Jason Lennie Interview - Funtime Comics

I'm posting this hastily from an LA airport, jammed between a pillar and vending machine, the only place I could get my charger adapter to work...Apologies in advance for a lack of proofing.

New Zealand's long running comics collective Funtime Comics have a new web site courtesy Isaac Freeman and soon relaunch in print with a 27th edition of the Funtime Anthology being shepherded into existence by Jason Lennie. I asked Jason a few questions about recent Funtime activities.

Funtime Comics Website

What sparked the effort to get Funtime back into print editions?

It's the old saying, right place at the right time. It wasn't my intention, but the opportunity was waiting to be picked up. Isaac Freeman, Funtime's editor since 2006 had made the decision to halt printing Funtime and focus more on the digital side. That makes sense really as we are in the digital tablet era, with people increasingly reading comics online or through their iGadgets. There is a lot of work involved in putting together a comics anthology for print and Isaac had been the lone warrior carrying Funtime. There are problems that are inherent with running an anthology, such as turn around between issues, ongoing stories split between issues over several years, time, volunteering, a small market. I'm sure there are more issues that I'm yet to come across... right I think i've talked myself out of putting Funtime back into print.

Fortunately ambition lends itself to blindness, so I'll push the negatives to the side until I get cynical and burnt, haha! But seriously, there are lessons to learn from and in many ways rebooting Funtime in print will be an opportunity for me to see what works well and what doesn't. Isaac has a wealth of knowledge to draw on as well.

What sparked my own interest to put my hand up was a series of events. Much of it is simply coming of age, I'm in my early 30's now, but had fallen out of the local comics scene for a good five years. Getting married  work, freelancing to build my business, return to study and earthquakes all set my priorities elsewhere. Stepping into my graphic design business full time allowed me to focus more on the creative industry. I dreamed up a Minecraft themed comic that sold quite well at Auckland Armageddon 2013, which threw me back into the pop culture scene. This time is was fun observing the mad excitement of Armageddon as a 31 year old instead of a doe eyed 21 year old. Damon Keen's Faction caught my attention and shows the level of quality that home grown comics can be - in fact that really grabbed my imagination for Funtime. Further more running the NZ Comics stall at Armageddon in Christchurch led me down the rabbit hole further; and the last influencer has been entering the print industry with expanding my business into a printing.com franchise. This has given me access to some really impressive new printing technology that makes colour printing affordable for projects like Funtime.

Ari Freeman and Isaac Freeman

I wasn't quite sure how Funtime is being run these days but are you serving as an editor from #27 with Isaac focusing more on Funtime's online presence?

Precisely. I was a bit shy about taking on the title of editor. Isaac said he stopped writing editorials for Funtime as he didn't want Funtime to be his voice but rather reflect the artists that contribute. Likewise I don't want a title to pump up my ego. That said I do have ideas for Funtime, quite a few in fact, and no doubt that will influence and mould Funtime. This may not agree with everyone but I have always been interested in making small press comics more mainstream. Lift the quality, production and make them accessible to a greater audience - I think this comes from working in graphic design and marketing, I'm less arty minded and more commercially wired. I loved reading comics as a kid, so I've always been keen to make comics that kids can pick up. How this will influence Funtime? I'm not sure, but I think it's about finding a balance. Funtime during Isaac's tenor has achieved this in many ways, the comics featured have never gone 'too' adult. Perhaps the focus should be more to draw teenagers in as they are a huge market that consumes pulp content. Finding the market to target will need some time to work out, but also Funtime is still about providing a platform for the artists, so of course the content still greatly dictates the final product.

Oh, and to answer your question. Isaac and I discussed that we would use the titles of Web Editor and Print Editor, respectively.

Brent Willis

What do you think has sustained Funtime Comics as a collective over such a long period of time?

The workshops: I don't think I'm the authority on this, but the fact our monthly workshops have continued for over 20 years has to be a key reason. It has been mentioned before that Christchurch's geography has made the workshops accessible. I mean Christchurch really is a small city that covers a smaller physical area unlike the sprawl of Auckland.

The Editor: The Editor has been the heart and soul behind Funtime. Isaac has done an incredible job running Funtime, as did his predecessor Darren Schroeder. At the detriment, the editor has had to carry a great weight on their shoulders, instead of the load being distributed. I suppose this is common in any non-for-profit or community groups. Recently Funtime as the Christchurch Comics Collective has strengthened. The infamous Tony Scanlan took over from Isaac to run our monthly workshops from the New Brighton Art Gallery. And fresh blood has been attracted to the workshops - Uni art students are great recruits. Isaac of has moved his focus onto the website as mentioned, and of course I'm taking on the print side of the operation. For the first time each facet of Funtime is being carried by a different person instead on being purely reliant on one. Isaac is a web developer, so it makes sense he focuses there, while likewise I'm in the design and print industry.

It might be a bit early to ask but will you be looking at a regular print publishing schedule?

I'm looking at an issue every nine months. Six months would be a push, where as nine gives a bit more time between issues and totals two issues every 18 months instead being pushed out to one issue per year. I would love to make the issues more regular. We will see how well issue 27 sells first, as the next issue is funded by the sales from the previous. The amount of art being contributed dictates the release of each issue. But as we move away from ongoing arcs to self contained stories should help curve this. 

Armageddons are a great target to work towards. There is discussion in the community that perhaps Armageddon's aren't the draw card for local comics as they once were, and that Zine fests are the place to be. Well I'm out of touch with the Zine community so I'll focus on the pulp culture expo for now. I witnessed first hand how well Faction sold at two Armageddon's, copies were flying off the table, so Damon's onto a winner there! Make a quality product that has an incredible cover with gorgeous art inside will draw in customers who have not heard of the comic before. We can only give it a go right?

The Funtime site seems to be up and running after a period of dormancy, can we expect more material from previous editions appearing online?

Yes, Isaac has been heartily working behind the scenes to update the website. I'm not sure where he found the time, perhaps down the couch? The plan is to digitalise the backlog of Funtime Comics, but no doubt with 26 issues, plus extras and 23 years of comics under the belt this may take a while. This is a great way to preserve New Zealand comics, and make comics available that have been long out of print for future audiences. 

You can check out the website at http://funtime.comics.org.nz

Lastly, may I add I never expected to begin networking with New Zealand comic artists. But stepping into the print editor role is allowing me to connect with the greater community, and allows me to contribute my own skills. I'm excited about the upcoming issue and where Funtime may go in it's third decade of New Zealand comics history. I've got my eyes on our milestone issue 30!

Jason Auckland Armageddon 2013.jpg

Jason Lennie