Ryan Sands

Ryan Sands of Youth In Decline talks to Dan Berry about publishing deliberately, having a healthy dissatisfaction with your work and bouncing up and down on a trampoline.

Dan Berry: This is Make It Then Tell Everybody. I’m Dan Berry. I sat down to talk with Ryan Sands about being a detective, being a deliberate publisher, having a healthy dissatisfaction with your work, and bouncing on a trampoline. This is Make It Then Tell Everybody. Hi Ryan Sands, how are you?

Ryan Sands: Quite well, thank you.

DB: Sorry, I asked that question just as you were taking a big sip of drink.

RS: I’m good, yeah, I have both cups ready.

DB: Both cups, oh the life of Ryan Sands! This is an exhilarating glimpse into Ryan’s life here. So you’re a publisher.

RS: Yeah, that’s right.

DB: I guess my first question is, maybe this is going to sound rude, what made you think you could do this? (Laughs).

RS: That’s not rude at all.

DB: What gives you the right?

RS: Like many things in my life, I guess you just start doing it for a while. It was incredible that I didn’t flinch, I just say, ‘Yes, I’m a publisher.’

DB: I edited out the ‘flinch’, yeah.

RS: I wouldn’t have had that same response even two years ago, but enough people have told me that we’re a publishing house and I’m a publisher that I just accept it.

DB: So enough other people have told you that now it becomes okay, but if it was you saying, ‘Me, I’m a publisher,’ then it’s not as comfortable?

RS: No, not at all. No. The amazing thing, other friends like Annie Koyama have said this too, but the number of people who email me and assume that it’s a company, like a proper company with employees, it’s hilarious. They’re like, ‘I know you guys are all so busy, but will any of you be at Comic Con’, and you can see my living room, it’s literally me in the hours between 7:30pm and 11:30pm, because I’m getting old and I fall asleep early, just hacking away at email.

DB: Same. We’ve established that we’re the same age, and I think that our schedules might be similar.

RS: I’ve become an incredible morning person, which is very difficult for my self identity.

DB: Really? Now as I get older I get more morning based as well. How morning based are you now?

RS: I wake up at 5:55am, unprompted, every day. It’s terrible.

DB: Same. That’s pretty much exactly the same. My kids, they wake up at about that time. Even if I’m away, or the kids aren’t here, I’ll wake up at that time anyway. I don’t think I’ve ever really slept in past nine o’clock in the morning forever.

RS: I haven’t for ages, yeah.

DB: Even when I was a teenager I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t stay in bed, I just don’t know how to do it.

RS: Mine is more out of training and necessity as an adult with a day job, and then elaborate hobbies. That’s what I used to refer to this whole operation as, an elaborate, expensive hobby. Now I accept the term, but if you had asked me two years ago I would have said I’m a zine maker, and I think when you asked where did I get the right, you just do a bunch of stuff for long enough, and then people accept that you’re a part of the scene, and then they don’t ignore you or try to kick you out any longer.

DB: (Laughs). So it’s persistence?

RS: Yeah, longevity. I have a friend who used to work at Reprodukt, which is a really nice boutique indie publisher in Germany, my friend Christian who works with them on and off, and he said the most important thing about any zine or magazine is that a second issue comes out. I mean, I’ve found it really true with all the things I’ve done, persistence and just staying around is literally half of it, maybe more probably.

DB: Yeah, I agree. I think if it’s one thing you’ve done it’s a one off, it’s a fluke, it’s a trick shot. If you can continue to do it then you’re in, you’ve done it, welcome to the comics club.

RS: Exactly, I totally agree.

DB: So you mentioned you have a day job as well. What’s your day job?

