Nikki Burch’s cover for Intruder No. 1 adheres to a visual logic all its own. The scene depicted on the front of the free Seattle comics quarterly makes no immediate sense but is striking nonetheless: In red, white and black ink a hand thrusts up from churning water at the bottom of the page. A gremlin perched in a Gaudí-esque window and a sinking minaret vie for attention in a mountain landscape where something black oozes out from a stand of firs. The lines are bold and certain, the style cheerful, even as the image conveys something sinister. Across the top of the page in big, bold typeface that recalls carnival signage is the word “INTRUDER.”
Inside, a simple table of contents guides readers through 11 more pages of ad-free comics, each rendered in the style of the artist who drew it. Some pages are paneled, others formatted as full spreads. Though visually distinct from one another, every page carries a healthy dose of dark humor and, likelier than not, plenty of crass, scatological gags.
Editor Marc Palm birthed that first edition of Intruder into the world in March 2012. Aside from a rotating roster of contributors and a continual push against conventional boundaries, its format has remained the same since. In cafés and comic book shops, waiting amidst stacks of other periodicals and magazines, its colorful, often bombastic cover quietly calls out: Let’s get weird.
A spirit of heedless productivity guides Intruder—as I witnessed when I recently sat down with Palm and artists Aidan Fitzgerald, Max Clotfelter, Tom Van Deusen and Billis Helg. All are formally trained artists; Clotfelter has an MFA in sequential art. Both He and Palm have pages in the upcoming Henry & Glenn Forever & Ever anthology, a fanfic classic that imagines Henry Rollins and Glenn Danzig as platonic life partners. You may recognize Helg and Fitzgerald's art from gallery showings around town. And Van Deusen is working on a graphic novel and has anthologized his series Scorched Earth.
The five illustrators met through the artistic community that Café Racer has incubated for years and each of them is a founding member of Intruder. In the back room of the 15th Avenue Victrola Coffee, the group talked about the publication they’ve created, its reception and what it means to make a print magazine using traditional mediums.
Palm: We'd been through a bunch of drawing groups and it's all talk about doing stuff but never actually producing anything. We want to make something. Let's make a fucking newspaper. Newspaper? People are going to throw those away; no one cares. Yeah, but the goal is we have a fucking newspaper, so let's go with that.
Clotfelter: It makes the difference between a scene of people talking about doing things and actually getting things done.
Palm: I feel like we're passing down a tradition of some sort. I've learned from Max just by pasting up again. [“Pasting up" refers to the now outdated and manual method of laying out a page for print publication wherein one literally pastes together the components of a page.] Who fucking pastes up? That's amazing. That's manual. That's analog. People need to know how to make that stuff.
Fitzgerald: We now have a stake in the grand narrative of print comics.
Helg: I don't think that there's any one of us that doesn't primarily work with traditional means. Actual ink with actual paper. The finished object also transmits that in a way; it's not just you see the pattern on the screen.
Clotfelter: Has anybody given an Intruder to somebody or sent one back home to their parents and removed pages they didn't want anybody to see?
Tom: I'll be honest, I've always just sent my page. I don't need my parents to see some of that stuff. My grandmother? I'm sure they'd appreciate some of it, but some of it's really harsh.
Max: I've kind of been surprised sometimes how little reaction there is.
Fitzgerald: It's part and parcel with comics in general, because I don't think a lot of people appreciate comic work. Intruder is the total of hundreds of hours of work; thousands of hours if you talk about the whole 10-issue run.
Helg: Does anyone here resent it enough that you wouldn't do it for another 10 issues? I could give a fuck if no one cares.
Palm: And that’s purely why we were doing it in the first place: to self-satisfy.
It’s a familiar story: the struggling artist whose work is underappreciated. Even the artists of Intruder acknowledge their work is not for everyone. Smack in the middle of their website’s homepage is a defiant proclamation from Palm: “Lets [sic] not pretend we’re going to please a mainstream audience.”
The defiance behind Intruder is part of what makes it so admirable, so easy to sympathize with the frustration of its artists. To create something and share it indiscriminately takes audacity, but most fledgling independent art lives an invisible life. Obscurity stifles and can drive artists to throw in the towel or concede to popular taste. These Intruder artists are deeply committed to their craft. During our interview, Clotfelter sat hunched over a paneled page, rarely pausing from drawing and then only to stretch his hand.
To make matters more difficult, Seattle’s rich history of comic books and illustrators—Jim Woodring, Peter Bagge, Megan Kelso, Fantagraphics, etc—can be difficult to penetrate. Alternative comics aren't at the foreground of Seattle’s arts scene and when they are, they’re expensive.
“It just felt like things were kind of fallow through a lot of the 2000s,” Fantagraphics associate publisher Eric Reynolds said later via phone. “For the casual reader, Intruder is a great thing, too. Free papers have an awesome tradition in this town and they are an increasingly anachronistic thing.”
Seattle's rampant change has left the fabric of the city threadbare. Intruder occupies an important, often invisible role amidst the development and demolition. Clotfelter’s page for Intruder No. 10, which is a City Arts Summer Art Walk Award finalist, depicts things he’s recently seen walking to work: crying men; a blocks-long trail of blood; a quart juice bottle full of vomit. “But worst of all," he says, "the steady destruction of Capitol Hill by corporate developers.”
Intuder's weird, disturbing content is a crosshatched a reflection of life here and now. If the paper is anachronistic, it’s in the interest of emphasizing the overlooked rather than settling into nostalgia. It’s easy to be sentimental about the past; the challenge is to appreciate what we willingly ignore.
Check out the slide show of Intruder images below, and snag a copy of the 11th edition at the release party at Bellingham’s Alternative Library on July 5 and check Intrudercomics.com for other drop-off spots around the Puget Sound Area.
Image of Marc Palm above.