eight questions with SEth goodkind, of Push/pull
with William Pennington
Art is transformative, unbounded, and sometimes has no forgiveness. For human beings, each of us has a need to express inner demons and raw emotions. For Seth Goodkind, he may or may not be channeling his inner spirit animal in each piece, only he knows. But to me, it seems as if he does.
At Push/Pull, he may be a founding member, or assistant director, or artist in residence, but I like to think of this place as something more meaningful than just a venue putting art on the walls and selling enough prints to make the rent. As an artists co-op, Push/Pull fosters young talent and does much more than displaying artists work. It also helps you make that art yourself.
A self described "local misanthropic mediocre short-form cartoonist...[who] happens to be Assistant Director at a really cool artist co-op," I felt lucky to pin him down on his views of his own art, life, and advice for those searching for their own voice.
I love your work! Especially your Etsy store. Twenty years ago, selling art would've been called "selling out", but I don't think people feel like that today. What's changed?
I’m not sure that it has, I definitely know people who feel that marketing ones work and seeking art jobs with larger companies is selling out, and I suppose it is depending on the context. One has to define that line as one sees fit. I have turned down jobs that I felt were wrong for me because of my political philosophy and I have said yes to jobs that were “commercial” because I thought that they were a good opportunity and didn’t offend my ethics. It’s a balance, I want to support myself and my family with my art and not have to have a day job at a grocery store. Which I might argue, requires a not-insignificant sacrifice of ethics. Selling my art on Etsy, mostly screenprinted by me on t-shirts, has given me a small stream of income that has made it possible to reduce the time I’ve needed to work a day job, so it’s worth it to me to be able to do what I love. Seriously, making more art has saved me from suicide. If “mass producing” my drawings for Etsy is what it takes, so be it, and people tell me they love wearing my art, so I’m happy.
Let me focus on one of your illustrations for a second. I was reading about Home, Washington recently, in Sons of the Profits, by Bill Speidel (a great read, btw), and am intrigued how you came to illustrate the town for the cover of the Real Change in 2014. Have you ever been there? What a radical place, literally.
I was a history major at UW and studied social justice movements, labor history and US imperialism (in Latin America.) Those studies led me to a research project on Home which was initially a small community of Anarchists. The editor of Real Change at that time knew of my studies as I had been doing work for the paper while I was in school, and he asked if I wanted to do the cover for the article they were printing.
Speaking of Seattle, I've always loved historical cartoons about this city, and am glad you have kept up the practice. I feel like its one way to preserve the memory of our favorite places, before they get torn down. How do you feel about the way Seattle is changing? Is this what progress looks like?
I don’t particularly like it. The nice old houses are being torn down and replaced with gilded cages that have no character and no aesthetic. Rents are through the roof and hardly anyone can afford to live here anymore unless they work for one of the giant corporate culture assassins. Many people have already said all that. This is what hyper-industrial capitalist progress looks like. It’s been the normalizing trend of the last 15 years all over the place; capital moves in absorbs everything, suffocates what it can’t privatize and commodify, guts the local culture and then leaves for riper killing fields. Hopefully we’re learning a little more about how to sustain ourselves outside of the capitalist system.
I also spent a few years in the Southwest before moving to Seattle, and also know many people who go back and forth from the soggy Northwest to the hot and dry Southwest. Do you ever yearn for the desert again?
Not really. It’s a nice place to visit, beautiful, but I like it here better. There are things about New Mexico that I miss, nobody here makes real NM red chile enchiladas, and the way green chile has become a fad food up here is pretty gross. But what most people know of New Mexico and the rest of the Southwest is pretty limited. It’s statistically one of the poorest, most undereducated states in the country and yes, there is a lot of sadness and desperation that comes from that, like a lot of places, it gets commodified in a TV show or whatever and the rest is ignored. In a way I love New Mexico, but New Mexico doesn’t love me. I couldn’t do what I do down there.
How did you decide to learn the art of tattooing? Was this something you've always wanted to do?
Ever since I started getting them I liked the idea and the way they are done. I never seriously considered it as a career because the culture has historically been so much male ego and fraternity hazing. I’m not interested in swapping insults and conquest stories with a bunch of bros, which is why I’ve sought out and go to female tattooers and woman owned shops. I was offered an apprenticeship from an artist I respect at a shop that I respect to work with people that are interested in my work and helping me get better. It’s amazing, but that actually does exist, and I was lucky enough to find it. I’ll still be making other kinds of art too, and hopefully they will all co-mingle.