RS: I work at YouTube. I have a corporate day job, it’s 50 hours a week. We can talk more about it, but it subsidises a lot of this, most of this comics work. I will say though, previously I worked on this project Google was doing called Google Books, and the idea generally was to try to bring libraries and publishing and individual authors, bringing their works online. So my original first job really was working with authors and publishers to try to get them to digitise their books, and as part of that, I got to go to all these book shows. I went to the American Librarian Association, I got to go to the Frankfurt Book Fair, and basically what I did was, on my down time, my lunch break, I would run away from this big, corporate Google booth and go to the comics hall.

DB: Tear off your Google t-shirt.

RS: No, that’s the thing, you keep your badge on, because what I found was if you meet comics people at a comics show, especially people like, you know, I met Adrian Tomine when I was 23, at a show it’s very different, and if you meet them as a peer at a corporate trade show, and you have a badge that says ‘hey, I work here’, people treat you really differently. That was how I met the folks at Last Gasp who I did my first official publishing work helping with, and I met the folks from Drawn & Quarterly, I met Reprodukt, so in a weird way that corporate day job, I think of it as very separate from my comics life, other than the financial aspects, but truthfully it was how I got my door in to understanding comics as an industry, and as a career, as opposed to just making zines with my friends, which is what I did for most of college.

DB: I think that’s exactly right. I have this idea, you know, your convention, festival scenario is really interesting. One of the things I think about is that after a while you realise that you’re on the other side of the table. You know, I’d been to loads of comics shows where I’d just walk around with a bag and a camera and take photos and talk to people, and I would be a punter, you know, a guest, a visitor, someone coming in and just being a fan. I think as soon as I was on the other side of the table, the whole relationship between me and any of the creators I was talking to changed completely.

RS: Definitely, and the thing that’s lovely about comics, especially the corner of it that I live in, the indie comics side, and the art comics side, or whatever you want to call it, that line is really thin. It’s a very subtle distinction, and you can almost will your way across that line, but it does feel very different. I realise too, I had gone to San Diego Comic Con when I had just graduated college, and I had been to a few other shows as a fan, but at the book industry events the comics people are treated like dirt. That’s changed slightly, but I guess the point of all that is, I would go to these shows, like BookExpo America, which is the biggest book trade show in North America, and my favourite comic book publishers, and my favourite comic book creators were treated like chopped liver. There’d be literally two people in line to meet Adrian Tomine or Chris Ware or something. So it was such an exciting way to get in the door.

DB: To monopolise their time.

RS: Yeah, exactly! And then they’d actually, ‘Oh, what’s your name? Oh, cool.’ Like you’d actually talk to them like people, and like I said, the line between creator and fan in our side of the world is so small, and everybody seems interconnected, but that emotional hurdle, going from fan to peer was very strange.

DB: So you mentioned the day job, the YouTube work subsidises what you do. One of the things I was really interested in talking to you about is how the money works. I guess, when you first started publishing other people’s work let’s say for example, where did that initial money to do that come from, and then how did that feed back in to what you do now?

RS: I’m happy to talk about this. Actually sometimes I go on weird Twitter screeds about this, but I think talking about this stuff is really helpful for the scene, and just in general, so I’m happy to talk about the details from my side. For me, similar to the way that I found myself as a quote, unquote publisher, I just kept doing zines with friends, and they kept getting more elaborate. So the cost of making a thing goes up as your ambition goes up. Luckily a couple of my collaborators, like Michael DeForge is one of my best friends, pushed back a little, like we don’t need a die cut prismatic cover for Thickness #3, we’re okay.

DB: But it does sound good!

RS: It sounds great, yeah. I still tease him about that, but for the initial books that I did for publishing other people, which I think I guess is the big distinction between self-publishing and there’s a lot of artists who self-publish who are quite good at it, but it’s that leap to start publishing other people that’s both scary and a bit uncommon and strange. The money for that just came from my personal savings, so I left college with college debt and about $600 total.

DB: Sweet.

RS: Yeah (laughs).

DB: That’s more than I had when I graduated.

