I had the great experience of interviewing James Spooner, creator of The High Desert, one of my favorite graphic novels of 2022, and you can hear our full conversation on Comic Book Herald’s “Creannotators,” on the podcast.
But since some people prefer the ancient art of “reading,” we’ve also transcribed the interview below, talking with James about making the graphic novel. The transcription has been slightly edited for clarity. Read and enjoy!
CBH: We’re going to be talking about James’s career, the Afro-Punk movement, his punk roots, and of course, everything on display here in The High Desert, which again, I cannot recommend highly enough. James. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk today. I appreciate you being here. How long have you been working on The High Desert as a graphic novel?
Spooner: I started it about five years ago in the draft-writing phase, that took about eight months, give or take. And then, the actual linework took about a year, shading took a couple years, and there was also a year of just, once it was in the publisher’s hands, of editing. I had to redraw some things and, you know, all the touch ups and doing the cover, and all that stuff. So it was about a five year process.
CBH: Gotcha. Okay. And this is your first major graphic novel that’s out there and it’s looking at formative years, basically, in high school, as you discover punk, you discover it as an identity. all the sort of intersection of being a black man, getting into punk rock in a very white community. Obviously this is a very formative experience in your life, but where these memories all very close to the surface in terms of the specifics in them? Or was there a lot of work you had to do to remind yourself, and to bring it back to life?
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Spooner: That’s a great question. It is a memoir, it is based on my memories, and those memories were not hard to string together. I think I started–to be transparent–the book takes place over a year. These are things that happened over a course of two years. So basically, when I started it, I wrote down all the things I could remember. Every little thing I could remember about eighth and ninth grade, and when I had it, I was like “okay, well this is a bunch of good scenes,” you know, that I can tell the story of my first years in punk. But it felt, just for pacing, to do it over the course of one year. But the only substory that I didn’t go in with was the one about Jenny, the Asian girl, who is into me. I did have the intention of writing about her, but I didn’t remember that it was like a week or two long romance, like all middle school romances are. I didn’t remember very many specifics about it. I had a couple embarrassing moments that I remembered and put in the book, but I found her on Facebook and I was like “oh, sorry if I broke your heart or anything.” You know? And she was like “actually, I broke your heart. I broke up with you because my friends wouldn’t allow me to date you,” and that actually worked out for the story I was going to tell. It works better than me being…I don’t remember what it actually was. You know?
CBH: That’s funny. That’s interesting. So, of the folks who are characters in this and are your friends and your family and all that, you mentioned reaching out to Jenny, how many did you talk with to get a feel for it and gauge their comfort levels with being in a work like this, or was that just kind of on a case-by-case basis?
Spooner: I wasn’t terribly concerned with their comfort levels with the exception of my mom because I hadn’t talked to any of them in like thirty-something years. I changed all of their names and I also combined some people’s stories so there are people who will read the book and be like “oh, that’s clearly me but this part didn’t happen.” And another person will read the same character and go “that’s me, but that part didn’t happen” because I combined them. You know? Because as it is, the book is three-hundred and seventy-five pages, so if I would have taken each character as they were, it would have been impossible to do as a graphic novel. So I condensed a couple of people to make into one character. So I wasn’t really tripping on whether or not people would be like “you portrayed me in this way” or whatever. But yeah, “that part happened to you, that part happened to the other guy.” We were there. We all know.
CBH: And it merges into one good story. No, that totally makes sense and I think a lot of readers have come to expect that with memoirs. There’s a true history, but there’s also a narrative on display, and there’s a point and there’s themes within that where the specifics of your high school experience isn’t a crucial historical record, necessarily, where it has to be one-hundred percent authentic.
Spooner: I will say that all the events are true. There are things that happened to me, experiences that I had, and most importantly, the way that I felt during them, but I give the disclaimer right on the first page that some of the timeline is crunched, some of the characters have been combined, just for both for flow and also not to put people on blast that I haven’t talked to in thirty-five years.
CBH: Right. Totally. That makes sense. You mentioned that with the exception of your mom, being the trickiest inclusion, which I think, once people read this, they’ll definitely understand that. Your mom is white, and you are black, and obviously there are challenges just in terms of trying to understand what you’re going through, why punk is so appealing to you, all the things that are going on in your life, and then on top of that, you have, of course, you are a teenager in your first year in a new school. With the conversation and portrayal of your mom, what did you have to do and convince yourself of to be that honest about her, I suppose. How did you sell yourself on that?
