Mitch Clem is a cartoonist, perhaps best known for ongoing webcomic Nothing Nice To Say, which examines the culture surrounding punk music. He has also authored the autobiographical comic series San Antonio Rock City, and My Stupid Life. His work appears in zines like Razorcake, and on album covers and flyers. If you live in Austin, there’s a decent chance you’ve seen his work around town at some point.
Along with recently reviving Nothing Nice To Say, Clem is working on a project called Turnstyle Comix, which pairs a short book of illustrated stories from bands with a 7” EP of new work by each band.
We spoke about his creative process, influences, and the music scene in San Antonio.
Daily Texan Comics: So, right off the bat, what was the first show you ever went to?
Mitch Clem: The first show that I ever saw was Veruca Salt when I was 12 or 13. Not my first punk show, but my first concert. That was in Minneapolis.
DTC: So when did you first start drawing comics?
MC: I’ve been [drawing them] pretty much my whole life. Since I was a kid I was drawing comics. I started doing them regularly with Nothing Nice, the first one I did with any sort of regularity, that anybody saw besides me and my friends. That was February of 2002?
DTC: How old were you then?
MC: Eighteen or nineteen? I think?
DTC: I notice you have a Squee tattoo.
MC: Yeah. That happened kinda just before Nothing Nice.
DTC: Do you still keep up with Jhonen Vasquesz?
MC: A little, I mean, I read Squee and Johnny [the Homicidal Maniac]. I really liked Invader Zim. I don’t know what he’s been up to lately.
DTC: I think he’s been painting. I remember reading this thing on his blog a few months ago, where he suggested that if you’re trying to make it, at this point, you have to do fan art.
MC: I don’t know that I’d agree with that. There is certainly a niche within comics, like with Comic-Con. Worlds that definitely thrive on that. People make money selling sketches and stuff, and you’ve got your companies that do Doctor Who fan shirts and everything.
But like, who’s the most recent super successful cartoonist? That was that guy who did Scott Pilgrim. That’s not fan-art. That’s totally his own thing.
DTC: But it still has a root in it of some sort of reference to a specific existing world.
MC: True, but that’s his universe as he lives it. He’s super into video games. Any comic I write is always about people who go to shows or play in bands.
DTC: What comics did you read growing up?
MC: Calvin and Hobbes. That was my favorite. And the Far Side. Those were my two big ones. I was more into the newspaper strips than comic books.
DTC: Did you start out online, or just making copies for your friends?
MC: Well, you know, before I had done Nothing Nice, I used to do a zine called Summer’s Over that had a lot of comics in it. So in that sense, yes, I was photocopying stuff and giving it to people. And then when I had the idea to start Nothing Nice, I didn’t know what web comics were. I didn’t read them, and I hadn’t heard of them. And I was trying to come up with an idea, like “how do I get this out there? Do I start a zine?” I was trying to think outside the box in that respect.
The weirdest idea I had for distributing it was making a comic once a week and printing them out on flyers and mailing them to all the record stores. And then the record stores would hang them up on their bulletin board. And I had this ridiculous fantasy of “Oh yeah, people are gonna go to the record store, ‘The new Nothing Nice is out friday, let’s go to the record store and read it on the bulletin board!’”
Dumb. But my friend Pat read Penny Arcade, and he said, “You know, you can just put these online”, like people do now. And he showed me their site and uh, the rest is history.
DTC: So when did people start paying attention to it, really?
MC: You know what? Honestly, it kinda blew up very, very fast. Like, within the first couple months. I don’t want any of this to sound self important or anything, because I’m definitely not that guy, but I think it filled a niche that was there. But webcomics were still pretty new and weren't tired yet.
DTC: Recently you started working with another writer.
MC: Joe Briggs.
DTC: How’d that start?