RS: Right, and to be very clear, some familial support with the $900 safety deposit, but generally speaking that was the lay of the land, but I started working at Google nine days after I graduated, so the longest I’ve been away from work is about 14 days for my honeymoon. The idea of having a day job and having to fight for your free time to do your hobby, that’s coded into my DNA at this point.

DB: It’s just normal, sure.

RS: Yeah. So I literally just saved money up from my day job, and I don’t even know which project to point out as the first project, but the very first zines I did with friends were with a core group of cartoonists who were just in the Bay Area, so in the San Francisco Bay Area that either I went to college with, or were friends of people I went to college with. That group was Hellen Jo, who’s an amazing cartoonist, Calvin Wong who’s storyboard director for Regular Show, Derek Yu is a game designer and a few other cartoonist friends, and those first books were just like how any other zine goes. You just throw it together with your friends, nobody gets paid, you spend $200 to Xerox it at most, but later projects I think it started to dawn on me that while the stakes are very low, asking people for stuff for free is not a great way to start off. So many people devalue their own work, or have their work devalued by others that actually treating it like it’s actually worth something is a good start. I think that literally was $10 a page, or something like that, or $5 for your contribution to this… basically a jam zine or something like that.

DB: So you’d take this zine, and you’ve got contributors, you’d print it, and then you’d take it and sell it and use the money that you get from selling it to then put into the next thing? That was my experience. When I started I photocopied a bunch of black and white things and sold it for much less than it should have been, and I think I remember selling 30 copies of something and being really, really pleased with myself. I remember, I bought a long arm stapler with my profits, and thinking, ‘Yeah, I’m a publisher now. I know what I’m doing. I’ve got a long arm stapler, watch out everybody.’

RS: That’s a good rite of passage.

DB: I’ve had three now.

RS: If I was giving a gift to a teenager, or an art school graduate, definitely a nice, heavy duty long arm stapler, it’s a sign. It’s like a rite of passage for sure.

DB: I’ve upgraded twice since then. I’ve had one of those proper booklet staplers, the one that’s a triangle shape that you fold, and that’s really nice, and I’ve got a bookleteer machine now, which has the two staplers at the same time, and it’ll crease it one way, and then staple it the other. It’s lovely.

RS: That’s great. I think Patrick Kyle, who’s a friend of mine, recommended this thing called the Strebber and it’s a German saddle stitch stapler, and you can staple through 120 sheets of paper.

DB: Hang on, I’m writing this down.

RS: You have to bolt it to your table, it’s very satisfying.

DB: Oh my!

RS: I had one, I bolted it to the side of a little crappy table at my office, and then I broke the top of the table off when I went to…

DB: (Laughs). That’s heavy duty!

RS: Any excuse to tinker, I’m just like, oh! I like gear, publishing gear of course. Any little excuse, it doesn’t have to even make sense for the book, but it’s like, ‘Oh, a foil stamping printer. What could I use this for?’ Yeah, you have to have a spouse or a friend who will rein you in.

DB: (Laughs). You’ve got to have that Jiminy Cricket conscience sitting with you, don’t you?

RS: Yes.

DB: This is doing it for me by the way. This is working for me.

RS: Yeah, but for the first few books we did, there was no connective plan. So it really wasn’t like, raise money, or use savings to make a book, then sell it, then funnel it to the next book. That’s how I run things now, but at the beginning it was just, spend $1,000 or $1,200 to print 1,200 copies or… no, way less, maybe 500 copies of a perfect bound zine, and then I think eventually maybe it made back the money, but probably not. Or if it did, it wasn’t for years. So I always think of those as like, some people’s hobby where they hang out with their friend is fly-fishing, or maybe it’s quilting.

DB: Just getting super drunk and driving cars around.

