The Process of Making Comics with Ben Passmore

I won’t go so far to say I begged Ben Passmore to work with me on a comic, but I admit I was pretty persistent. I’ve been a fan of his for years, and he was one of the first artists I solicited when The Believer launched its expanded comics section. Best known for his comic “Your Black Friend,” his work often centers around race and class, offering sharp critiques of whiteness and power within a mindblowing, nearly psychedelic color palette. Here he discusses “Blak Flag,” a comic about his neighbor’s disappearance into the Louisiana prison system.

—Kristen Radtke


THE BELIEVER: How did this comic start?

BEN PASSMORE: In my work I’m getting more into writing slice of life pieces that are decent metaphors for living with race in America. I moved away from New Orleans about a year ago so I’ve been spending a lot of time revisiting significant relationships I had there. One was a brief friendship with a kid that squatted next to an ugly commune I lived in. A lot about his situation was emblematic of what a lot of people are struggling with in the city and the country. 

BLVR: What’s your process like?

BP: It changed a lot, I’m the most used to writing very over the top fiction or editorial. With this story I wrote down everything I remembered and then pared everything down until the story felt like it flowed. I’m super lazy about rewriting, but this story looked about ten different ways until it turned into what it is now.

BLVR: Was any aspect of making this work particularly challenging? 

BP: The main thing I always worry about is making themes too subtle or to go too far the other way and make a story that reads like an public service announcement about white privilege. I wanted the story to feel natural, like we were peeking into a tiny piece of a whole story. 

BLVR: What drives you to create new work?

BP: Comics have always been the way I express my most repressed and inner thoughts, so catharsis is always paramount for me, but on top of that I want to make something people can get lost in.

BLVR: Without naming any comics artists, what influences you most?

BP: This might be surprising but I usually value style first and story second.

BLVR: Which comic should we drop everything and read right now? 

BP: I’ve been really into Leaving Richard’s Valley by Michael DeForge. It seems like everyone is obsessed with cults, but I feel especially drawn to narratives about cults of personality having lived some of my life in that kind of community.

BLVR: What are you working on next?

BP: I’m getting really fascinated with doing something like Joe Sacco and traveling out to a place for a while and writing about the people there. My comics have been feeling too self-involved and it would be nice to leave the house for a while.

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