
I can’t say there’s empirical evidence that it’s expanding. Book publishing is difficult because you can never predict—it just so happens that in the past few years we’ve published better-selling books.
And yet, it feels like comic books are all over popular culture.
The comics they make movies out of—Deadpool, Batman, Superman—don’t sell. I think the companies that publish them, Marvel and DC, only publish them in order to keep the franchise going. You can’t cite any other medium that has that place in popular culture. You make a movie out of a novel, I mean, people still read the novel.
And that’s reflected at Comic-Con?
We keep getting pushed farther and farther over to the left side of the convention hall. And the pop-culture portion, dominated by movie studios, TV studios, gaming, and so forth, just keeps becoming larger. We just kind of stick around the booth and find the rest of it terrifying.
Ha! Why go then?
We go because we’d be conspicuous by our absence, and we have fans who really do appreciate us being there. We’re sort of an oasis in this sea of shit.
Is that why you’ve stayed in Seattle, to avoid all that?
We do so much of our work over email or over the Internet. We could probably work in Bulgaria, and it wouldn’t make much difference. We publish European cartoonists, South African cartoonists—we’re a truly international company in that sense. The reason we’re here is we like Seattle.