RS: Yeah, or getting super drunk. So I spent, and this is around 2008, I spent $1,200 to print this zine, which my first, I feel, a proper zine was Electric Ant, which was an anthology mix-tape zine. I spent $1,200 to print it, I paid everybody five free copies and $10, $20, or $30 maybe. I think at most that’s how much it must have been, and then I spent that money and I got to hang out with my friends, and make a thing that made me feel cool, and I had a thing that I could mail to people that I had a crush on, or liked or whatever. It was a very good investment, a good use of money, but you really though of it as, some people spend money to go to concerts or to go to a bar. I’m going to spend my spending money making a thing with my friends. It’s more an activity than it is an investment or a business proposal.

DB: That sounds good to me, I think that sounds healthy.

RS: Lately though I treat it… I’ve only been doing it as a named company, as Youth in Decline for two and a half years now, and it does pay for itself now.

DB: Congratulations.

RS: Yeah, it’s mildly self-sustaining, which is very exciting.

DB: You just need to get it to be ferociously self-sustaining now.

RS: Right, uncontrollably self-sustained.

DB: Oh, that’s great! (Laughs).

RS: I did this year for the first time, I got an accountant who did the tax stuff, so I feel like I’m inching my way towards a proper set up.

DB: Nice, yeah that sounds legitimate to me.

RS: It’s that thing where I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, and then every time I learn something I feel like I’ve uncovered a remarkable truth about how these things work, as if other people haven’t figured this out a thousand times over. This is how capitalism works, you raise capital, and I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah! Got it, cool, yes.’ Until I have had to do it, I don’t know how it works.

DB: It’s just a vague concept that floats in the air above you, isn’t it?

RS: Yeah, so I got this accountant, he’s really nice. He cost $250 to do all my tax stuff, and he informed me that I have to issue tax documents to everybody I’m paying. I was like, ‘Oh right, yeah.’ I was like, ‘How about last year? I definitely paid seven or eight people a small but decent chunk of money?’ He’s like, ‘You’ll probably be okay.’

DB: (Laughs). Should we be recording this right now? Do you want me to bleep anything, are we okay?

RS: If anyone from the IRS is listening… no, but I’m figuring things out. Definitely figuring things out. When I started as a proper standalone company rather than ‘Ryan’s assorted stupid projects with friends’, which was the previous name I guess.

DB: Which was a really bad URL.

RS: Yeah, (laughs).

DB: Terrible Twitter handle.

RS: Admin@ryan dot… no, I had a couple conversations with friends who worked for bigger publishing companies, and then Annie Koyama who’s a dear friend and amazing…

DB: And saint.

RS: Saint in our scene, wonderful person, and kind of scary bad ass, she gave me a good 30 or 40 minutes on the horn, just talking through a lot of the details of how this stuff works. It’s good to set your expectations properly and come at it from the right angle. Compensation and ethical behaviour, everyone says those things, but I really try to check myself and make sure that I’m doing few enough books as deliberately as possible that I can actually learn and scale this small thing properly, because I have the luxury, which a lot of people don’t I guess, of not having to depend on it for my health insurance and my rent. So that’s why I’ve always been hesitant to use the word publisher. It implies two things, one is that it’s not just a hobby where I’m playing around having fun. Mostly that’s what it feels like. I think the real reason that I like the word now is that the people that I publish, I have a responsibility to them to get their books and their comics into as many readers’ hands as possible, treat them as fairly as possible, and really just advocate as hard as I can. That part of the name ‘publisher’ is a good responsibility that I take as a personal challenge, so that part I really like.

DB: You mentioned that you wanted to do books as deliberately as possible, what does that mean?

RS: I have a lot of ideas for new books, and as you know, as most people listening know, it’s an incredible time for comics. There are so many amazing young people, amazing new people on the scene, and they’re all millimetres away on Twitter and Tumblr. So it’s been tempting to ask all of them to do books, and overextend myself a bit.

DB: I completely understand, that’s pretty much the exact same situation I have with this podcast. I want to talk to absolutely everybody, but if I did I’d die.

