Chad Bilyeu (b.1975) is a writer, art-director, photographer, storyteller and independent comic book creator hailing from Cleveland Ohio and living in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Over the years Chad has been using his sharp pen and keen eye to document different facets of Dutch society and in 2018 he poured his skills in the perfect form: Chad in Amsterdam. Chad In Amsterdam is a comic book chronicling “the misadventures of an atypical American in Amsterdam” and is an excellent mix between autobiographical stories and reflections on living in Amsterdam. The series, which currently has five issues is written and published by Chad while the artwork is created in collaboration with a plethora of amazing artists.
Over the years I’ve come to known chad as someone who unrelentlessly follows his vision and will not kowtow to anyone, whilst remaining one of kindest persons you can imagine. I am not execrating when I say I hold Chad in the highest esteem and I’m extraordinary proud to present you this interview with Chad Bilyeu aka Chad in Amsterdam!
At the time of writing, the world has been in a state of limbo for about 18 months. How have you been doing during this time and how has this affected you and your work on Chad In Amsterdam, if at all?
Mentally, I have been at peace with myself and my milieu. I read and write quite often, so I never find myself bored. With that said, I do love social interaction but I love time by myself and with my woman even more. Actually, I would say that our relationship has grown stronger through this entire debacle, and that is probably the best result of the whole thing for me. Unfortunately, the pandemic has definitely affected my business. I am very dependent upon being able to travel, participate in festivals, and solicit to stores throughout Europe and North America, and that entire routine has been crippled. Honestly, I think it’s congruent with my luck that I released what I think to be my two best issues (#04 and #05), and I can’t properly promote and sell them. With that being said, issue #05 was quite the success. I truly think that if it had been business as usual, I would have sold out of the 2000 copies printed. Also, I sell outside of the Netherlands and mail order has been pretty damned good to me. I have a good amount of supporters in the US and the UK. Nonetheless, I’ll keep at it.
Congratulations on winning the inaugural Make More Comics (MMC) arts grant with Chad In Amsterdam! What does it mean to be lauded by people who are so serious about comics?
This was indeed an honor. The comic that I make is often picked up by folks who aren’t exactly pundits on comics; not that I have a problem with that, but I have been told by a lot of my readers that my comic is the first comic they have ever read. I think as artists we are always clamoring for acceptance, but the accolades that stem from the learned aficionados within a field definitely supersede any other commendation that one could receive. Winning that grant truly gave me something to believe in, namely myself and the comic. The folks who run the MMC Art Grant are also the administrators of this Facebook group called Cartoonist Kayfabe Ringside Seats, full of these aforementioned aficionados and pundits. I know that their schema base over comics is legit, so I’m just doing my best to maximize the grant money and make my sixth issue something special.
Your comics are full of intricate details and references for those who are in the know, from the comic book style profile/bio page in issue two to the ‘Amsterdam’ bridge font used on the cover of all your issues. Are there any of these details your audience might’ve missed and/or are there any you’re particularly proud of?
Nice that you noticed that. I put a lot of thought into what I write. I think folks believe that you just give the artists a general plot and have them go and draw it. That’s not the case with what I do. Maybe that’s what other writers do, but that ain’t me. I painstakingly mull over pacing, dialogue, and environmental details. You fuck with me, you’re gonna get a script that you could direct a film from. As far as folks overlooking things, I often forget these tidbits myself as they’re just part of how I do anything; I’m overly meticulous, which can be both a gift and a curse. But, I think people usually overlook the epigraph inside the front cover, and I consider that to be a shame. Those quotes are spot on and compliment the series so much. They are an integral part of the book, same as my scripts and the art. Otherwise, I would recommend that folks check for the details. I’m not doing anything cursory over here. Hell, sometimes the details are supplied by the artists. I think you noticed that picture of Sinterklaas doing Turkish wrestling and that was all Eryc Why. See, when you give folks a good script, good things emanate from it. It’s also nice that you noticed the Marvel Universe profile from issue two. That comic encyclopedia was a favorite of mine, so I thought it would be fun to do. I really enjoy slipping in those bits of esoterica. As they say, if you know, you know.
