Our profile of Zak Sally will repeat on MN Original this Sunday, eighteen months after it first hit TPT‘s airwaves. As a cartoonist, teacher, printer, publisher, musician, and father, Zak has kept busy since his appearance on MNO. We asked Zak about his latest goings-on, most notably to hear more about a recent cartoonist residency in an abandoned salt mine in France.
MN Original: I heard you recently were invited to participate in a cartoonist residency in France. Tell me more about that.
Zak Sally: The residency was with Pierre Feuille Ciseaux [French for Rock Paper Scissors], and it happened at Saline Royale, Arc et Senans. I got this email from this person I had never heard of from France, saying we’re doing this thing, I guess it was about eight months before it actually happened, but saying, “we’re doing this comics residency for a week in a really, really old salt factory in Eastern France where we have twenty cartoonists from all over the country and we put them on these grounds for a week and we just, um, run some experimental comics things but mostly it’s just an excuse to get these cartoonists all in the same room from all over the world, working together for a week.” And I said, “that sounds real interesting,” and so I went and did it and it was really, really amazing. I was one of three American cartoonists that were asked to do this. The others were a guy named Anders Nilsen who’s a Minnesotan cartoonist as well, and a woman named Sarah Glidden. But besides that, there was a cartoonist from Sweden, a cartoonist from South Africa, Argentina, one woman was born in Russia, a cartoonist from Lebanon, and basically it was just this amazing, amazing old salt factory. They just put us in a room, we bounced ideas off each other, made stuff like crazy for a week, and then at the end of the week it was open to the public. So people from France came and saw what we had done and ran some of the comics experiments with us. It was the most rewarding professional experience of my life as a cartoonist.
ZS: Well it’s kind of two things: because it has a public aspect there was a sort of results thing, but the experiments we ran were something called Oubapo, and it’s in this tradition of a French literary experimental technique called Oulipo, which is kind of creating with a set of restrictions. So, like, you can’t use the word “the,” or your work has to be a palindrome in some way. So it’s just this sort of [method for] sparking ideas. So that was the general overview of the thing. But somebody would be running an oubapo project, somebody else would be creating a project, I created a project, there was a very limited edition silkscreen book that we made while I was there, there were about a zillion different projects going on at once, and you kind of would collaborate with people you had never met before. It was kind of dependent on what you wanted to throw yourself into. And at the end they put up in a gallery basically everything we had created over the course of a week. And it was pretty stunning.
MNO: Do you think any of the relationships you made there will lead to other projects or collaborations in the future?
ZS: Absolutely. I’m still in touch with some of the people I met with there. Maybe this is a secret, maybe it isn’t, but I’m trying to find a way to make [the residency] happen here in the U.S. I think even in my MN Original piece, there’s a part where I’m drawing and saying, “I don’t ever draw around people, it’s usually not a collaborative process.” And so I came into [the residency] thinking, I don’t know about this. But it really opened my eyes to how important [collaboration] can be, if the situation is right and if it’s handled the right way. It can really lead to some amazing things. And also thinking about what you do in a different and more expansive way.
MNO: With two of the three American cartoonists at this residency being from Minnesota, is there a perception, even internationally, that the Twin Cities have a great comics scene?
ZS: Anders Nilsen only recently moved back to Minnesota, so I was really the only Minneapolis cartoonist present. But with that said, I think Minneapolis is increasingly known for that. There are a lot of good cartoonists here, there are a lot of small publishers here who are very well regarded both nationally and internationally. There’s a lot going on with Minneapolis and comics as a whole. And I think, I don’t know if I can wink in a phone interview, but I think there will be even more of that sooner than you might think.
MNO: If you were able to have an Oubapo-like residency here, what kind of locations in the Twin Cities do you think would be best for hosting, knowing that we don’t have any old, abandoned salt mines?
ZS: I actually feel weird even talking about it. I’m trying to make that happen – I don’t think there’s any way you can replicate that experience [in France]. But you can replicate the spirit of the idea, and the thing that I’m hoping is going to happen would be, just given that it would be the first one in America, it would probably be initially North American cartoonists, which is also how it started in France. When it started in France it was Central European cartoonists and the longer it went on, the more they could expand that idea. But yeah, I teach at MCAD and I’ve been talking with MCAD about how to make that happen, and I think we can make that happen. We just have to come up with funding. So if anyone reads this and wants to make this happen, please give me a call [laughs]!
MNO: So what else has been going on with you creatively and at your press, La Mano 21?
ZS: I did a Kickstarter thing and re-released the first three issues of Sammy The Mouse together, which was originally released in three separate issues by Fantagraphics here in the United States. I put them all together in one 100-page book, and I printed the whole thing on the press that’s seen in the MN Original video. And it was kind of a nightmare but they’re done and I’ve got them. It’s one of those things that I thought somebody who wrote and drew and then printed and published, it was a cool experience and I think I’ll do it again. The next 100-page book, I’m shooting for it to be out sometime, if not at the end of this year then the early part of next year. So that’s what I’m working on right now.
MNO: Are you working on any music right now?
ZS: I’ve been making some drone stuff in my basement. There’s a certain individual in town that I want to play with but we haven’t been able to get it together yet. I’ve been doing so many things at once so I’m trying to be a bit smarter about it. My big goal this summer is to finish the next Sammy The Mouse book. But I never stop doing any of this stuff.