RS: For sure, and the other flip side of it is, there’s people that I know I want to publish right now, but I can’t in good conscience sign them up, because I don’t have the time or the attention or resources right now to do the book that they would create justice. In terms of being deliberate, I guess what I mean is, I’d rather do less books well, than overextend myself and then have screwed everything up. We have some books right now that are announced that are a little behind schedule, and part of that is, I don’t want to rush the artist.

DB: You want to get it right, rather than get it done.

RS: Yeah. It wouldn’t be nice to release four books at SPX because that’s when I managed to get everything together, and so they all drown each other out and it doesn’t go well. That’s the whole idea, don’t accelerate too quickly and bite off more than I can chew, because I really am just learning how all this works, and I want each of those releases to really stand on its own, and get the attention it deserves.

DB: Here’s an interesting question, how do you choose who you want to work with? Do you have a set of, for want of a better word, parameters that you’re looking for? What is it you look for when you’re looking for an artist?

RS: I have a secret checklist of all the…

DB: Do you want to keep it secret?

RS: No, I have a Google doc of interesting people for sure. That sounds creepy, but…

DB: (Laughs). ‘I’ve managed to find their home addresses.’

RS: I’m always reading and paying attention to what’s going on. I think Youth in Decline is a very small operation, and we’ve been lucky enough to have a cool set of readers. I would love to grow the readership, just in terms of sheer numbers, but when I see who’s reading our books or talking about it, I’m happy because it really feels like our friends. Cool people seem to like the work coming out of the artists in our team. For who I’m looking for, I don’t really know, although the main thing for me is trying to… I guess the way I would put it, I was talking to someone else is, you know when you’re on a trampoline. I don’t know if you… do you have trampolines?

DB: Yes, they’ve made it across the Atlantic to Europe.

RS: They’re horribly dangerous, but I’m going to use the metaphor anyway. Imagine you’re on a trampoline with your friends, and then if you both jump simultaneously you can do a double jump, and it boosts the other person up very high. That’s metaphorically what I’m trying to do. I guess that’s an elaborate way of saying…

DB: Come jump with me!

RS: Yeah, come jump on. Hopefully you won’t be horribly damaged by this trampoline. That was terrible.

DB: (Laughs).

RS: Primarily what I’m focussing on, when I started doing zines I was just working with friends, so it really was, I have a lot of friends who are very talented artists that I came up with. They don’t like In Design, working with production, distribution, talking about themselves, and I actually love doing all of that stuff. Talking about them, I like production, I really like In Design and the look and feel of how a book actually exists, that’s the stuff I really freak out and geek out about. So I started just working with my friends, either by chance or who knows how the hell I got so lucky, but those friends included Hellen Jo and some of the folks I mentioned before. So publishing, or helping bring to life the works of friends who didn’t want to deal with all the production side, that was a really easy first start. For the folks I’m looking for now, I really like when I see somebody who’s trying to get better fast. I don’t know quite what it is, but you can feel this hungry thing happening.

DB: There’s an urgency to it.

RS: Yeah, and it doesn’t necessarily mean tonnes and tonnes of pages, or tonnes and tonnes of output, but you can get a sense of who is on their way, and when you see that it’s very exciting to try to be helpful and give that person a little extra bump if you can. One person who matches that, and I had nothing to do with her success, but Sophia Foster-Dimino. She’s one of my good friends, and she lives in San Francisco. She’s going to be so mad that I’m telling this story, I met her when she was in high school on email. She followed this manga blog that I used to run called SAME HAT! and we just started talking. She’s one of those people, now she’s one of my friends, but when I met her she was just a young cartoonist who just got so good so quickly. As a publisher, especially a small publisher who really doesn’t put out that many books at all, to see somebody like that just figure out their style and just become so darn good that quickly is very exciting.

DB: I know exactly what you’re talking about, but I know that there’s going to be people listening who are going to be frustrated by the fact that we can’t articulate what it is that we’re talking about here. Should we try and figure out how to explain this, what we’re looking at when we see someone whose work is exciting in this way? Is there a way of describing this?

