In 2013 I arrived at a Halloween party with green hair, dragonfly wings and a fake baby. Everyone was stumped, except a tall, broad-shouldered guy with shaggy black hair.
“You’re Alana, from the comic Saga. I’m pretty sure I love you.”
That’s how I met Simon Lazarus Vasta.
Vasta was an ex-New York Jew (like me), obsessed with comics (like me) and his favorite sport was yelling about opinions (like me). We got on like a leather jacket on fire—especially once he began working at Capitol Hill comics shop Phoenix Comics and Games and could point me towards the best new releases (for more arguing).
So, when local indie comics zine Intruder announced this past spring they’d be shuttering production after four years, I went to him first for an opinion. Not only did he have one, he also had a plan. He and conspirator Ryan Tiszai weren’t going to whinge about losing one of Seattle’s only local comics zines: They were going to take up the mantle.
Enter Thick as Thieves
Vasta and Tiszai’s quarterly comics zine, Thick as Thieves, launches this week on Thursday, November 3. Its tabloid-sized pages in punky pink spot color are bursting with all the crude, sexy, funny and bizarre visions that Seattle’s comics creators have to offer. The release party during First Thursday Art Walk is at Brainfreeze, the provisional art space in the former Lusty Lady. The zine will fetch up in participating cafes, bars and comics shops around the city soon after.
The debut issue is short—published just in time for indie comics fest Short Run on November 5—but at just eight pages it offers a range of tone and style.
Whitney Stephens splashes a Bettie Page-meets-Lady Dame domination daydream across the large format pages in her polished auto-bio strip. Lara Kaminoff goes for sugary comedy in her send-up of T.S. Eliot, with a surprisingly expressive stale jelly donut and sophisticated hand-drawn fonts. Thick as Thieves‘ large format also plays to Marie Hausauer‘s advantage, as she squeezes twenty-seven panels of underage debauchery onto one page without breaking a sweat.
Elsewhere, there’s Keith White‘s ominous one-pager (that should become the cover to an anthology I’d kill to read); C.M. Ruiz‘s densely scribbled sci-fi origin story; and Justin Quinlan‘s back cover that recalls the simple and direct physical comedy of a Krazy Kat strip.
Thick as Thieves‘ Own Origin Story
The zine emerged from Vasta’s day job at Phoenix Comics and Games, where he’s able to see the lacunae in Seattle publishing scene—and what the loss of Intruder means to that scene. He and Tiszai sat down with Intruder editor-in-chief Marc Palm for tips on production, but they’re messing with the formula.
First, it’s not a co-op, and the contributors don’t pay to publish. That means Vasta and Tiszai will exercise their editorial veto for each issue. Second, in a welcome change, half the contributors in the issue are women.
“We didn’t go out of our way to make that happen,’ says Vasta. “The people making work that spoke to us were women. But, that’s not to say we wouldn’t have gone out of our way to find them.”
A woman also graces the inside cover of the debut: a grainy photo of Lucy Childress, to whom Vasta dedicates the issue.
“Lucy was one of my best friends, and was heavily invested with me doing something with my life. She was supportive, yet disappointed, when I didn’t. Before I moved to Seattle in 2013, she gave me half of an interlocking heart necklace with the phrase “Thick As Thieves” on it. A month later, she killed herself. On the first anniversary of her death, I tattooed the phrase on my arm. When Ryan and I were coming up with a name for the zine, I looked down and realized, ‘This is what she would have wanted me to do.’ So, I’m doing this for her, and for Seattle.”
I ask Vasta why they chose to print lo-fi, when more refined options are out there for similar cost—including the option not to print at all. An adherence to Intruder format?
“Free, tactile work is important, especially in a town that doesn’t present the opportunity for artists to show their work in that way very often.”
In Seattle, there are precious few venues for indie comics. Portland, Los Angeles and New York have multiple platforms, galleries, and publishers, but for Seattle it is largely down to Fantagraphics, the Push/Pull gallery, the Dune publication by the Cafe Racer group and Cold Cube Press. But, in many cases, these hew closer to social groups than businesses, and the rules and boundaries are nebulous and hard to gauge. Vasta knows it.
“It’s a social thing. I moved here three years ago, and it took a solid year and a half to get past Seattle’s vetting process. It’s hard to break in and know what’s going on. I want TaT to be sitting there right in front of you when you arrive, so you can pick it up and say, ‘Oh, this is what’s happening here. Got it.’”
Reading it by the fluorescent light of my nighttime bus, the zine’s flimsy paper stock and large format take up so much space that I have to wrestle it: spreading, folding, managing its edges so they don’t poke my seatmate. It’s tactile in a way that’s deeply satisfying. I sense people behind me reading over my shoulder, something I think Vasta and Tiszai would approve of.
I finish the issue—immediately hankering for more—and leave it on an empty seat for the next weirdo to peruse. I’m looking forward to seeing stacks at every cafe, waiting for me like a favorite offbeat friend at the bar who wants to tell me about the strange dream they had. It’ll grin cheekily up from the sticky floor of a night bus—torn and trampled, and looking like a million bucks.
Thick As Thieves Issue 0 Release Party
When: Thursday, November 3, 6-11pm
Where: Brainfreeze @ The Lusty Lady (1315 1st Ave)
Issues will be available at Short Run, and participating cafes, bars and comics shops around Seattle.