Spooner: I feel like, I just don’t have a problem with honesty. Sometimes it’s difficult to get, to find out the real truth, like, I’m thinking about myself and my own history and why I did things, that can take a long time to unravel, to get to the truth. But when it comes to simple facts like my mom is a white woman who is trying to raise a black kid, and despite being a good person, doing her best, it didn’t always hit. So, that’s a truth that’s not hard to get to, and when I spoke with my mom about it, she’s been like “yeah, I didn’t know what was going on. I wasn’t paying attention. I was wrapped up in my own life” or whatever. Again, it’s the little details, like she’ll be like “well, you say that I’ve been through two divorces, but really, I’ve only had one,” and I’m like, “you were engaged, we lived with that dude, and then the wedding was called off.” I don’t feel like writing an entire page to explain that nuance when I could just say “two failed marriages.” So again, when people who are represented in memoir have objections, they’re usually to the tiniest details at the sacrifice of the big story that’s actually being told about them.
CBH: That’s funny. That makes sense. Except for Jenny, of course, who was like “no, I broke your heart.” That’s an important distinction. So I found it pretty fascinating that this is your first major comics work, and like you said, it’s a massive graphic novel. It’s three-hundred and fifty plus pages, and it’s fantastic. The pacing, you have all these really beautiful spreads of the landscape to take a break between the moments of this journey you’re on, exploring your own identity, but also just the roots of punk rock as an ethos. It’s not just about “hey, you all should check out Minor Threat,” it’s a culture, it’s an ethos, and it’s a scene. Coming into this, you work as a tattoo artist, does that shape your art and your focus on art, or is designing in this style sort of something you’ve been doing for a long time, you just haven’t formalized it?
Spooner: You know, I do see comics as almost like a perfect storm of all the various mediums that I did before. So you mentioned Afro-Punk, so in making that documentary, I learned about pacing, framing. I both shot it and directed it, so how did I want characters to be positioned within the frame. I also made a narrative work called White Lies, Black Sheep, and that was learning script writing and also telling the DP how I wanted the actors to be framed, and also directing actors and whatnot. Something that is a little bit unusual but I also give credit to is DJing. I DJed for ten years and just being able to control a crowd with the musical choices, again, there’s pacing and deciding how many records I should get to between this song and that song. And I was able to do a lot of storytelling, a lot of that came from film, and deciding how I wanted the characters to fit within the cell was a lot of storyboarding.
And then, lastly, obviously, was the tattooing. I’ve been a tattooer for thirteen years and in that time, I really honed my illustration skills, but I think that because I don’t come from the world of comics, I’m also not constrained by the world of comics illustration and storytelling style. So there’s certain things I’ve come to learn that it’s almost like a comics “no-no” to trace things. But I like to heavily trace everything, because I come from tattooing and tattooing is tracing, tracing, tracing, tracing. So the way that I overcame the issue of “how do I get a character to look the same on each page,” by taking thousands of pictures of real people. Like, I cast the book. I found punk rockers that reminded me of me or other people, I brought them in, I shot thousands of pictures knowing exactly how I wanted them to be in the book, because I already storyboarded it all with stick figures. And then I used all of that as reference. I even went back to Apple Valley and snuck onto my old high school so that I could take pictures of all the lockers and stuff.
CBH: That’s interesting. I remember Neil Adams, the great comics artist who passed away earlier this year, sadly, in interviews, he would talk a lot about how there is that sort of stigma about tracing in comic circles. Like, it’s that big “no-no” for artists and all that stuff, but also the fact that everyone does it. Like, how else do you learn, basically, to draw? He was a big proponent of tracing, and he’s a giant, an icon in the medium. So there’s a weird stigma about it, but I don’t know. In your case, you’re talking about authenticity with character and with how the high school looked, and it’s a better work for it. Alright, so we’re talking about the design and the art in The High Desert, kind of how you developed a unique sort of pacing.