RS: Sure, let’s try. Okay. And if we succeed it’ll be a really good Wikipedia page or something.

DB: Oh yeah, we’ll get this transcribed, we’ll just upload it straight away, this is perfect.

RS: I have a few ideas, I think one part of it is healthy dissatisfaction with current work, and a lack of preciousness. I think not being precious about the work as you’re creating it, or immediately afterwards is a key piece of it, and it can have a really bad side to that. That idea can be really damaging, if you are never satisfied and you won’t even let it live because you kill it, or because you discard it, or you just can’t stand behind it at all. That side of it is bad.

DB: It can swing the other way, it’s got to be that balance between, ‘I understand the flaws and I’m going to make it better’ rather than ‘everything’s garbage’ or ‘everything’s amazing’. It’s somewhere in the middle.

RS: Yes, and Michael DeForge, he was one of my groomsman, he’s one of my best buds, he is a very clear example of maybe an extreme version of that, but just tenacity, work ethic, and complete unwillingness to hold on to prior work, even work that’s quite good. He’s not satisfied yet. I don’t think… I mean, I can’t speak for him, but certain cartoonists, they don’t think that they’re good, and these are some of our favourite cartoonists, but they’re not happy with the work yet, or maybe never will be. I think a lack of preciousness is one thing.

DB: What’s the… satisfaction being the death of desire, or something. That idea that as soon as you stop desiring it, then it becomes inert, it stops being reactive.

RS: Yeah, for sure. I talked to Sam Weber a while ago for a chat, and he made the radical statement that quality of work is not subjective, it is objective, it’s very easy to tell what is good and not good. I don’t know if I totally agree with that, but you see so much work online now with very little context. It’s harder to be astounded or surprised by work, but it still happens to me all the time, and when you see something and you’re like, ‘What is this? Who made this?’ you know, and then doing detective work to try to track down the artist behind it, and get more understanding about what they’re trying to do. I’m not sure what point I’m making there, but I would say that you know it when you see it. Profanity, pornography, and quality work.

DB: (Laughs). So it’s something that’s distinctive?

RS: Yeah, maybe that. When I think back about Youth in Decline, the main thing we’ve… I say we, it’s literally just me and my wife.

DB: The royal we.

RS: The royal we. My poor wife who’s so helpful. Frontier is the on going series that drives the planning for each year, and the idea behind that was to do an anthology series where each issue just spotlights one creator. The general idea behind that is three things, one is find new up and coming people and give them that little trampoline double bump.

DB: Hopefully no one falls off, catches their leg in a spring.

RS: I mean, if you want to make an omelette, you’re going to have to break a few eggs. Is that a UK saying? Probably not.

DB: We say ‘you can’t make omelettes by only breaking eggs’. No, that’s me, I just say that, that’s fine.

RS: Oh, that one’s good too.

DB: Yeah, (laughs) it’s my default smart-ass reply to people saying, ‘well you’ve got to break some eggs’, anyway.

RS: (Laughs). I like that.

DB: Ryan, can I just stop you there, because I’ve been waiting so long to be able to say that on this podcast. I just want to take a moment to really luxuriate in the fact that I got to say it. Thank you. Sorry, carry on.

RS: I’m happy to help you with that. If you have any more aphorisms you’d like to attack, I can weave them in.

DB: (Laughs). Maybe, let’s just see how we get on.

