Amanda Siska, the artist behind No Soap, Radio comics, bears only a passing resemblance to the main character in her strips. She is smaller, somehow, wider in the jaw, pierced in the lip and the septum, and tattooed on her upper chest. She also displays, immediately, less urge to talk about herself than the prickly loudmouths who inhabit her frames do, and even less urge to answer questions linking her to the shorthaired look-alike in No Soap.
"Which one is me? All of them," she says, before ticking off two other pressing concerns — Are they modeled on real people? And is working in a shoe store really that bad? — in a similarly terse fashion. ("No," is the answer to the first, and "Yes" to the second.)
Siska may be all the characters. "I’ve always drawn," she says. "And somehow everything I draw — whether it’s ‘serious’ art or not — looks like these characters." But crammed into a small table at Herrell’s, in Allston, where she used to live, the 23-year-old plays one principal part, that of defiant, low-key cynic, as she recounts the evolution of her drawing life.
"Years ago, I did a couple tattoos, illegal tattoos on friends, and I wasn’t very good at it," she says. "I realized I’d either have to apprentice, or I’d have to find something else to do. And that was the first time I ever considered comics."
In 1999, Siska graduated from high school in Framingham — "college wasn’t for me" — and left with her husband Sean on a cross-country trip. For a year they circled the country before getting bogged down in Arizona, where she waited tables at a hotel restaurant and a "hippy bar." They eventually found their way home.
In the meantime, they’d found comics. Although neither is exactly clear on how it happened, they both began buying more books, reading together, and sharing titles. Johnny the Homicidal Maniac came first. Then, Bone. Before they knew it, the Siskas were back in Massachusetts delivering a batch of Christmas-card comics that told the story of their cross-country trip.
"For me, the talent never seemed to have been developed," says Sean Siska. For Amanda, however, those little cards had the sound of plans clicking into place.
A couple years ago, Siska threw all her ideas into a short series of books called In Traffic, and self-published the first batch for about $300. It was a book about the Allston hipster set, full of piercings, punk rock, and witty asides. She estimates that only about 70 people bought each edition, which was strung together at Kinko’s and sold on consignment to a few local shops.
"As long as I had friends and family, I’d have plenty to work with," she says. "But I estimated I was losing a few bucks on every book. It wasn’t worth it."
So for her next project, Siska did what most electronically savvy artists are doing today — she decided to publish her strips online, for free. After submitting an application to keenspace, she received the go-ahead to get her own page, naming it No Soap, Radio after a very bad and wholly inexplicable joke her parents once told her. She has added a new strip to the site every week since. And whereas only dozens of people read her print comic, she estimates that hundreds read No Soap, Radio online.
"Starting my own business is hard work," a character fumes in one strip. "There are a lot of things I never considered when I first thought I would make a living working from home. Like... how alone I feel because no one is helping me."
In another, a shoe-store employee — Siska worked at two local retailers — thinks: "I wonder if every aspect of this guy’s life is so excruciating. Or if my co-workers just send in their friends to fuck with me."
THE FEEL OF PAPER
Unlike New York, say, where a large indie-comic community pads the landing for new artists, Boston’s scene is smaller, and getting a comic off the ground is rough. Only three area stores carry local books, and those are usually bought on consignment. Then people have to buy them and read them.
"We carry a lot of local comics and they do sell, but it’s not an easy thing to do," says Erin Scott, a manager at New England Comics, in Allston, which carried Siska’s In Traffic series. Scott runs a small creative-writing circle of sorts for local artists, and added that e-comics, which allow instantaneous publication, often seem to be a viable option for self-publishers.
But with all the hope and democracy the Web provides, Siska stresses that it is only a stopgap: "I like the ease of Web comics, but I like actually handing someone a piece of paper," she says. "I’d like instead to print a compendium of strips, or a long-running story. This — the Web — is like practice for the real thing."
For a sample of Amanda Siska’s work, go to BostonPhoenix.com or keenspace.com. Matthew Shaer can be reached at email@example.com.
Issue Date: November 18 - 24, 2005
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