That is fascinating to me, that something like DJing a set could transition to just feeling the rhythm and the narrative of the story and when you need breaks and when you need to dive in. The other big piece, we’re talking music, we’re talking DJing, we’re taking the punk rock experience. With comics, you don’t actually get the soundtrack, right? You’ve got the one missing element, of course, is that in this medium, you don’t actually get the sound. But what you do instead, is that there’s a lot of lyrics. There’s a lot of music in the background and a lot of footnotes in terms of reference points. I love this. I love exploring new music all the time. I’m a fan of punk rock, though I definitely not consider myself punk in the same way, like I have familiarity with Minor Threat, with Bad Brains, but one of my favorite pieces of this work was that every time there was a song lyric, I’m going to queued up that song; I actually took a picture of your mix tapes that you have at one point and I’ve been going through those artists and those bands one by one. As you were re-exploring this formative punk experience, what were the bands and the songs and the moments and the artists that were the most fun for you to revisit as you did it?
Spooner: Well, firstly, I’m stoked that you’re digging in like that. It was my intention to give the somewhat uninitiated access to these artists. We even made a Spotify playlist that goes in order with the book.
CBH: Oh nice.
Spooner: I’ll link you that, and it’s funny because I had my publisher do it and I was thinking that it was just going to be all the punk stuff, but they even put in Milly Vanilly and all the stuff. And I think that when you listen to it as a whole, it really does give it context for if the normal kids were listening to this Billy Joel song, this is what we were listening to. And for those who don’t know who Paula Abdul or MC Scat Cat was, the one hit wonders, having those tracks right there gives a frame of reference. So, for me, there were certain songs that I just knew I would have to showcase in the book. There was like “Waste of Use,” “Fuck Authority,” you know, just going back to what it felt like as a thirteen year old and hearing that song and being like “yeah! Fuck authority!” What thirteen year old can’t relate to that? And then there were other songs that just fit really well with the moment. Feeling particularly sorry for myself around a girl and listening to the Buzzcocks, like those songs like “I Just Want to Love Her” and what do I get? Like those kind of things, it’s like really trying to highlight these bands and the importance of their lyrics on my teenage self.
CBH: Yeah. Yeah, was there anything that you looked at as you went back and were like “I was super into blank, and now I listen to them and they suck.” Did you have any moments like that?
Spooner: There’s definitely some unlistenable music. Or just like embarrassing. In 1989, in Apple Valley, I was around a lot of kids who were into S.O.D and M.O.D and those bands. And S.O.D., i remember trading one of my skateboard shirts for somebody else’s S.O.D. shirt, and my mom freaked out. Rightfully. Because the band is called “Stormtroopers of Death,” which is referencing Nazi soldiers, and the album is called “Speak English or Die.” And in my head, maybe because I got it from a Mexican kid, I wasn’t thinking how blatantly racist this is. And M.O.D. has got songs that are just horrifying, like they have a song about not sending money to children aids and organizations in Africa. And the lyrics are like, “let the (***) die hungry so I can have their land.”
Spooner: And revisiting that and being like “oh yeah, me and my friends listened to this and didn’t have any conversations about how fucked up it was.” If anything, it was funny, and dealing with that level of internalized racism where I could see something like that as being funny, just so I would fit in with these kids. Mind you, other kids of color too. It’s just like, I understand that it’s supposed to be satire, but that argument doesn’t really hold much water when there’s no satire about white people. It’s like “we’re just going to say all this racist stuff and then we’re going to say it’s a joke.” So that kind of stuff was probably more alarming than “oh, this band just sucks” because there was certainly a lot of that too.
CBH: That’s fascinating. It definitely comes through in the work. That experience of the racism that people tolerate, that everyone tolerates in various forms, like for the story in The High Desert, there’s literal Neo-Nazis. Which I think might sound particularly extreme to people who didn’t have that experience, but in the narrative, it’s also just people you knew and went to school with and the drummer in your band for a bit, and kind of just how you had to navigate getting through that teenage experience. I thought that was interesting in connection with what you just said. You have these bands who, even like the well intentioned ones, writing these anti-racist satirical songs, but they’re generally white punk bands and the songs get completely misinterpreted and co-opted by exactly the racist sects they’re making fun of. Like, maybe they’re having a laugh, but nobody knows that or at least no large groups know that. It just seems like now, it’s just a bad idea to put that out there.
Spooner: It didn’t age well.
CBH: Yeah, it just seems like one of those things where if I have to Google whether or not Manic Street Preachers are actually racist or something, like the song maybe isn’t conveying what is meant to be.
