TRIP CITY at One Year: From Seth Kushner’s Male Uterus

TRIP CITY at one year old is quite a verbal-visual-aural beast containing over 600 items of content including comics, podcasts, essays, stories, poems, and all points in between. Where does a massively productive digital arts salon go from here? This anniversary week, co-founders Chris Miskiewicz and Jeffrey Burandt have talked to us about their digital media perspective and Dean Haspiel has admonished us about the darker side of the self-publishing machine, but today, to round off this juggernaut of interviews, award-winning photographer and writer Seth Kushner digs deep to bring us the personal lessons he’s learned while becoming a multi-medium artist via TRIP CITY.

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What’s your version of the origin story of TRIP CITY?

Seth Kushner: I’d like to say TRIP CITY’s origin included an alien invasion and a group of talented people getting together to save the Earth.  You know what, let’s go with that!

But seriously, TRIP CITY’s roots were birthed at ACTIVATE, GRAPHIC NYC, Americans UK’s mini comics and all the individual projects on which we were separately working.  For me personally, I had my various works spread thin over various platforms.  I was doing CulturePOP Photocomix at ACTIVATE, photos on my own blog, building my book Leaping Tall Buildings (with Chris Irving) at GRAPHIC NYC with my photos of comics creators, plus my own site, SethKushner.com.  It had gotten to the point where the list of links in my email signature was longer than most of my messages.  I wanted one place to showcase all of my disparate works.  Dean, Chris and Jef felt the same. So after months of emails and meetings, TRIP CITY dropped from our collective male uteruses one year ago.

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What was the big idea behind the launch?

SK: The concept was to have this online community where we and others whose work we dig, can post personal, exclusive, creator-owned works.  Comix, prose, fiction, memoir, art, photos, video, audio–completely multimedia and multi-disciplinary.

As creators, it’s frustrating waiting for editors/publishers to assign or sign off on projects.  We need to make the things our hearts tell us we must, and TRIP CITY was conceived as the venue for those projects.

Why are comics so much a part of TRIP CITY?

SK: Comics have been a big part of the equation from the beginning.   During the first year we posted new comics strips by Jennifer Hayden and Nick Abadzis, one offs by Ryan Alexander-Tanner and Fred Chao, Joe Infurnari’s wild series TIME FUCKER, Dean’s exclusive new Billy Dogma comic, THE LAST ROMANTIC ANTIHERO and more.  Personally speaking, I’ve wanted to do an autobio comic called SCHMUCK for years.  I even wrote the first chapter a few years back, and Kevin Colden drew it, and we posted on ACTIVATE.  I tried to sell it to publishers, but alas, no one was interested at the time.  But, the idea festered in my mind for years, and finally I decided I needed to get it out.  Now, it’s a monthly series on TRIP CITY, with it’s sixth of thirteen episodes posting this week.  There wasn’t a venue for SCHMUCK, so I helped make one.

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What are some things you learned along the way this year?

SK: It’s very difficult to find and build an audience.  Just about anything you could possibly want to see is available on the internet for free, so internet content makers should constantly ask themselves, why would people want to look at my latest post when they can watch the latest episode of 30 Rock at Hulu?  I’ve learned to think about that when making my content, when titling it, when posting a blurb on Facebook or twitter.   What am I doing that is unique?

On a different note, my roles at TRIP CITY has been both a managerial one, which is not something with which I have much experience, and as an individual creator.  As a manager, or curator, (as we call it) my responsibilities have ended up being time consuming, which can be frustrating when dealing with a venture which has yet to create revenue for any of us.  In other words, I do a job for free.  At the same time, our contributors work for free as well.  “Free” creates problems with commitment.

There have been many times where we’ll launch a series, work hard to hype it, and then the creator gets paid work, or personal issues arise, and the series goes away unfinished.  It’s an unfortunate fact of creating and posting free for the Internet.

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The other difficult issue to deal with is the “community” aspect, which was so vital to us during the conception of the site.  Our feeling from the beginning was we (all TRIP CITY contributors) would share in the social networking/promotion, so that we each aren’t just crassly hyping ourselves, but promoting each other’s works, therefore sharing our individual audiences and hopefully building them.  It’s a great idea in theory, but not everyone keeps to the plan.  It got to the point where it was a mix of some not liking everything at TRIP CITY and not wanting to promote, and others not wanting to over-promote to their fan/friends, and for others, I can only assume it’s a case of apathy.  For me personally, it makes me question if I should be expending my efforts for those who don’t do the same for me and for TRIP CITY.  It’s an issue we four have been discussing internally and it’s made us very wary and selective of who we invite to join us.

