Spencer's Gift

Former local club owner/city council candidate finds his groove in the comics industry

"Nick Spencer Cincinnati” — the results of this Web search yield a litany of news and critical opinions surrounding the now 31-year-old former co-owner of the Indie-flavored bar alchemize and two-time candidate for Cincinnati City Council. It’s easy to learn about his brush with politics, the bar and his Desdemona Music Festival at Sawyer Point in 2006.

Buried in that search, though, is news about Spencer’s latest venture: writing comics. After moving to New York in 2008, he broke into the comics scene via Image Comics, publisher of Spawn and the once MTV-hyped comic The Maxx. Spencer’s Existence series was highly acclaimed, while his current series, Forgetless, looks at characters of a coveted New York party scene, including lovely model assassins.

The first issue of a planned five-book series came out in December, and No. 2 just dropped. Spencer checked in with CityBeat from his apartment in Brooklyn.

CityBeat: I read the first issue of Forgetless. Tell me about your connection with that story.
Nick Spencer: It’s a funny thing. I don’t think there is a whole lot of alchemize in Forgetless, which is kind of odd. You would think there would be because it’s familiar territory and I have stuff to draw from there. But Forgetless is very, very much a New York story. It really is about people that move up here from other places and the different ways they respond to that.

I think if there’s something that I drew back on from that time, it was that mentality of when you come from some place like Ohio or Michigan or Wisconsin and you move up here, there are people who will take to it right away and then there are people who hate it … and they’ll move back. That is the genesis, believe or not, of Forgetless. None of the characters in this world are from New York. There are some characters in Forgetless who, I think, were slightly inspired by people that were out at alchemize (and in Cincinnati) — people there, clubs I DJ-ed at or shows that I booked. There are some facets of regulars and friends of mine from back then.

CB: So did you meet model assassins here?
NS: To me, the model assassins thing is a front for that choice of whether or not you’re going to respond to (New York City). It struck me as a good to tie-in to that choice. You see Sara and Sonia — they’re responding to this choice in two very different ways.

Sara is fine with the idea of killing people for money. It comes very naturally to her. Sonia, on the other hand, she has that great thing that we get when we’re born and raised in the Midwest or the South, where we feel people should be nicer and thinking about other people more. She’s struggling with that choice.

CB: Forgetless dances around music with the club setting, so how would you describe the relationship between music and comics?
NS: One of the big limitations of the medium is that you can’t play music (within the book) and I do feel bad about that sometimes. It would be nice to have that in the story — we don’t ever actually mention music in the book, and yet there is something about it where people make up their own soundtrack.

Obviously, music is a big part of how I write. I tend to write to music, and I tend to come up with scenes to music.

CB: Song recommendations for the first issue?
NS: I wrote this story listening to a lot of Little Boots. Little Boots’ “New in Town” is probably the theme song of Forgetless as it stands right now. Matt and Kim (the band) are featured really prominently in an issue down the road. I’m still trying to figure out if we can work it in ourselves or come up with some clever way where the reader knows that.

CB: Are you doing some DJ work as well?
I did more last year. I fell off the wagon in 2009 because I was so busy with other stuff. But that’s a big resolution for 2010. I did a gig at Public Assembly, which is a nice place in Brooklyn, last month. I still manage once a month or every two months. I’m thinking now that I’m settled here in Williamsburg I’ll pick up more nights soon.

CB: With four storylines, you're quite busy with comics. This has been a career shift. How do you look back at your activities here in Cincinnati?
NS: I doubt I’ll ever move back — I feel very comfortable here. But that said, not a day goes by that I don’t miss a lot of things in Cincinnati. It was an amazing time, we had a lot of fun and the best friends I think I’ll ever have were with (alchemize) and Desdemona. It was an incredible set of experiences to have. I think the stuff that we were doing, it might have been doomed to fail from the start. Maybe some of those things were just not possible to make work there or maybe we weren’t the people to do it. But I’m glad we did them, and I know a lot of people had fun while we were doing them.

CB: Seems like you’ve taken away a lot from those experiences. Desdemona was huge.
NS: A little too huge, my friend! You can look at Desdemona one or two ways. You can say, “Oh, not enough people showed up,” or we had problems with the city, and as a result didn’t make enough money to cover the costs. That’s horrible and ugly and unpleasant. Then you can look on the other side and say thousands of people came to that thing and had an amazing weekend, had an experience that people still talk about. That makes it worth it.

In a place like Cincinnati, if you’re into that stuff, it’s a little easy sometimes feel out of place or drastically outnumbered. I think what we did with Desdemona and alchemize was give those folks a nice sense of place. Nobody was thinking of it like a business.

CB: Back to comics. What are you reading?
NS: My favorite book to pick up each month is called Air. And Sweet Tooth by Jeff Lemire — both of these are from Vertigo. I read anything with Brian Wood’s name on it — Northlanders, DMZ. There's also a book called Secret Warriors that I like a lot. Oh, and a book called Stumptown by Greg Rucka and Detective Comics by Rucka … the art by (J.H. Williams III) is so good.

Brian Bendis is my role model — and probably everyone’s role model — because he’s the most successful writer in comics. Gotta plug a few Image comics, too. One Model Nation by the lead singer of The Dandy Warhols and Olympus. It just came out in trade paperback.

: On the cover of
Forgetless #1, you have a list of “Breakout Bands to Watch for 2010” and (Cincinnati bands) Bad Veins and Pomegranates are there.
NS: Bad Veins is purely a typo ... I’m fucking around. Sebastian (Schultz, drummer) — Seb — is one of my best friends in the world. Regardless of that, they’re amazing and are absolutely an incredible band. Everybody should be listening to that (self-titled) record. I cannot be more proud of Ben (Davis, guitarist) and Seb. I used to do shows with Ben when he was in the band Giant Judys, and I loved that band!

Pomegranates I really do enjoy a lot. I don’t know those guys at all, but I’ve been enjoying their stuff. When it was time to make that list, I wanted to make sure we had some Cincinnati representation. But, honestly, those bands would be on this list regardless (of location).

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