MC: Well. I already knew him. We were online buddies. I think he was on my forum, and I met him in real life. He’s from England, and he came to Texas and we hung out. We got really drunk in my apartment, and he’s a really great guy. He’s super funny and super clever, and at one point I told him, hey, let’s start a comic together. Just for fun. I wasn’t doing Nothing Nice at the time. I wasn’t really doing anything at the time. And I wanted to do another comic. We threw some ideas back and forth, and it very quickly became apparent that anything that we do is going to be a retread of Nothing Nice, so why not just do Nothing Nice then?
DTC: So how do you work with him, since he lives in a different country?
MC: It’s all email. Some of the jokes, he completely writes all by himself, and some of them I completely write by myself, and then the bulk of them are pretty collaborative. He’ll send me something and I’ll punch it up, and vice versa.
DTC: How’s having someone to bounce stuff off of?
MC: It’s awesome. I honestly feel like the comic is a lot better with a cowriter. I just get in my own head and I can’t come up with ideas, and this and that. He’s just constantly coming up with great ideas.
DTC: When did you start doing flyers?
MC: I was doing flyers before I started doing Nothing Nice. In fact, Nothing Nice is technically a spinoff of a flyer I had done for a Modern Machines show. I’d drawn Blake and Fletcher, or what would be Blake and Fletcher on [it], telling a joke, and when I decided to draw a comic, I thought, well those guys can be my characters.
DTC: Once the comic started getting attention, did you start getting requests to do it more frequently?
MC: People definitely ask me for art. I don’t usually. I don’t really like doing freelance stuff for people too much. Nothing against the rest of the world or anything, it’s just it’s a whole different animal. When I do flyers, it’s for my friends, and that’s about it.
DTC: How does the process work for coming up with flyers?
MC: I’ll go on facebook and be like “I have to draw a flyer for a show, what should I draw” and people give me all these stupid ideas and I’ll draw one of those. It’s always, invariably, do a Tyrannosaurus Rex doing a flip, eating pizza, and he’s riding on a chicken wing instead of a skateboard and Jesus is giving him the finger.
The thing about that and album covers that’s difficult for me is, I don’t sketch. I don’t have a sketchbook. I don’t really draw unless I have something specific to draw. So the comic works because I’ll have a script to work from. I don’t sit around just doodling.
There’s this guy, Zack Trover, who I sort of know through online, and he’s constantly posting things from his little moleskin sketchbooks. They're these fully realized [ideas]. If you were doing flyers or album covers, that’s one. You’re done. This dumb thing he scribbles out in an afternoon. I’m like, that’s a beautiful piece of comedic art, and it’s done. I can’t do that. I don’t know what the disconnect is.
DTC: What year did you move to Texas?
MC: I don’t remember the answer to that.
DTC: Do you think moving to Texas affected anything, in the way in the way that you work, or your mode of thinking?
MC: It affected the way that I work in that I moved to San Antonio... I moved FROM Minneapolis, which is just this haven of coffee shops all over the place, and I would always work in coffee shops. And I would go and just crank out several comics in a day. And I moved to San Antonio, which doesn’t really have coffee shops to speak of.
DTC: Everything’s really spread out in that town.
MC: It’s very suburban, it’s kinda sad.
People from outside San Antonio do perceive very negative aspects of the scene, and they’re not wrong, but there are pockets of really cool stuff in the town, like my friend Dave will have shows at his house. And the Ten Eleven is a really awesome club.
DTC: First time I went there it was still called the Warhall. I tried to catch a raccoon in the back yard.
MC: Really? Were you trying to get rabies or what?
DTC: No, I just wanted to see if I could get close enough to actually touch it.
MC: Oh jesus. Did you.. You never lived there did you?
DTC: I did for a year.
MC: Did you really? Not feeling it?
DTC: I transferred.
MC: Austin’s cool. We always talk about moving to Austin. I just have no... motivation to ever do anything.
DTC: I remember you making some reference to it in San Antonio Rock City that you were considering moving here.
MC: Oh yeah. Well at that point, I did move here with my then girlfriend, for half a year, maybe.
DTC: And you ended up going back to San Antonio?
MC: Mmmhmmm. Mmmmhmmmm.