As a creator of original content, I challenged myself to have a weekly deadline where I would have something new to post every Monday, and except for maybe 5 or 6 times, I’ve accomplished that goal for a whole year.  I honestly wasn’t sure I could do it, so I’ve managed to impress myself.  As for the actual content I’ve managed to produce, well, there were further challenges.  I’ve been primarily a photographer and I’ve made a career of it for the past 17 years.  While there’s nothing wrong with being a photographer, I’ve long want to be more that just that.  So, over the past year, in addition to all the photos I’ve taken for TC, (including photographing just about every TRIP CITY podcast guest), I’ve written personal and pop-culture essays, written comics and conducted interviews for our podcast.

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I’ve stretched myself creatively and satisfied my need to venture outside of my comfort zone and medium.  I’ve done all this while the failing economy has damaged my career to the point where I’ve had the free time to experiment, which brings up a good point: In a lot of ways TRIP CITY was born out of tough economic times.  If all of our careers were flourishing, we wouldn’t necessarily have to create for free.  I hope the content we’ve all created, and new skills we’ve honed, will benefit us in the long run.  I had a conversation recently with artist Jen Ferguson (also a TRIP CITY contributor) about my frustrations with my career and bank account, and she made an interesting point: perhaps I’m not a commercial artist, but simply an “artist.”  Over the past weeks I’ve heard her words echo in my head and it’s got me thinking that maybe my aesthetic is more fine art than commercial and my work at TRIP CITY has shown me I could potentially be creating in more mediums and avenues than I had been previously.  You might see me explore this notion more in year two of TRIP CITY.

What are the benefits of including comics with other arts on a digital platform?

SK: While we all love comics, we’re fairly well-rounded people with varying interests and muscles to personally stretch, which is why we didn’t create JUST a webcomics platform.  The idea is to bring people who read lit mags to come read our more literary personal essays, and then maybe click on our comix section, and vice-versa.  It’s all about aesthetic.  If you like the comix you see at TRIP CITY, then in theory, you might appreciate the essays and podcast too.  We conceived TRIP CITY as a curated site, with a consistency of vision throughout.  Now, that said, we have been only mildly successful on this aspect, in my opinion.  We four don’t always agree and sometimes things slip through the cracks which we don’t all approve, but that’s just a fact of being a part of a collective and it’s something we’re working on while moving into year-two.

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What are you looking forward to on TRIP CITY this year?

SK: We’ve got lots of new content and contributors which we’re really excited about, including SUCKERS, an urban noir comic by Eric Skillman (LIAR’S KISS) and Jorge Coelho, a sketchbook comic series by Noah Van Sciver, (THE HYPO) MENU, a monthly comic series written by Matthew Rosenberg and Patrick Kindlon (Ashcan Press) and illustrated by a host of artists, a comic strip series by Laura Lee Gulledge (PAGE BY PAIGE) and much, much more.  Upcoming Podcast guests include Bryan Lee O’Malley (SCOTT PILGRIM), Sean Howe, (MARVEL COMICS: THE UNTOLD STORY) pornstar Stoya, artist Katelan Foisy, comics writer Mark Waid, comics creator Frank Quitely and more (see TRIP CITY’s Press Release for titles, creators and launch dates).

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Personally, I’ve got a new installment of SCHMUCK, called “The Ex-Factor” posting this week.  The art is by Brazilian artist George Schall, who you may know from his recent work in Dark Horse Presents.  I’m immensely proud of this episode for it’s frank emotions and honesty.  Reading it, it actually makes me immensely uncomfortable, so in the world of autobio comix, that’s got to be a good thing.  Also, George’s art is beautiful and the perfect compliment to the story I wrote.  SCHMUCK will continue monthly with upcoming awkward episodes being draw by such diverse talents as Stephen DeStefano, Skuds Mckinley, Nathan Schreiber, Leland Purvis and others.

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Thanks very much for chatting with me Seth; it’s been an honor.

This week, I set out to get all the answers to questions I’d been squirreling away over recent months about the how, why, and what now of TRIP CITY and I couldn’t ask for more in terms of exhaustive candor from the four founders of the salon in their recent interviews. I have only one question left for TRIP CITY’s inner circle: does Seth Kushner really have a male uterus? Feel free to broadcast your answers via all available social media outlets.

Hannah Means-Shannon writes and blogs about comics for TRIP CITY and Sequart.org and is currently working on books about Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore for Sequart. She is @hannahmenzies on Twitter and hannahmenziesblog on WordPress.

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