Spooner: Yeah, there’s a lot of examples I’ve been digging into. The amount of allied n-bombs that are in punk songs, like, I listen to “Holiday in Cambodia” how many times in my life before I realized that the word (***) is in the song! Or same with X and their song “Los Angeles” and the lyrics are intended to be anti-racist and making fun of somebody who would talk like that, but it just doesn’t age well. Like, I think we’ve had enough conversations now that we know that white people just shouldn’t be using that word, but I don’t know what the conversation was in the early eighties. But there’s enough of those songs where the intention is good, but the execution doesn’t hold up. Unlike, for instance, the Descendants who have songs that have words like “homo” and “fag” or whatever, but they’re not talking about gay people, they’re not using that word as a putdown, we can look at that and be like “well, that was the eighties, that’s what people said,” and maybe as teenagers, they didn’t know any better, and as adults they come back and are like “we don’t even play that song anymore because we don’t want people to use those words.” Whereas in these cases with Christian Death, Dead Kennedys, X, Seven Seconds, they’re saying the word (***) with the intention of pointing out racism and it’s just like “okay. Great. Don’t do that.”
CBH: “We got it. Let’s not do that again.”
Spooner: “Thank you. Don’t do that.”
CBH: I think even like–it’s funny that you mentioned “Holiday in Cambodia,” because I think that song was in Guitar Hero, which is like a staple label of the scene, and you think about the lyrical content and it’s like “oh shit! How did that make it that far!”
Spooner: And when you dig in, it’s like people waive it. They give so much love to Dead Kennedys for “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” but that song isn’t even about Nazi skinheads. It’s about tough guys, and they’re just saying that tough guys who come to shows and beat people up or whatever, they’re just calling them Nazis because they’re acting like tough guys. But they weren’t actually talking to Nazi skinheads, Neo-Nazis or whatever, but it gets reinterpreted and then it’s a hero song and we paint them as a hero. And it’s not like I have any problem with Jello. He’s fine. But it’s just interesting how time changes lyrics.
CBH: Yeah, for sure. And I think that’s probably the moral of the story. Like, one, you said “stop, don’t do that anymore,” but then, two, the literal thing you’re putting on the page or in the title is how it’s going to be interpreted down the road and then the people who get really into the stuff, may do the research and they may do the math and they may understand the nuance, but most won’t. And that’s were a lot of the problems arise. You know, I thought it was cool as you’re talking. You make this all very understandable, and I don’t want to feign total understanding, but it’s more empathy and trying to understand as much as I can from my perspective, which is a white guy, but it’s all told very clearly. Did you have a sort of North Star, or a guiding mantra as you’re going through this in terms of like “kids like me. Black kids who are into punk or feel like they don’t fit in. These are the things I wish to share because I wish there was somebody who told me this when I was that age.” You know, what are those things for you?
Spooner: Yeah, I mean, I was careful to not just make the Afro-Punk movie into a comic because I think the Afro-Punk movie did a very specific thing, which was “this is what it’s like to be a black person in this scene in a very general way. These are a bunch of things that we deal with.” And I actually went out of my way to not include Nazi skinheads or any conversation around skinheads, really, in the movie because I didn’t want to let the white viewers off the hook by just being just “oh, this racism they’re talking about must just be from these extremist groups. Not from me.” Whereas with this book, it’s very personal. This is like my true life story, but I think if I had a guiding, North Star as you said, it was just to humanize all these experiences. I had some very embarrassing moments with internalized racism that I put on the page. I know that I was friends with a kid “(***) Go Back to Africa” written in Sharpie marker on his refrigerator, so what does that say about me, but also the truth is that I was friends with this kid and in the time of our friendship, I got to know him, I got to know what his family dynamic was. I got to understand that given a different set of external circumstances, he would not be racist. And in fact, in his day-to-day life, he wasn’t actually racist. It’s funny. He was espousing these beliefs that his dress and whatnot, but he was just trying to fit in with the White Power kids that were around him. So I’m not giving him a pass, but I am saying that I didn’t want him to just be a villain.