RS: What was I saying? Oh yeah, I know. So for the Frontier series, the idea is to find up and coming artists, and give them a little bump, but another big piece of the series that’s been really exciting for me is connecting the international indie scenes in some small way. What I mean by that is that I’m in North America, I speak English, there’s a lot of other creators in other scenes that are very, very close by via the internet, but feel frankly, very separate from what I think of as the indie comics scene in North America. You know, there’s a lot of great publishers, Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly and many others, Koyama Press, etc., who have published works from non-North American artists, but when you look at the tables at a fest like Comic Arts Brooklyn, or even Small Press Expo in Washington DC, which are two of the bigger, better indie comic scenes, it’s mostly North American creators, and what’s happening in our parallel indie scene in Germany or Italy feels very far away, or it felt that way to me, let alone in the Middle East, in South East Asia, or even in East Asia, there’s indie scenes everywhere. They’re very close by on the internet, but not a lot of that work was coming out, and still isn’t. So I’ve also tried to take a stab at bringing over some of those artists that I like, and we’ve made a few minor steps in that direction by publishing Uno Moralez who’s a horror pixel artist from Russia, Sascha Hommer who’s an indie cartoonist from Germany that I actually met at Frankfurt Book Fair back in 2007, and then most recently we published, the newest issue is by Anna Deflorian, who’s this really amazing painter and cartoonist from Italy. Literally I just emailed them, and in the case of Uno I took the time to have my friend Roman translate the email into Russian, so I could actually reach out in his own language, and that’s literally all it takes to connect with these people, if you get a sense of who’s out there and who’s doing interesting work. I really feel like the barriers are so minor at this point, we should all be enjoying that work.

DB: I remember thinking when I first started tabling that it felt like I had my group of friends that, you know, I liked their work and I knew them, we’d sit next to each other at tables and shows, but even in one room of a show, you’d feel like there were different islands, and there was no real way to bridge the oceans between these islands for some reason. I think that the internet is helping lower the tide a little bit, and make it a little bit easier to wade out and find other people, but at the same time, it’s revealed how vast this ocean is as well. It’s huge, there’s loads of people.

RS: Yeah, it’s very exciting, but you’re right though, it sounds very happy and positive, and I think the scene has become more connected, but even in the indie comic scene, the special guests at some of the North American comic shows, or the people who get reviewed, for what that’s worth, on the big, quote, unquote, comic sites, there is definitely a representation and diversity problem, for sure, putting it mildly.

DB: A lot of white guys.

RS: Yeah, definitely, and we haven’t done enough yet in that area either. Aligning yourself editorially around correcting that, I don’t think that alone would make for a good guiding principle, but I think you do have a responsibility to yourself as a reader, let alone as a publisher, to enrich and open your own reading tastes further, beyond like you said, I could just read all the comics by my friends that I know in real life, and I would have a pretty damn good bookshelf. It’s not doing a good job as a publisher if you just stick to the folks you already know, and I think that’s the exciting thing for me, is challenging myself to expand my reading habits, and then by extension expand the types of work, and the types of creators that we’re publishing. We’re making slow steps at it, but I definitely think about it a lot, and try to keep myself pushing my reading habits forward.

DB: I guess as a publisher, the more you push your reading habits, the more you push your publishing endeavours, and I guess then that pushes the reading habits of other people as well, so I guess there’s this big knock on effect.

RS: If you do it right I think it can be like that. I would say if you’re a publisher, or you’re an editor, or you’re the woman at Cartoon Network who decides whose pitches get read, if you only read a certain genre, or a certain type of book, you’re really not doing service to yourself, your career, because you’re going to miss a tonne of amazing creators, and you have a responsibility to read as widely as possible so you can really get a sense of what’s happening and push good work, wherever it comes from.

DB: It’s a bit like going to the world’s best restaurant, and only ever eating cheeseburgers.

RS: I like that too, yeah.

DB: Every single time you visit, and you go there every day.

RS: A cheeseburger called… I was going to name a really well known canonised white guy cartoonist, but…

DB: (Laughs). Maybe this is just a little fun exercise, but maybe do that for yourself. Name your own burger.

RS: Who is the cheeseburger of the canonised comic scene? Are we still recording? Oh god.

DB: We’re still recording. Let’s just open this up to the emails maybe, I don’t know.

RS: Any callers? Do we have any callers on line one? This isn’t a radio show? No? Okay.

DB: So, what are your ambitions then? What are your ambitions for the future with Youth in Decline?

