The Dudes Behind the Mask: An Interview with Matt Pizzolo, a Founder of the new Black Mask Studios

Artwork courtesy of Guy Denning
Artwork courtesy of Guy Denning
logoNicole: Who is the group behind Black Mask Studios? Did you all know each other before Occupy? Through comics? Through activism? Through the art / music scene? 
Matt: Black Mask is founded by Steve Niles, Brett Gurewitz, and me. I’ve known Brett for a pretty long time, but I’d only met Steve shortly before Occupy. We were on a horror comics panel together at San Diego Comic Con, and I accidentally insulted him during the panel… which is always the start of the best friendships. We got along pretty quick though because we both come from the punk scene and bring that sensibility to our work, both in terms of integrating social issues into the content and in terms of producing through the DiY ethic. It was a few months later that Occupy Wall Street began and I had the idea for Occupy Comics–Steve was one of the first people I reached out to about it and he helped me get the whole thing rolling. Brett was quick to help support the Kickstarter and when that was done he asked how he could help with the project as it moved forward beyond the Kickstarter. So we all met up and Black Mask was born.
N: How did Occupy seem like a movement special enough to have a comic book dedicated to it?
M: Occupy is really special because it’s a social justice movement that transcends party politics, which is particularly critical these days when bitter partisanship prevents pretty much anything at all from getting done. What excited me about Occupy is that it quickly spread to all different types of people coming from diverse backgrounds and banding together around an idea rather than an ideology. The very earliest iteration of the Tea Party was similar in that it sprang up from non-partisan populist rage, but it was quickly co-opted. I felt anything we could do in our own small way to help try and prevent Occupy from being co-opted was important because it’s a really unique movement and needs to be protected from entrenched political groups.
occupy cover 1N: Conversely, why did comics seem like the art medium to go with for a political art project?
M: … Comics are a very personal, hand-crafted art form (usually created by just one or two people) and the anthology format expands that into a chorus of individual voices… which is precisely what Occupy is: a chorus of individual voices. That’s why the news media didn’t know how to cover it, the news format requires a leader or representative with a list of talking points or demands. A movement like Occupy doesn’t function that way, so comics seemed like the ideal medium to reflect it.
N: Beyond Occupy Comics… what decision brought about the larger vision of creating Black Mask as a publishing body for multiple bodies of work?
M: Well initially I didn’t want to be responsible for distributing Occupy Comics; it was enough of a colossal task to organize and produce it as a volunteer effort. I’d hoped I could then just bring the book to a publisher who would connect the dots getting it to an audience, after all the project was very hot coming off its Kickstarter. And certainly publishers were really aggressive about wanting to take it on, if for no other reason than the amazing roster and tremendous press coverage.
But, nonetheless, the offers from the publishers were all pretty awful… and I realized that if the offers were that bad for a project with people like Alan Moore, David Lloyd, Art Spiegelman, Ben Templesmith, Charlie Adlard and all the other dozens of amazing creators on the roster, then it must be nearly impossible to try and get a decent deal for anything that’s not superheroes or zombies. I’ve always been a fan of the more transgressive, confrontational, socially-conscious comics, and there’s a great history of those themes in comics, but not so much these days. So I decided I’d put the additional work in on building a pipeline for Occupy if we could sustain the pipeline and use it to support other outsider-type comics. Luckily Brett and Steve and all the awesome creators who’ve joined the team agreed with me. It’s unintentional but not by accident that every book on the initial slate [includes at least one person] who contributed to Occupy Comics. Darick Robertson on Ballistic, Matthew Rosenberg and Patrick Kindlon on 12 Reasons To Die, and Matt Miner on Liberator. The people who joined Occupy Comics all share a certain unique sensibility and that’s what holds Black Mask together.

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N: And I’m sorry to be that shitty journalist, but… where are Alan Moore and Art Spiegalman fitting into all of this? I see their names getting mentioned in the press but I don’t see anything on the website…
M: Alan Moore and Art Spiegelman are both contributors to Occupy Comics. They’re both giants, of course, so they get a lot more attention than the rest of the team when headlines are being written.
N: Favourite comic book (preferably political comic book, but I can’t really force that on you) and why?
M: The obvious thing would be to say V For Vendetta or Maus (both of which are favorites), but for a deep cut that blew my mind as a kid I’d say The Realist by Joseph Michael Linsner (an Occupy [Comics] contributor as well) in Cry For Dawn #7 (1992) collected in the Image Comics trade Angry Christ Comix. It’s kind of an inversion of American Psycho, about a guy who kills corporate suits and hangs their ties on his wall. Cry For Dawn was a self-published black & white comic with gorgeous, evocative art and powerful, angry storytelling–so unique to comics. That’s the type of thing that burned a correlation between punk and comics into my young mind. For something more contemporary, I’d say I’m really looking forward to Molly Crabapple’s Shell Game, which I backed on Kickstarter–her work is just incredible.
Thanks so much Matt – looking forward to Occupy Comics and all the rest from Black Mask!
Black Mask and Occupy Comics can be found on Twitter and Facebook:
You can check out their website here:
occupycomics-cover_artby-guy-denning
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