Like, he’s a human being who was fourteen years old, fifteen years old, trying to figure out what was right and in having these close friendships with two kids of color, he had to face his own demons about “how can I say that I’m racist and want to be down with these Nazi guys and want to be down with these Aryan Youth guys, but also have these two close friends of color? I need to choose.” You know what I’m saying? And ultimately, his friendships mattered more. But in all of these cases, most of the characters, I wanted you to get to know what their experiences were that brought them to this place. It’s like, we have this girl, Sin, who seems like a bad girl. People are calling her slut, she’s already been in rehab and she’s in middle school. There’s all these kind of opinions that we would formulate about her based on the information that we have, but then we learn about her life, some of her struggles, and ultimately have empathy for her and her situation. And I kind of wanted that to be the case for all the characters.
CBH: Yeah, yeah. No, I think the work definitely succeeds in that. Some more than others, certainly, like there are villains in this story, but like you said, especially for certain characters, there’s a human understanding of at least “well, I can see why they became that.”
Spooner: Even like George, who’s the kind of mean, skinhead villain in the book, even him, you get a couple of glimpses that are like “oh, he had a crush on Ty, my black friend’s older sister, and she shot him down, and maybe that led to some of his hatred for black people in general.” You know, it’s not excuses, but it’s like “oh, I understand where this comes from,” so I feel like if you can see people as humans and you can empathize with them, and when you have empathy then real healing can begin. So, even with the villains, I wanted you to have some understanding.
CBH: Yeah. No, I think the work is pretty good at that. I see on your book tour that you’ve got coming up, The High Desert’s out there, people are starting to become aware of this and celebrate it, and hopefully we’ll put this out there and–like I said–CBH can be recommending it. I see you’ve got some really cool conversations coming up. A lot of people, but comic book authors like David F. Walker, I see Ben Passmore, Ronald Wimberly, and some others as well, did you connect with any comics folks in the community while you were working on this? For advice and what kind of feedback did you get?
Spooner: Yeah, I did. So, like, as you said this is my very first book. Not only my first published thing, but it’s really the first thing that I’ve done in comics and so I really didn’t know. Over this five year period, it’s just been a learning process. I would go to local art cons or comics arts fairs, zine fairs and meet people, you know? And I think there’s a certain level of auntre(?) that I had because of Afro-Punk, so there’s just like black artists like Ron Wimberly, who went to Afro-Punk–early Afro-Punk–events, so he was like “oh, yeah! I remember you,” blah, blah, blah, so he was really gracious with his time. I met a couple. Ezra Clayton Daniels.
CBH: BTTM FDRS
. That’s a good one.
Spooner: Yeah, so he did BTTM FDRS and I met him at a zine fair and just on some light skin, black dudes’ junk, and we just started rapping and he introduced me to Ben Passmore, who he did that project with. So, I guess I’m not necessarily afraid to just write somebody and be like “hey, this is what I’m doing, what do you think?” But most of, I think, most of the advice I got was publishing stuff. How do I get an agent? That kind of stuff, not so much “how do I tell this sequential story?” That part I feel like I understood because of film and not to like toot my own horn, but I feel like it’s more successful than a lot of comics that I read because I feel like the pacing is too quick in a lot of comics. Or maybe it’s just a page thing. They have to tell a whole story in sixteen pages or something. But, I’m often left like “really? That was it? Where’s the meat? Give me more.” So, when it came to how do I get a publisher? Which publisher is right for me? Do I go small, do I go big? What’s the pros and cons? Like, those guys were all really helpful. They were always like “this is how much money I made, this is how much Fanographics gave me, this is how much Lineforge paid me.” Like, very open. So then I at least knew to make an informed decision and not just be out there, not going.
CBH: Right, right. Did you have a hard time getting in the door with an unpublished work and a pitch at all, or did that production go pretty smoothly?
Spooner: Initially, I reached out to a lit agent and I reached out to three that were just suggested to me from people who I know had been published, and they were all published in the literary world. So I wrote to all of them. I had meetings with all of them, all the agents were interested, they all had kind of the same thing to say, so I went with the black one because I figured it was one less thing to explain. She is a great agent, but she’s mostly connected in the YA world, so she kept really trying to push it as a YA book, and because it takes place in middle school, a lot of the publishers were excited about it, hoping that it was a middle grade book. This book is not a middle grade book.
CBH: It’s really not.
