Following a great review from fellow Crusader Alan (see the Reviews section), Comic Crusaders got in touch with Pawn Shop writer Joey Esposito and artist Sean Von Gorman, to discuss the book, problems for an independent artist, corners of New York and handcuffs.
For those who haven’t seen the book, Pawn Shop is an interconnected book covering four people’s loss, struggles and the beginnings of hope. Here is what Joey and Sean had to say: –
CC: How did you two meet? Which of you is the driving force behind Pawn Shop?
JE: We met on Twitter. I was looking for a collaborator on a horror short and Sean tweeted me his work. We didn’t work together on that story, but when I started to tinker with the idea that would become Pawn Shop, Sean was the first person I went to.
And — we’re equal drivers here.
SVG: If we owned a car together, it would have 2 steering wheels.
JE: The pawn shop and the neighbourhood are indeed real, though not how you might think. The exterior of the pawn shop is actually based on a shop I used to pass all of the time in Los Angeles, on Van Nuys Blvd., the very shop that inspired me to do this book in the first place. I just thought that the visual of the signage outside was so aesthetically pleasing, and I noticed it every single time I drove by. And so our pawn shop is sort of that store transplanted, existing someplace within a fictional block of Greenwich Village in New York City.
CC: Are the characters based on your own experiences, either via script, dialogue or visually, if so which?
JE: Absolutely. This is one of the most personal things I’ve written, and there are parts of my own experience in each of the main characters. The loss of a relationship in Harold, the fear of change in Arthur, the angst and misguided path of Jen, and the loss of self in Samantha. There are other bits and pieces of my own life experience that make its way in there as well, though I won’t say which. But I think the only way to write honestly, no matter the genre, is to hone in on your own experiences and feelings and apply them to your characters. It’s easier for me to process life and emotions that way. If I tried to articulate a particular life experience as non-fiction, I’m not sure that I’d be successful. But being able to do it through fictional characters allows me to be honest with myself. It’s kind of like the comfort of anonymity we feel on the Internet, but with fiction.
SVG: I know Joey and I were both growing through some serious stuff emotionally when we were making this book, just at different times — Joey when he was writing it and me when I was drawing it a few years later. The emotions in the book are super real, and some of the pages are soaked in literal blood and tears. It’s something that really shines through in the final piece.
JE: I like Harold. I’m attracted to older characters reflecting on their life and regrets, maybe because it’s so mystifying to me. Like, will I have regrets when I’m older? Is life inevitably bittersweet no matter how successful — in love, work, whatever — you are? It’s scary.
SVG: Harold was my first introduction to the project. Joey sent me the script for the first chapter and I knew within reading the first few pages that I had to do this book.
CC: I love the fact the book plays kinda like the movie Crash. How did the interconnected theme come into play?
JE: It’s funny, I hate that movie. So maybe a part of me was like, “I can do that way better!” But really, the interconnected elements are a left over from my original idea for the book: to track one pawned item through its different owners. The idea that the pawn shop in LA inspired was exploring the lives of different people who are purchasing and pawning the same item, getting little snapshots of the lives of those people. So as the book evolved, the interconnectedness remained, but I thought it was more interesting for the characters to affect one another in ways they weren’t aware of. Just like all of our actions in real life have repercussions, either directly or indirectly, on people we’ve never really met.
CC: I recently came back from my honeymoon and I said something like, whilst we were there it felt the place was ours, when we left I realised that it would move on. It was quite sobering. The same thing occurs to Harold. Which places have had that effect on your both and why?
JE: New York, for sure. It’s the best example of that idea. It’s a resilient but also unforgiving city, no matter what happens, who leaves, who dies, who arrives, the city goes on. That’s why the book takes place there. I think that’s the most obvious thing taken from my own life, to be honest, as I left New York for LA and had kind of “fuck you” attitude toward leaving. Like New York was going to miss me or something, as though I had contributed something irreplaceable to it, or that it would regret never giving me the opportunities I felt I was owed. Which obviously wasn’t the case, but then I felt stupid. Some people have called Pawn Shop “a love letter to NYC” but I always see it as more of an apology note.
CC: Sean, as an artist in a very superhero based environment, how hard is it to get recognized with a more realistic style?
SVG: I’d say it’s as hard as ever to get people to see your stuff these days. I feel it’s all telling the story as best you can and to not being afraid to get your work out there. If you do good work consistently, people will notice and even look for more of your stuff.
CC: As a hopeless romantic, I was pleased with the end of the book for Samantha and Arthur. Are you setting me (and other readers) up for a fall?
JE: The only fall would come if the book doesn’t sell enough and we don’t make a second volume! A second volume would follow different characters anyway, so this is the last you’d see of Arthur and Samantha as main characters. So you’re free to end their story wherever you’d like. If you read the book as an optimist, they stay together forever. If you’re a pessimist, well, that’s a different story.
SVG: Although if the book does well enough, there’s always the possibility of a TV Series. Then you might see what happens at the end of Season 4
CC: Z2 are currently publishing some quality books. How does it feel to have them “have your back”?
JE: It’s been great. Pawn Shop has been such a long, hard journey for us as creators and as people, so it’s nice to have someone finally say “hey, this is pretty good” and get it into the market. We did a small self-published print run that got us some great reviews and good press, but that doesn’t go that far if people can’t read those articles and then go find the book in Barnes and Noble or on Amazon. Josh of Z2 has really been a champion of our book with retailers, so having that behind us is a confidence boost. Anytime someone tells you that your book doesn’t suck is a nice thing.
CC: Sean, you have been known to handcuff yourself to things, what’s the most peculiar? Joey*, how does that make your feel, a little scared or worried?
SVG: It would be hard to say which the most peculiar is, it’s all relative you know. The really fun stuff is the behind the scenes of convincing stores or shows to let me do this stuff on their property. Like a few years ago, when my first book The Secret Adventures of Houdini came out, the publisher said, “hey you have to come up to this shop in Salem.” I figured “great” but what would I do in Salem? And of course I realized I would have to have myself burned at the stake in front of the store. Which turned out to be way easier than I thought to convince the store to let me do it. When I called the owner and told him what I wanted to do he said “Hey, that’s great I’m all insured. If you die we sell more books.”
JE: I’m an introvert so it’s nice to have someone to deflect all of the attention onto.
SVG: I will take all of the attention Joey. Give it to me!
CC: What’s next for your corner of New York?
JE: I’ve been tinkering with Pawn Shop Volume 2, but as I mentioned, it depends on sales. It’s a lame reality, but life is expensive so there it is. We would of course love to continue; I imagine it as a series of graphic novels with a spider-web effect, each volume spreading further and further out to see the larger picture of how all of these characters are inter-related. For example, Volume 2 would follow different lead characters — minor characters that we’ve seen already in Volume 1 — exploring their stories during this same period of time. I think having a fictional snapshot of dozens of characters during one weekend in New York City would be really cool. Fingers crossed.
SVG: As a born and bred New Yorker I would love a change to explore the outer parts of the city. Like Brooklyn, which is clearly the best part of New York.
Thanks for taking time out to speak to us. The book is a fantastic read.
Pawn Shop is still available in your LCBS or online retailer and don’t forget to catch the review.