It’s weird, I was thinking about this the other day. It takes me an hour to drive from one end of San Antonio to the other. It takes the same amount of time it would take just to drive to Austin. I don’t know why I don’t come here more often.
DTC: Where are you working now?
MC: I am a bank teller right now. It’s a constant battle between ethics and needing to eat. I need to do something and the only things I’m good at is math and comics. None of my coworkers know that I do comics.
DTC: They don’t know what you do?
MC: I absolutely don’t talk about it.
DTC: Do you have any kind of relationship with them then?
MC: Well, I mean, I talk to them and everything. It’s not like I’m cold. They just don’t know anything about my personal life. I don’t offer that up.
I think they all think I’m Catholic.
DTC: How’d they get that impression?
MC: I mean, my mom’s Catholic, I was raised Catholic, and that’s somehow come up. But I never elaborated on “Oh, but this is who I am NOW" ...cause they’d think I was weird, so I just kinda left it at that.
DTC: When did you stop being a Catholic?
MC: I never was. My mom is.
DTC: Would you consider yourself an Atheist or an Agnostic?
MC: I call myself an atheist. Amanda [his fiancé] thinks that I’m agnostic. I sorta identify as atheist.
I get that it’s a possibility, and I can’t count that out, because nobody knows. But personally, I doubt it. I don’t believe in any bible.
DTC: When did you start thinking like that?
MC: When I was a kid. When I was very young. I just kinda didn’t buy it, you know what I mean? It just didn’t make sense to me.
What I do remember is one thing, I remember being in school and learning what Lutherans were. Someone explaining to me as a child, “oh well, the Catholic church was doing this and that and this guy Martin Luther didn’t agree with it, so he put up his own list of rules.” I’m like “Oh, so he just.. made it up? You just get to make it up? Isn’t there some sort of written document of this stuff? You can’t just make this stuff up, right?”
And that right there was a big one.
That actually came up at work recently. Something about lent. It’s lent right now, and my coworkers were saying “Oh, you should give up soda,” or whatever. And one of my managers was saying “oh, one of the Catholic whatevers was saying that you don’t have to do that any more.” And I think “Oh, so they just decided? They just... Okay. That’s cool. We’re all winging it.”
This was the first comic Mitch Clem did for Nothing Nice to Say. He was 18.
DTC: So.. What got you into punk rock? I feel like this is a question you probably get a lot.
MC: No, I don’t.
MC: No, I actually don’t do interviews. I haven’t done interviews in a couple years, but my friend Liz Prince, she made fun of me. I told her that I don’t do interviews and she made the jackoff motion and stuck her tongue out, and I was like “Really? Is that lame?”
She shamed me into doing them again. That was the day I emailed you back and said alright let’s do this sucker.
DTC: Thank you for agreeing to do it.
MC: Sure! ...What got me into punkrock? Mighty Mighty Bosstones came out on the radio, and I liked them, and thus I liked ska music, and from there I discovered punk rock through that. I was listening to a lot of ska-punk in the late 90s, mid 90s I guess.
That’s just what around at the time. Then I went from from, you know, Bosstones to Reel Big Fish to Less Than Jake. And then Less Than Jake had the liner notes where they thanked all these bands, and I was sorta vaguely aware of what punk rock was, and I decided to actively seek it out. And I loved it.
This was still pre-internet.
DTC: Back when everything was dancing gifs and midis.
MC: Yes. The midis. I would go to my mom’s work, with a bunch of floppy disks, and download wave files onto them. Listen to Elastica on the computer.
DTC: Jeez. Floppy disks. It’s staggering now just how little information fit on them.
MC: It just recently blew my mind, you can now stream Doom on the internet... It used to be, “This is what the computer is doing!”
DTC: So, you’ve mentioned you have a lot of allergies. How’s going to shows? I mean, a lot of time you get a lot of people smoking in confined spaces...
MC: San Antonio just passed a smoking ban indoors, and that helps. I’ll go to house shows, where people will bring all these dogs, but I recently discovered the magic of Zertec, and no other allergy medicine had ever worked for me, and this one does somehow, and I love it. I’ll take that before I’ll go to a show, for sure.