Spooner: So, because that’s the case, I got a lot of rejections. I probably got like twenty or thirty. I didn’t even count, but it definitely was a lot of them. I got some good notes. I learned along the way, and I was submitting with only ten pages illustrated and the script, so after getting all those rejections and realizing that this agent was probably not the right agent for me, it took me a little while to get the courage to let her go, but once I did that, I just worked on the book super hard. It was during the Pandemic, I didn’t have to tattoo, I just grinded and when the George Floyd riots and uprisings started happening and all the corporations were doing all these ridiculous things like “we’re not going to have Aunt Jemima anymore,” you know, “we stand with black people” says Dupont or whatever, I’m like, this might be a good time to go out and try to get published again because people care about black people right now. So, I had a good chunk of the book done and I put together another proposal. This time I was like “I’m going to find a punk agent,” like, somebody who understands punk. That’s more important, because they need to know how to sell punk to the mainstream, not sell black to the mainstream. You know what I’m saying?
Spooner: So I ended up with this guy, PJ, who is at Janklow & Nesbit publishing, and that was because I read an interview with him where he talked about being a punk kid in Arizona in the ‘80s or something, and I was like “okay.” And I wrote to him and he totally got it and he was like “I know how to sell this.” He sent it out to ten people, three of them came back, there was an auction, and it went. So that was a breeze, and I was like “oh, great. You got a deal!” So, I don’t know if that was an interesting story, but that’s how it happened.
CBH: Yeah, yeah, no. I always found the inside baseball fascinating about how these things get landed and all that stuff. And it’s funny too, because in comics now, the young readers, the middle age stuff, that’s huge. That’s probably the biggest market. So I can see how when you just put it on paper, like “yeah, it’s a story about junior high into high school, a young guy finding himself,” you can see how they’d want to move it that direction.
Spooner: Yeah, because everyone is looking for the next, you know, Smile and Drama, and all that stuff. And those books are great. When my daughter was younger, she loved that stuff. It was fun to read, so definitely no shade in there. It’s great, and it’s opened the doors for so many other comics creators in mainstream publishing. It’s great, but my story has drugs and sex and suicide and all kinds of stuff that just doesn’t fit in with what you want, like, nine-year-olds to read.
CBH: Yeah, right. It’s just not in that mode. Which is fine. Okay, so all that is interesting. What’s it been like, because on top of this, you’ve got The High Desert–again, I recommend people go check it out because it’s fantastic–but also, you said with the George Floyd murder by the police in May of 2020, it looks like–I don’t know if it happened before–but you started rescreening Afro-Punk again. What’s it been like, getting back there on the road and resurfacing that work in this moment? What kind of conversations have you been having with people? Does it feel like the movie’s connecting differently than it did maybe almost twenty years ago?
Spooner: Yes, but not necessarily because of George Floyd. I sort of had a resurgence in maybe 2019 because Afro-Punk the company was going through all kinds of public embarrassment due to their corporate attitudes.
CBH: Is this like the concert organization?
Spooner: Yeah, for those who don’t know, Afro-Punk started off as my movie. I started off by doing screenings and attaching bands to it and then two years later, started the festival which was ultimately just three concerts in a weekend. Twenty years later, it’s like a giant corporation that’s run by Essence magazine billionaire and it’s in seven countries and three cities in the United States. It’s a huge, huge festival with headliners like Jill Scott and Cee-Lo or whatever. It doesn’t really have anything to do with punk anymore and people were really interested in that story. So those were the kind of conversations that were coming out of the screenings, which were like “how did it go from this to that?” So I kind of put together a slide show that explains that. The trajectory, why I left, how it became what it was, and what the reaction from the underground has been. So, that’s been a lot of fun, and it is introducing it to a whole new generation and for better or worse, the movie still resonates with people.
CBH: Yeah, yeah, no. Well, why do you say “for worse?” What would be what counts?
Spooner: Well, “for worse” would be that I wish these weren’t still issues that we’re dealing with.
CBH: I see.
Spooner: But, it’s like, here I am in 2003 making a movie that’s largely talking about how difficult it is to be a black person, or a person of color, in this primarily white community and twenty years later, kids are still like “yeah, that totally resonates with me.” But for what it’s worth, when I was making the movie, I was in this public editing bay and I felt this presence behind me. She was watching the movie, and when I turned around, it was Cathrine Cleaver of the Black Panther Party, and she’s like “are we still talking about this shit?” So that movie could have been made in the 60s possibly and the issues that we’re talking about haven’t changed all that much.
