Zak Sally is somewhat of a renaissance man. In music circles, Sally is known as ex-bassist for the cultishly appreciated Duluth, Minn., slowcore band Low. And while Sally continues to play music (he’ll whip out his acoustic at Pony Club gallery this Thursday), it’s largely his graphic storytelling that is exciting fans these days. The 37-year-old, who started his increasingly serious DIY book imprint La Mano 21 back in the early ’90s, is set to release his second Sammy the Mouse book for Seattle publisher Fantagraphics late next month.
With Sammy the Mouse, Sally has traded the fine black-and-white detail of his mysterious, gut-wrenching La Mano-released Recidivist comics for layered and chaotic tri-color strokes (in glorious black, washed-out brown and blue—like an old 3-D comic left open on a windowsill). The story follows a heavy-drinking, flattopped variation of Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse and his canine cohort, “Puppy”—between trips to the bar and avoiding a cursing, mooching, peg-legged duck named Feekes—as they stumble into a slowly unfolding adventure that’s part Joan of Arc quest and part Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas.
What one immediately notices with Sammy is the time and effort Sally has given to creating a chaotic world for his alcoholic animal characters, as Sammy and Puppy journey through dilapidated, comically crooked tenements where crazed gunman fire random shots into barren, big-sky landscapes. All of this detail comes without sacrificing Sally’s new, looser style.
Sally, who spoke to WW via phone during his first San Diego Comic Con (which he described as “the most fucking absurd thing” he’d ever experienced: “There’s, like, four Indiana Joneses”), says that where Recidivist felt like “difficult therapy” to draw, Sammy is freeing. “I didn’t think I could do that,” Sally says of drawing Sammy’s loose, free lines and using humor as a storytelling tool. He says he’s always taken comics seriously, but he’s realizing that humorous work can be as serious as any other art. “It might be funny animals but it’s just as deeply personal as any other thing I’ve done,” Sally explains. “No matter what you do, your life is going to come through in your work, so you might as well have fun and not beat yourself up about it.”
SEE/HEAR IT: Zak Sally and Nate Denver play music, talk comics and sign copies of the new Sammy the Mouse at Pony Club, 625 NW Everett St. #105. 6 pm Thursday, July 31. Free.