Noah Van Sciver has seen a lot of progression in his artwork over time, just as many artists do.
“You’re going to start with one specific art style that you’re trying to achieve but you’re not really there, and over the years it just kind of refines itself,” he said. “And then other influences come in and comingle and eventually, you have your own style. I started off as a complete Robert Crumb wannabee, and then over time, other influences come in. You see European artwork that’s looser, things like that.”
Van Sciver has become a notable creator in the alternative comics scene – at the moment, he’s fresh off doing the art for Grateful Dead Origins, three years deep in a book about Mormonism-founder Joseph Smith and has a few comic collections releasing soon.
Throughout his impressive alternative cartoonist career, Van Sciver has dabbled in biographical, autobiographical and fiction work, both short- and long-form. He first became well-known for his “one-man anthology” series Blammo, and his first graphic novel, The Hypo: Melancholic Young Lincoln released in 2012. Earlier this year, Fantagraphics published The Complete Works of Fante Bukowski, a three-part collection of Van Sciver’s comedy-drama series about an insufferable, depressed amatuer writer.
Grateful Dead Origins released in July, written by Chris Miskiewicz and published by Z2 Comics. He became a fan of the band as he worked on the comic.
“I didn’t really know too much about them besides the stuff I’d hear living in Colorado, and it was kind of inescapable living there,” Van Sciver said. “Every restaurant you’d walk into or whatever, ‘Touch of Grey’ would be playing or something.”
Working on artwork for a book written by someone else creates a different dynamic, Van Sciver said.
“When I’m drawing for myself, I have to hold myself accountable,” Van Sciver said. “I’m in charge of how things should look. It’s my own vision solely. Working with someone else, you’re just trying to capture what their vision is on the page.”
He most loves working on his own comics. He is working with Kilgore Books on a collection of the first five issues of Blammo and has a collection of shorts called Please Don’t Step on my JNCO Jeans coming in November published by Fantagraphics.
“I have so many stories that I want to tell before I kick the bucket, but it’s hard to get money doing that kind of stuff. Doing my own work doesn’t necessarily pay as well as working with somebody else.”
Van Sciver has completed about 300 pages of his upcoming graphic novel Joseph Smith and his Mormons, a biographical that tells the story of Smith from childhood to death as well as the creation of the Mormon church. He imagines it will be about 380 pages once it’s finished. He became interested in this history because Van Sciver’s family raised him in the church.
“It’s been really in-depth,” Van Sciver said. “It’s taken over my life, I guess you could say.”
When Van Sciver gets drawn into historical work, it’s because he has some personal connection.
“The Hypo, which was about Lincoln’s depression, was interesting to me because I drew it the same age that Lincoln was in the book, and he was struggling with depression and I was too at that same time,” Van Sciver said. “It was affirming to see somebody who’s considered such a great man who had his own struggles that were familiar to me.”
Van Sciver did a wonderful memoir in comic form called One Dirty Tree that went back and forth between his childhood and his later years, when he was first finding success in his comic book career as an adult. The comic’s portrayal of his grappling with his budding identity as a professional cartoonist emerges as especially compelling when juxtaposed against his difficult, crowded childhood.
He wrote himself into Fante Bukowski, largely to make it clear that he didn’t see Bukowski as a version of himself. He modeled the character off of the annoying, strange people he knew in the underground literary scene, and he found that readers also knew people like that.
These days, he doesn’t run into a lot of artists and writers, as he has lived in South Carolina for about two years with his wife.
“I guess I just kind of feel like somebody alone in a room, just doing his own work and keeping his head down,” Van Sciver said.
Because he’s been missing out on comic book conventions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he decided to start a Youtube channel, where he promotes his work and airs interviews with other cartoonists.
“I enjoy talking to cartoonists. That’s what the best part about traveling and doing shows is, really,” Van Sciver said. “You ask any cartoonist that, they’ll say the same thing. You just want to talk to your contemporaries or artists you admire after the show is over.”
Since he’s lived in South Carolina, he’s more or less maintained a 9-5 schedule.
“I just have to,” he said. “Actually, it’s helped me, because when I was a single guy living in an apartment, I’d be up 16 hours a day working, and it was very unhealthy. And I was lonely, so it had all of this anxiety and depression attached to it. But now, I just want to work on having a more domesticated, civilized life and separate that life from my comics life.”
He finds time to relax and spend time with his partner or with a book when he’s not working on his comics. But when he’s working on his comics, he hopes to continually evolve his style.
“Hopefully it’s still changing. Hopefully I haven’t arrived anywhere yet,” Van Sciver said. “I’m hoping in the next 10 years I’ll have a completely different style.”
UPDATE; September 30, 2020: a previous version of this article mistakenly said noah van sciver is married.
all images courtesy of noah van sciver. you can buy grateful dead origins here and preorder his upcoming collection please don’t step on my jnco jeans here.
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