CBH: I see. Yes, that’s fascinating. Can you talk about, in the work, and also in Afro-Punk, like rock being a black music and therefore, punk being black music and you can see when you put it on paper–and it’s not something that I had ever thought about–but just the resistance to institutions, the resistance to being subjugated, you know, all these things that are inherent in a lot of punk music and the way the music is conveyed and comes across as just fast and loud and hard and heavy and wants to hit and break things. Just all the stuff that comes through in the music, it’s not hard to see why it would resonate, yet there is [unclear] to go through in this book, in The High Desert. That double consciousness experience of you standing out tremendously being a black kid with a bi-hawk–which rules by the way, the photo you have of the bi-hawk is super cool. But it is just another example, and now I see that there are just so many of these where this media or this cultural artifact that white people just take, and make their own even though it was never really theirs to begin with.
Spooner: Yeah. I think that for me, I like to focus on this scene as a metaphor for society at large and I don’t feel like I have a lot of control over the government. Like, I can vote or I can go to a protest, but I do feel like I have power within the scene, and I feel like if I can shed light on the issues within our community, it’s not hard to extrapolate that into the rest of society and there are people within the scene who do have access to more control outside or will have outside this. So, I believe heavily on focusing on my community, my family, and watch the ripple effect.
CBH: Yeah. Sounds cool. What are some punk bands that you’re super excited about right now? Like, what’s the stuff that you’re into currently that people should check out?
Spooner: I should always have a list like right next to me for this question. So, we just had a gig in Philly. I did a book event there and two bands, The Ire and Material Support play and they’re both great in different ways. Material Support is like everything that I want punk rock to be. They’re music hits right, the politics are super on point, lyrics are pretty straight forward so people can easily understand what is being told. Like, they have a song that’s just called “Know Your Rights” and it’s literally “here’s what to do if a cop comes to your door.” And that’s useful information! So, those bands, I would definitely check out. I’ve been listening to a lot of female artists and female fronted bands have really been most interesting to me lately. Amyl and Sniffers, Buggin’ (? The audio kind of cuts here), who else…? The bands that I just mentioned. I would have to pull up my band camp to really make a list.
CBH: Yeah, that’s good. No, it’s funny. When I listen to music–I’ve got my band camp and I’ve got music going every day for eight hours–and then people ask you “what are you listening to right now?” and then I can’t name anything.
Spooner: Especially now that we don’t have actual records to pull out.
CBH: Right, right. What’s in your actual CD case or whatever. Alright, so this has been a blast James. I really appreciate you taking the time. So you’ve got The High Desert out now. I advice people to check it out. It’s pretty much every place you go. Check out Afro-Punk. I mean, it’s really not super long. It’s a bit over an hour. If you haven’t seen that, it’s a great pairing with this work. They’re definitely two sides of the same coin. What else is next for you? What have you got coming up that you want people to know about?
Spooner: Well, I’ve got like twenty or more dates on my book tour through November. I’m doing all of the major–well, I won’t say major conventions–but I’m doing all the major comics arts fairs. SPX, I just got the email about Mice. I’m doing CXC in Columbus, and but then I have a bunch of events that I’ve put together myself that are with bands all over the country. So you can just go to my website, spoonersnofun.com and click the events link to see that. And beyond that, I’m working on another book and I’m not necessarily out for submission yet, so I don’t really know how much I want to talk about it, but I definitely am still working.
CBH: Good. Without spoiling anything or giving away too much, do you want to stay in more memoir territory or are you looking to branch out and do more fictional type stuff?
Spooner: I definitely have a couple more memoirs in me. I have been periodically writing some TV pilots with some other people that are all fiction, but I have a couple more memoirs in me that I have to get out before I can…at least before I die.
CBH: Okay. Alright. Looking forward to them. So, James, this has been awesome. Really appreciate it. Again, everybody should find links to James’ stuff and The High Desert in the show notes. I’m of course, Dave, and you can find all my stuff on comicbookherald.com as well as at Comic Book Herald, pretty much anywhere on social. So James, thanks so much for joining us today.
Spooner: Yeah, thank you. Take care.
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