As an art teacher and art gallery co-operator, you may be a good one to ask. I have a few friends who have ten times the talent I have as a visual artist, yet they are afraid of what people will think of their work. What advice do you have to people who are afraid or hesitant to express themselves? In a deeper philosophical sense, why do we let doubt get in the way of what we want to do? How is that an evolutionary advantage?
Some people make art for themselves, for catharsis, meditation, they don’t need or want to share it. For people who have a fear of failure, I think the best thing is encouragement. We do a monthly hangout at Push/Pull that seeks to give people a safe space for giving and getting supportive and constructive feedback from peers, but it’s still difficult. I always try to come up with something positive and encouraging to say to every artist, and give them a new goal to strive for in their future work. Sometimes it can be about introducing people to a group or individual artists who are also working hard and struggling. One of the things that held me back for so long was feeling isolated and alone. Once I started meeting people I got the support of the community. That’s part of the reason I’m trying to reach out to non-male, non-white cartoonists and artists and open up space for them to create and be heard in a community that is still very white-dude dominated (myself included.)
At what age did you realize that comics were an art form, as opposed to thinking they were for kids? I mean, ancient cave paintings are museum quality and respected, but comics (a similar medium) never seem to get the respect they deserve. How did you come to appreciate them the way you do? Was there one issue that caught your minds eye and made you think "hmmm...this is interesting..."?
A friend and I snuck out his dads back issues of Heavy Metal, so I came into it from the classic European adult sci-fi angle. Moebius was one of my early influences, I read The Incal when I was 14 or so, that’s what probably made me realize that comics was for me an art. Dave Gibbons’ art in Give Me Liberty was hugely influential for me at a young age. Crumb was an influence too, though a little later. Without him I wouldn’t have started sketchbooking so much or drawing things straight from my id but now I don’t really care much for him. He’s quite the misogynist and racist and I have a hard time with that. People say he’s the “greatest living cartoonist” and I agree that he’s been tremendously influential, but I want to say that his greatness is in what he made possible and not necessarily in what he made. What about Los Bros. Hernandez?
Some people cite the inclusion of Watchmen on some list of the 100 greatest books of the 20th Century as proof that comics had finally gotten respect, but I don’t think that’s the case. Illustration and fine art have always had a rivalry and we illustrators are looked down upon. Rockwell and the other Famous Artists from the golden age were beloved but they were still “just illustrators,” largely because they did commercial work. It wasn’t until later that they became respected as “artists,” and now we see Crumb’s work in museums. I think it comes on an individual basis, like graffiti. To most it’s vandalism, or at best, low art to be gentrified or colonized, to a few it’s truly an art “form.”
What I appreciate about comics is their ability to tell stories in a way that illustrations and painting cannot. Returning to the story of Martha Washington in Give Me Liberty, it told an incredibly powerful story of race, poverty, exploitation and rapacious militarized capitalism, it was just a science fiction story (written by a white man) which happens to sound remarkably prescient.
Oh wait, I forgot to ask you about Fantagraphics.
What titles over the years have you enjoyed the most? It's really hard to pick a top five, but some titles/authors must stand out more than others, no? Is it a goal of yours to be published by them? Seattlites are really lucky to be able to go down to Georgetown any time we want and peruse.
I highly doubt that I will ever produce the kinds, or lengths, of comics that they can sell. That’s really what it’s going to come down to for them; “Can we sell it?” Again I think Los Bros. Hernandez Love and Rockets et al are one of the top titles from Fanta. I’m really enjoying their reprints of the old EC library right now and the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers has always been kindof a favorite from the sneaking dads comix days of my youth. On the more serious side, anything by Joe Sacco is definitely at the top of my list. As I write out all of these titles I’m sad to say that they are all men, and mostly white. As a creator and someone involved in the community here in Seattle, I’m trying in some small way to create a space for non-white, non-dude, non-gender-binary folks to make more comics and be seen by more people. That’s one of the things that we are trying to do at Push/Pull. We don’t have the clout that Fanta does, but we’ll do what we can.
Push/Pull is an artists co-op located at 5484 Shilshole Ave NW, in Ballard. While Seth has a large say as to what goes on at Push/Pull, he in no way speaks for everyone there.