(from Left to Right) Saam and Dean of Hats and Milk Comics.
I recently spent some time interviewing Saam Watkins and Dean Smithers the two very talented people who create comics under the very bizarre title of ‘Hats and Milk’. In our interview I managed to find out Saam and Dean’s creative process, how references to Weezer’s new album ‘Everything Will Be Alright In The End’ may end up in their future work and why Dean keeps stifling Saam’s Colour dreams.
For those unfamiliar with their work Hats and Milk have been creating online comics over at http://hatsandmilkmakecomics.tumblr.com/ for a few years now. They create moody and fantastical strips that deal with themes such as love, relationships, how to deal with wizards and ‘Twin Peaks’. It is clear that both Saam and Dean’s style is influenced by a range of artists. Their black and white work remind me of Charles Burns’ ‘Black Hole’ while the simplistic cartoony faces are reminiscent of more contemporary cartoons such as Adventure Time.
Recently the duo’s work has made the transition from the virtual world to the physical as their strips have appeared in several issues of Space Junkie Press’ ‘The Gutter’ and the beautiful zine ‘Honey Pot’.
You can find issues of ‘The Gutter’ comic on sale here:
Unfortunately ‘Honey Pot’ has sold out but if you stare at their big cartel long enough you can imagine you have your own copy:
Anyway this is what these two chaps had to say for themselves.
With Hats and Milk comics you have an unconventional way of creating your comics. Can you please elaborate on how you write and draw your comics?
Dean: Dunno if I would call our work unconventional, but I guess everything we like is either dark or weird or whatever you want to call it, so maybe our comics are those things. Anyway, Saam will usually send me a text that contains the bones of a plot and then I’ll add to it, or we’ll meet to discuss it in detail over pizza, burritos or pancakes. Once we’ve fleshed stuff out we start to draft panels and evenly distribute the workload (we’re so cute) and then I’ll make a template, print two copies and we’ll both get to work. I’ll arrange/tweak everything in Photoshop before uploading it to Tumblr or sending it to you or whoever is nice enough to print our stuff.
Saam: Yeah sometimes I have thoughts and Dean is really good at visualising everything. I don’t really draft because I can’t really draw but somehow we make it work.
Music seems to play a big part in your comics. Can you tell me what records / songs have had the biggest influence on your work?
Dean: Totally. I think bands I’m into when working on something will influence me subconsciously, whereas Saam will consciously link certain songs to certain panels. Either way, we’re always listening to or talking about music so it definitely plays a role in what we do. We sing ‘Reach Out to You’ by Adventures at each other a lot, but generally speaking Perfect Pussy are our biggest influence ever. Anything by Mac daddy DeMarco is always okay, plus the new Weezer album. Also, I think we’re both listening to the Trust Fund album right now, which is definitely going to soundtrack future comics. Ellis!
Saam: Music is my favourite thing ever and I can’t turn my brain off from thinking about it so it always seeps into my writing. It is never really intentionally; I just can’t see anything without relating back to a band or song in my head. That’s why there are all these references in our writing. Plus we’re always listening to music when we work.
Most of your comics are in black and white. Is there a specific reason you do this?
Dean: Saam is always suggesting we use more colour, but I’m mean and don’t want him to be happy so I leave everything black and white. Only kidding. I don’t know, in terms of printing it’s cheaper but most of our work is online so I’m just making excuses. I guess I’ve just never had time to experiment with colour properly. I’d rather release something that looks the best it can, which at this stage means being black and white. That said, all of the best comics are black and white so maybe I should use colour? Pass.
Saam: Colour is something I’ve always wanted to play around with because it’s a skill we don’t have. For me the desire to use black and white stems from the work of Charles Burns and Michael Deforge. There’s just so much black in their work and it always looks amazing.
This Summer Is Going To Kill Me: Pilot. A strip Saam and Dean created for Space Junkie Press’ Blog.
What comic artists do both of you most aspire to be like?
Dean: Since Saam rediscovered ‘Stray Bullets’ and kick-started my most obsessive obsession ever, I haven’t been able to stop admiring David Lapham. I’m also a huge fan of Terry Moore’s ‘Strangers in Paradise’, which Saam hasn’t fallen for yet, but he will. I don’t ever want to be like anyone, but if I’m choosing role models then David and Terry are my guys. I’m also continually wowed by the work of Michael DeForge. He’s always pushing his boundaries and improving on what he did last and basically showing everyone how it’s done.
Saam: Julia Gfrörer’s ‘Black is the Colour’ has some of my favourite line work in the whole world in it, as does ‘In the Sounds and Sea’ by Marnie Galloway. It’s just real simple but affective stuff. I wish I could draw like that. In terms of story writing I’d say Deforge is also a big one for me, real weird shit. Yet, my number one has got to be Jeffrey Brown. He nails auto-biographical comics as a genre and the way he portrays emotion/facial expressions is perfect.
Why the name Hats and Milk, it’s a pretty weird name?
Dean: We were making stuff under the moniker ‘Oh, Sweet Serendipity’ for a while, but figured that should be an umbrella term for our comics rather than a name. I wear hats all the time and Saam has milky skin, so there you go. Richard Walsh pointed out that Saam should be Soya Milk now though because he’s vegan. Maybe we’ll change it?
Saam: Milk is a good bracket because I love oat and rice milk too. I love milk. I have been looking for a hat recently so this could throw a spanner in the works?!
Guts – The Strip that appeared in ‘Honey Pot’ #1.
What do you think of the British independent comic scene?
Dean: To be honest, most of the comics I read are American/Canadian. I don’t feel qualified to answer this question, but I really, really like Donya Todd and everything she does!
Saam: Donya Todd’s ‘Death and the Girls’ and her Bimba comics stuff is really empowering and funny. I love all of that. I’m a big fan of Jack Teagle too, he’s got a great imagination for crafting characters. The 24hr and Simpsons comics he does always make me super jealous of his writing abilities. Also everything Nobrow and Breakdown Press put out is incredible.
Every person I interview I ask for his or her 3 favourite comics that have come out this year. I will then read and review one of these comics. This is all an excuse for me to find out about loads of new comics. Can you recommend me your three favourite comics that have come out this year?
Michael DeForge – ‘Lose’ #6
David Lapham – ‘Stray Bullets’ #8
Gillen & McKelvie – ‘The Wicked + The Divine’ #5
Saam: I’m going to try and remember what was from this year and say different things to Dean and give you a top 5 because a top 3 is never enough.
Noah Van Sciver – ‘Youth is Wasted’
Donya Todd – ‘Bimba Vol 1’
Shaky Kane – ‘That’s Because You’re a Robot’
Evan Dorkin – ‘Eltingville Fighting Club’
Jason Aaron and Jason Latour – ‘Southern Bastards’
Thank you very much to Saam and Dean. I will be reviewing one of each of their comic choices very soon.