RS: We have a plan already for Frontier, the next five issues are all planned out. I haven’t announced the creators for next year, but it’s very exciting stuff for me personally. I cannot wait for the day when those files start coming in. That’s my favourite part about being a publisher, when the pages come in, either through WeTransfer or as an attachment, it’s like Christmas, I go crazy. The books we have coming next year, everybody that we signed up is extremely talented. Some are not as well known as they should be, so fro Frontier and for Youth in Decline, I want to keep Frontier as the guiding light of this endeavour, to keep promoting and pushing artists that we think are exciting. Generally speaking I’m interested in doing more book books, and I’m also interested in doing more merchandise or goods, because I just think it’s really fun.

DB: (Laughs).

RS: I had to check myself, we need to be sure we’re putting out more books than we are t-shirts, and right now we’re about one-to-one, so I’ve got to dial it back a little bit. Stuff that’s been announced that’s coming, the next two Frontier issues are going to feature new comics by Becca Tobin, who’s a very prolific and exciting cartoonist, and then Michael DeForge is doing a straight up body horror comic for us as the tenth issue. Then we’re also planning to finally do a Thickness collection, which is all of the Thickness series that Michael and I did, so it’s about 50 pages of new stuff.

DB: Nice.

RS: Yeah, and then I want to circle back to the original first few artists that we published and publish more continuing work from them, because I think we wouldn’t be doing our job if we just do one book and then never continue to promote their career. So the first one in that vein will be the second volume of the RAV series by Mickey Zacchilli, so it’ll be another big chunky book. I think the mix next year, it’ll probably be similar to this year with a few more book books, you know?

DB: By book books…

RS: Books with spines.

DB: Ah yeah, nice. So if you had your way and you made the listeners do something right now, what would you compel them to buy, to visit online, or to do right now?

RS: Oh my goodness, what power! What excitement!

DB: They will definitely do it. They must. It’s part of the contract we have as a podcast to listener.

RS: It’s a Patreon bonus or something.

DB: It’s exactly that, yeah. Now you have to go spend more money. Sorry everybody.

RS: Well one book we just put out I think captures the spirit of what Youth in Decline is all about, and also my background as a zine maker, was a book called Lovers Only #1. This is a small anthology that has a tonne of heat in it. It’s teenage romance comics by Mickey Zacchilli, Cathy G. Johnson and Sophia Foster-Dimino, and it was Mickey’s brainchild. We collaborated to make it come to life, and printed it all on my risograph that I have in my little studio, and it’s 30 different, kind of gut wrenching takes on teenage affection, and it just happens to be by three of, what I think are the most interesting creators happening. They all happen to be women, and the book happens to be beautiful, so if you’re so inclined, I think that’s a great book to get a sense of what we’re all about.

DB: Awesome, and you’re on Twitter?

RS: I’m on Twitter, yeah. All my stuff, that’s the one nice thing about actually starting a company is, I had literally 14 different Gmail accounts, horrormanga@gmail, thickness@gmail, anyway, everything is Youth in Decline, so twitter.com/youthindecline, there’s also a Youth in Decline Tumblr and Instagram too.

DB: No YouTube?

RS: No YouTube channel yet, although good note, if you look around, while working at Google I was hosting for a long time the author series, where they would bring authors to Google to give book talks. So if you dig, you can find really embarrassing videos of 25 year old me introducing Kelly Link, Karen Joy Fowler, Junot Diaz and most recently Bryan Lee O’Malley. I’m wearing really goofy hoodies, and it’s terribly embarrassing, but you can find those, if you’re interested.

DB: Nice, excellent. Well Ryan, thank you very much for speaking to me.

RS: Thank you for having me, I appreciate it.


Read Transcript by Renée Goulet

One thought on “Ryan Sands

  1. Thanks, Dan!
    Correction from what I said: my buddy Calvin Wong works on Regular Show, not Steven Universe. 🙂

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