Snake Pit Gets Old and other tales: An Interview with Ben White

ben snakepitI’ve read my way through most of the Microcosm catalog, but there are some books that just never jumped out at me—most of them being either graphic novels or books about punk music, two genres that I’ve yet to get a handle on. But when I spent a week at home sick, trying to rest and relax, I decided to delve into the books on our list that I had deemed to be the least suited for my interests—Ben White’s Snake Pit series of comics about his life in punk. I planned to just flip through his most recent book, Snake Pit Gets Old (which comes out on May 12) and then move on to something else. But you know how this story ends: I devoured the entire book in one sitting, and then proceeded to read through the other five books in the series. Then I got sad that there wasn’t more—and worried that there wouldn’t be any. So I sent Ben a request for an interview for our blog, and to find out his plans.

How would you describe your books to a total stranger you met at a bus stop? 
Every day, I draw a comic strip about what I did that day. It’s not supposed to be funny or profound or anything other than a basic document of the day. Every three years or so, I compile those comics into a book, which usually ends up being called funny or profound by other people that are not me. I have been doing this every day for the past 14 and a half years (it’ll be an even 15 years in July of 2015)

I read your new book last week and now it’s kind of hard to write to you because I feel like I know more about you than I do about some of my closest friends, but we’ve never met. Does it ever get weird to have your everyday life just out there in the world that way? Have you made good friends because of it? Do random people come up to you and offer you life advice on the street? 

I never feel that weird about people knowing about my life, because honestly, they only know the things about me that I choose to share. There’s lots of stuff that happens to me that’s not in the books. I have indeed made a ton of friends that started off as fans of the comics and just emailed me or came up to me at a show or something and introduced themselves. A few of these meetings have developed into full-on friendships with some very cool people. Thankfully, the three-year books offer a nice time buffer, so if somebody does try to offer me advice about something, I can say “That happened three years ago. It’s been resolved by now. But thanks for caring.” Smilie face.

pensive snake pitYour drawing style has evolved a lot since you started in 2001, and of course your life has changed, but even more than those things, the tone of the way you talk about yourself and your life is much different. How have your motivations for making the comic changed, and also do you get something different out of it now than you used to?

I learned a lot from those early days. I learned what I should and should not include in the comics, often by trial and error. I’ve made some mistakes, I have hurt some people that I didn’t mean to hurt, just because I didn’t truly consider the ramifications of airing my laundry so publicly. It’s like when everyone just started using social media and they were unable to see the reach of what they would type until it was too late, then over time, they learned how to censor themselves but still share important details. I just learned it on a slower, grander scale. 

What have you been up to in 2 1/2 years since the new book ended? Are you still drawing a daily comic? What projects—musical, publishing, and otherwise—are coming up?

Still drawing the comics, I don’t plan to ever quit. The next book will (hopefully) be out some time in 2016. I’m hoping Microcosm will want to publish it (hint hint!)

Finally—could you settle a dispute we are having at Microcosm HQ: Is it Snake Pit or Snakepit? Also, how did you come by that name in the first place?

The comic is called Snake Pit. My name is Snakepit, because “Ben Snake Pit” sounds stupid. The Snake Pit was the name of the punkhouse in Richmond VA where I lived when I first started drawing the comics. The original idea was for it to be a kinda sitcom starring all of the people that lived in the house, but we got evicted a month or so after I started it so that plan went out the window.

Check out Ben’s Snake Pit books, we’ve got ’em all! This is the latest in a series of interviews with Microcosm authors. The last interview was with Anna Brones, author of The Culinary Cyclist.