Q&A: "Nowhere Band" webcomic artist Keith Pille

Categories: Q&A
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Schlepping gear back and forth between the practice space and Big V's. Learning how to book gigs. Whittling away hours at the Turf Club. These are just a few of the situations that pop up in Keith Pille's webcomic, "Nowhere Band," which chronicles fictional local rock underachievers the Awesome Boys as they feel their way through the music scene. As fans of the strip, we sat down with Pille to ask a few questions about his webcomic, his inspiration, and his own life as a local musician and writer.

Where did the idea for creating a webcomic come from?

Keith Pille: I was a writer for a long time... local music writing, human-interest journalism, and some (mostly really bad) fiction. Then, maybe five years ago, comics just sort of took over my brain. I'm the kind of guy who, once I start enjoying something, feels like I have to give it a try myself.  So before long I'm trying to learn to draw, and it just kind of moved from there. For a while, I did comic-short-story stuff (one making fun of the world of literary fiction, one adapting a Jim Walsh story about shooting the members of Fleetwood Mac in the head), but after that I thought it'd be fun to switch to something long-form, dealing with the same ongoing cast of characters. At the same time, I've been making music since I was a teenager doing punk shows in barns in rural Nebraska.  They say write what you know, and if there's one thing I know, it's what it's like to be in a band that's got big expectations and small ambition.

As for why I'm doing it on the web instead of print: I really, really like the freedom that working for the web provides. Each strip can be any damn size it needs to be, instead of having to fit on a printed page (although this did come back to bite me when I started compiling strips for the first Nowhere Band book). Also, I like being able to throw strips up on my own site without having to deal with a syndicate or any sort of middleman.

Are you an avid webcomic/print comic reader? What are some of your favorites?

Pille: Hell, yeah. For webcomics, the gold standard is Achewood; it's a hard one to describe--the two main characters are cats. One's a moronic rap mogul, one's a clinically depressed computer guy. It's not for everyone, but if you've got the right kind of humor it's the best thing out there. A lot of the other webcomics I like (and this goes for Nowhere Band, too) seem to focus on a given subculture. XKCD has really simple stick-figure art but really sophisticated jokes about science and relationships; The Rack makes fun of comics culture in general through the lens of the staff of a comics store.

Big Time Attic used to be a great local one, but they've stopped updating.

Print stuff, I like a lot of the usual suspects--if it has the name Grant Morrison or Alan Moore on it, it's at least worth looking at. Dan Clowes is a living god (and the movie version of his Ghost World rules, too). Jeffrey Brown's comics about failed relationships are awesome in small doses, although they start to be the same if you read a bunch in a row.

And then there's the holy trinity of old-school print comic strips: Walt Kelly (Pogo), Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes), and our own Charles Motherfucking Schulz. The more I learn about cartooning, the more in awe I am of Schulz.

Your comics deal with some very specific, realistic situations about being in a local band. How much of what you draw is based on personal experiences?

Pille: It's pretty rare for a strip to be directly autobiographical (two exceptions: #83, where one of the guys gets totally abused by a really weird sound man, is pretty much a straight transcript of one really bad night I had; and most of the strips with Mimi, the music writer, show her running into situations I ran into and usually dealing with them better than I did), but everything's definitely informed by my time in the trenches, both in bands and writing about other people's bands. I try pretty hard to keep any one character from mapping directly to any real person, though.... basically, I don't want to show up for band practice one night and have one of the guys cut me with a beer bottle because I made them look like a jackass on the internet.

Actually, in any given Nowhere Band strip, if someone's being a real asshole, he's probably channeling me.

That said, as the strip's gone on and the characters have gotten more established, they kind of take on lives of their own.  I had a big plotline last year where one of the guys reads Atlas Shrugged, decides he's a misunderstood genius, quits the band. and winds up in an AC/DC tribute band... that's nothing like anything that ever happened to me or anybody I know, but it all just seemed like the natural next thing for Aaron.

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What bands have you played in?

Pille: Right now (and for the past, I don't know, 7 years) I'm in Derailleur. We're kind of on the line between art-rock and sloppy garage rock. We don't play out as much as we should (we're profoundly lazy about getting shows... ), but we're pretty good when we do. We've got a couple of albums--including an EP of fake James Bond theme songs--free for streaming or downloading at our site.

Before that, I was in an alt-country band called Red Hay. We were ok, but took ourselves way, way too seriously and really just sounded like a bunch of kids who'd spent too much time listening to Uncle Tupelo. Because that's what we were. Still, at the time I was convinced that we had maybe a year at the most before we were signed and touring on the basis of our awesome Tupelosity.

How long does it take you to create each comic? Do you create them entirely on the computer, or are they hand drawn and scanned in?


Pille: It takes about a week for each strip, although it'd be a lot quicker if I didn't have to squeeze all the work into the margins of life with a day job and a dog who's never learned to walk herself. I actually draw them by hand on paper (and that's a multistage process, with rough layouts, and less-rough pencilled versions and then a final ink drawing), and then scan them in for coloring and lettering in Photoshop. I did go out of my way to have a font made out of my own god-awful handwriting so that some of my native slobitude can creep back into the antiseptic computer stages.

I figured out a while ago that the comics come out best when I have a process where I'm only making one kind of decision at any given time.

Where can we find your comic, how often you post a fresh one, and what else do we need to know?

Pille: Where to find it: nowhereband.org. People who prefer their comics in print can also buy a print collection of the first 56 strips (and a second collection will shape up in the next 6 months or so).

How often is there a fresh one: usually every week, unless I'm traveling or just amazingly burned out.

Other things readers should know: even though I'm writing the strip from the point of view of someone who's been in bands for a long time, I work really hard to keep it accessible to people who haven't. That's the point, really, to let people see how the sausage gets made. In the end, being in a band is a lot like working in an office--there's a lot of internal politics (even if you're all Minnesotan and the internal politics just manifest themselves as everyone being nice to each other and refusing to take the last beer), people trying to get what they want, and so on. I think it's really the same any time you have a group of people working together for anything. I bet there was the same dynamic in big marching bands in the 1800s, except John Philip Sousa probably didn't use the word "cockknocker."

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