It’s night and day. I come home from a show, and there’s a lot of places that are Not San Antonio parts of San Antonio, like Hollywood Park and there’s Converse. It doesn’t technically count, even though it’s within San Antonio city limits, so I’ll still go to a bar that has smoking in it. It's insane, I’ll just come home, and I’ll stink and I have to take a shower, and I can’t breath. And it’s insane.
DTC: Any shows you’re looking forward to right now?
MC: Waxahatche is coming in a couple weeks... There was this show the other night, it was this power violence band. I didn’t even know San Antonio had a power violence scene. They were really good.
That’s the weird thing about the town, all these facets of punk rock are all so separated for some reason.
These bands never wanna play together. Every time I go to a show, it’s the same opening bands. They’re my friends, it’s not like I have a problem with seeing them. But I tried to book a show, where I tried to get a band who shall remain nameless, who sort of ran with a different clique. The idea was like, we’re all into the same shit, why don’t we.... unite right?
It’s cheesy but we’re all one big scene and I book them on a show. They showed up four hours late. They didn’t bring any equipment, and they were like “Uh, should we like... do you still want us to play? Cause there’s a party going on." I’m like “Just fucking go." What a bunch of shit.
I tried to get another band from town, that doesn’t usually roll with the same crowd, to play some shows, and they told me “No, we’re working on an album, so we’re not playing any shows right now” and proceeded to play another show very close to the same day. And I’m like “God forbid somebody who aren’t your friends come out and see you.”
DTC: Yeah. I’ve kinda seen that in a few other cities.
MC: I would say, San Antonio is a lot more extreme in that aspect than a lot of cities, like there is no cross over. It’s very odd.
DTC: El Paso’s pretty weird. There’s a lot of really angry stuff I hear coming out of there, or was when I left.
MC: It would be an upsetting town to have to live in, so I could see that.
There was a theory about the midwest, and how they put out all of this really great but aggressive, angry, kind of pop-punk and it was just like, you can’t deal with those brutal winters without being upset.
DTC: I think that’s kinda how you end up with stuff like black metal too.
MC: Yeah. You’ve got a bunch of sad, angry people, they’re going to make loud, angry music.
And then you’ve got a town like Austin, where everything just pretty cool, so you get a bunch of like, garage bands.
DTC: I listened to the record inside of [Turnstyle Comix #1]
MC: Oh yeah, the Slow Death.
DTC: Where’re they from again?
DTC: It’s really good.
MC: Thank you. Well, I mean, I shouldn’t say thank you, I didn’t record it.
DTC: Well, the book’s great too. I especially liked the part where the guy takes his pants all the way off and starts pissing on them.
MC: Oh sure. Sure. Spoiler alert.
DTC: How’d that project start?
MC: I had the idea to... I don’t know, there was just a germ. Doing a comic with a record attached to it. I don’t remember how it was that I had the idea like, let’s interview the band, and just turn their tour stories into the comic. I don’t really remember how that came about, but it was sort of this “ah-ha” moment. I called Avi, the guy who does my merch, and I told him this idea. And I explained to him the premise. He was like “Awesome, let’s go”.
DTC: Did you pick the band?
MC: Avi had come to me with them and said “hey, these guys will do it if you want,” and I liked them. So it was Avi’s idea to go with them, but I was into it. I have a list of bands I want to work with. I’m going to see if I can get these out any faster. Hopefully. I’m working on #2 right now.
DTC: Really? Who is it?
MC: I can’t tell you. It’s a fun secret. I can tell you that the band has said that they’re doing it on stage several times, and yet “the news” still hasn’t broke. Shows you the level of interest in a project like that. But they’re really great.
DTC: What is your favorite sound?
MC: Um...a child’s laughter.
You can read Mitch Clem's Nothing Nice to Say at http://www.mitchclem.com/nothingnice/ and check out his blog with other works at http://mitchclem.com/blog/.