February 1, 2011

An Interview With Beer Comic Artist Em Sauter

Emily Sauter is a cartoonist and a beer blogger, all in one, over at Pints And Panels. She recently released a book of her review panels from 2010. I was going to do a straightforward review, but I realized in reading it that I really just wanted to know a little more about Em and how she works. She graciously agreed to an e-interview.

I've posted my questions and her answers below, added some images and hyperlinks, and then a few final thoughts at the bottom.

Pour Curator: Your cartoons seem to be of a simplistic, line-driven style that's been more popular in recent years, especially online (I'm thinking mostly of Randall Munroe and Matthew Inman). How do you approach your style?

Emily Sauter: I started drawing my style in sixth grade when I was ripping off Archie comics in study hall. Ever since then, I've been drawing this way. My style has changed very little. I can go in different, simple directions (I can rip off Jefferey Brown, author of books such as Clumsy super well) but I've always been in a line-drive, clean style. Other people can do so many different things but I am stuck in my rut of what I can do...I guess that's not so bad, I make do with what I can whereas someone who can do a whole range of work might be inhibited by what they SHOULD do for each work. There are other great line-driven cartoonists, John Porcellino being my favorite. His king-cat self-published minis are the gold standard in simple comics. 

PCPints and Panels is really variations on a consistent four-panel theme. Do you ever worry about them getting visually boring, and how do you try and keep them fresh?

ES: Actually I was just thinking about adding more panels, splitting up the second and third panels so I can add more feedback about each beer. I like the size and shape of the comic but I have been getting stuck by the fact that I don't have enough room to talk more about the beer. Thanks to Stan Hieronymus' suggestion (I met him at GABF and instantly thought he was the coolest person on earth), I picked up Randy Mosher's book "Tasting Beer" to be more technical about my approach to beer...and I'm studying for my level one cicerone test. I don't think this knowledge I am accruing will change the language of my comic, but I think it will add a certain depth to my work where it will just be more than I "I liked this- here's why- buy it or don't" style I have found myself using. 

PC: Do you have a reviewtoon from 2010 that you're particularly proud of or is your favorite?

ES: Probably my favorites are the ones that add a touch of humor. The first "funny" one I did was of the Dogfish Head 90 minute IPA. There's a pizza place that has it for 3 dollars a PINT every weekday from 4-6. Two of those and your head starts spinning...so I get progressively tipsier in the comic. It’s not very well drawn and is really one of the first comics I did so it’s rough but I still like it. For Harpoon UFO, I had a fish saying "yay Harpoon," which is always makes me laugh, even though it’s a pretty silly joke. 

PC: You've been doing a lot of beer comic work across a lot of platforms. P&P, The Right to Beer Arms, and Vicki Stowe: Brewmaster are all beer-related comic efforts. Do you ever worry about spreading yourself thin? Do you see these are an opportunity to practice and improve, or more as different ways to build readers?

ES: I do comics about beer because I love beer. I don't consider it spreading myself thin because it would be really great to be labeled as the "girl that does beer comics." Drawing beer comics helps me learn more about beer so I can appear fresh and knowledgeable every week (doing Vicki Stowe is helping me learn about homebrewing and the history of microbrewing in America).

PC: Stan Hieronymus referenced you, in his response to the "Why do we blog" kerfuffle Andy Crouch set off, as an example of how different beer blogs can be. Do you see the "sequential tradition" beer blogging as something you'll be doing for a long time, or as more of a temporary endeavor?

ES: Oh I love Stan. The man really knows his stuff and he makes me want to be a better beer geek. Pints and Panels is my first love, comics wise. If I can do Pints and Panels until I die, I’d be happy. I mean, it’s two things that I really am passionate about: beer and comics. When you get to combine two things you love to form one entity, it’s a pretty exciting thing. I mean, I was just driving around in my car and said, “wow a beer review comic would be cool” (and I’m pretty sure other people have told me to do this and I’ve always shrugged them off....it’s so weird how in life you really need to learn things for yourself sometimes) and then my boyfriend just said “Pints and Panels” for the title like he had been thinking of it for years. And I just went online, bought the domain name and that’s how it started. A year ago, I never thought I would be doing Pints and Panels. Now I can’t think of doing anything else.

PC: Comic art has definitely been on the rise with the mainstream acceptance of "graphic novels" being made into movies (Watchmen, Sin City, 300) and even things like the Toonseum in Pittsburgh (for which East End Brewing had a series of cartoon labels developed), Have you noticed any other influence on craft beer label art?

There's an amazing artist, Ron Rege Jr., that does a Yeast Hoist beer with St. Sebastiaan Golden Ale from Brouwerij Sterkens in Belgium. Every beer comes in a screen-printed earthenware jug with an edition of his comic "Yeast Hoist" (he's up to issue 15). The comic is abstract and the beer is refreshing and light, a great Belgian Abbey ale. It's the best example by far of comics and beer I've come across. Other non-comic labels I have been attracted to simply for the aestethic quality is the bottle of Love and Regret Saison I bought that Stillwater Artisanal Ales put out...great color and use of Victorian imagery and Uinta’s Crooked Line beer labels - each label done by a different local Salt Lake City artist. The Tilted Smile Imperial Pils is my favorite label (probably because it's cartoony) 

PC: I've never been easy to make laugh, but I confess I always at least chuckle at your sense of humor on Sex and Weather. Your series of NFL football coaches has been downright hilarious and insightful in usually less than 10 words, which seems to fit your visual style. In contrast, I've found the the P&P comics are usually a little more straightforward, and the Relax, Emily comics range from self-deprecating to very personal and not funny at all. How do you approach the use of humor in your work?

ES: Something you should know, I hate to be serious. It does not become me. So my comics have that same kind of bent. As for my approach, I always just try to think about what makes me laugh....if I’m trying to be funny. A lot of the times, the things people find funny are the kind of things that I never thought would get a chuckle. That’s the best -- when something I don’t think would make people laugh does. 

As you can probably tell, I'm a big fan of Em's work and ideas. I don't know whether it's the beer-art kinship, or the fact that Em and I have been beer blogging for almost exactly the same amount of time, or whether it's just excitement at finding a new twist on beer reviews, but I find it hard to be artistically critical of her work. I find myself just enjoying it (and again, if you like football at all, PLEASE check out her coaches series for hilarity). And while it's new, the Relax, Emily comics appear to be something that many members of my Milennial generation who are familiar with the Quarter-Life Crisis will be able to empathize with. In case you're one of those people that cares about such things, you should know that I bought the book on my own; this wasn't a freebie-for-review deal.

Whatever your metric, anyone who follows either craft beer or comics should watch Em's progress with great interest. There's no question in my mind that she's a major asset to the beer blogging community. I was particularly happy to hear that she'll be working more panels into the reviews. One thing about the book is that it makes it clear, with all the reviews back-to-back, just how constraining the four-panel format is. The reason many review sites fade into the background for me is that a formulaic format makes it difficult for writing (or art, in this case) to stand out.  I think branching out and doing more with the style will definitely serve Em well in 2011. 

Even if you're not an obsessive craft beer book collector, you can support a budding artist, help the beer blog culture, and get yourself a cool way to read quick  reviews... all for only $7! Just go to Lulu and buy Pints and Panels

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