In your first issue, you mention the late Harvey Pekar, who was a fellow Cleveland (Heights) native, as a significant inspiration for “Chad in Amsterdam”. What struck you the most about his work when you revisited it as an adult living in Amsterdam?
I picked up Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor at the most serendipitous of times. My life in Amsterdam has never been particularly easy like most expats, but I was at an exceptionally low point when I delved into his books. I suppose what struck me the most was his proletariat aesthetic. He wasn’t wealthy. Although a fairly known writer with a modicum of celebrity from his appearances on the David Letterman show, he eschewed all things bourgeoise and didn’t pander to anyone nor mollify his opinion or depiction of how difficult life can be. I think this is in direct opposition to how most people in the Netherlands live their lives, so it was refreshing to be reminded of this reality. However, amidst all of his curmudgeonly tales, he always managed to see the beauty in banality. He didn’t need much; hell, mostly he needed music and books. I could definitely relate to that. His literature gave me a desperately needed dose of verisimilitude. In seeing how he spoke of his life, it inspired me to speak of mine, albeit in my own voice, cadence, flow, and style. As Masta Ace said, “There’s a sign at the door, no biting allowed!!!”
You also got to meet and work with artist and long time Pekar collaborator Gary Dumm for your third issue. How was that experience and what did you learn from working with him?
Man… Working with Gary Dumm was truly a beautiful experience. My folks at one of my favorite bookstores on the planet, Mac’s Backs in Cleveland Heights, got the word to Gary that I wanted to meet. Gary agreed to meet me. I was invited to his house on the west side of Cleveland where I met him and his wife (and also an incredible artist), Laura. I must say that I haven’t had hospitality as such on too many occasions in my life. I immediately liked them both and I am pretty certain that they liked me immediately as well. They are honestly what folks describe as “relationship goals.” The love is there, both for each other, but also for themselves, life, and art. Gary agreed to do this story on herring. I went back to Amsterdam and wrote the thing.
For whatever reason I initially wrote “De Drie Visspecialisten” with basically no dialogue, particularly at the beginning. However, I did write a lot of expository text directly to Gary in the script. Gary wrote me back and suggested that all of this history and explanation that I was providing to him needed to be provided to the reader. I suppose I felt a bit self-conscious writing for him and assumed that he could show the story better than I could tell it. I really thank Gary for pointing out the power of what I had written and having me include that in the story. It really made for a better story, and I honestly can’t imagine the story any other way. When you work with an artist with such an illustrious portfolio, you may feel a bit intimidated, but you have to do your part as a writer. The way I usually do comics, it’s a collaborative thing. In this instance I wasn’t really doing my part, but Gary stepped up and passed me the rock and I shot my shot. I can’t wait to work with the legend again, and to visit the Dumm family the next time I’m home in Cleveland.
Chad In Amsterdam features a diverse array of artists and you seem to have an impeccable eye for talent. How do you find your artists and how do you match them with the stories you write?
I appreciate that. I do my best to align the artists with scripts that make sense for them both as personalities and talents. I happen to know a lot of artists personally, so many of the artists in the comics are folks who I actually know and have broken bread with. I’ll give away a little secret of mine that really isn’t that much of a secret. Whilst I’m on Instagram perusing graffiti, EDC, and workout models, I’m also perusing artists. When I come across stuff I like, I make a bookmark. Sometimes I refer to these bookmarks when I’m looking for something new. I suppose the best thing you can do as a writer looking to work with artists is contact them seriously and respectfully, tell them what you’re going to pay them upfront, and speak with them so as to discover their interests. I do my best to have people draw things related to their interests. Sometimes that’s difficult, but usually there’s a middle ground that can be met.
Besides being an author, you’re also a gifted illustrator, as can be seen in the ‘Milk’ story in the first issue. What made you decide to search out and pay artists instead of illustrating the majority yourself?
Indolence mostly. I’m a pretty lazy guy. I don’t feel like drawing 28 pages of stuff. That’s partly it. I am also out of practice with drawing and I have high standards for anything that I put out. I’ve been mostly writing and doing photography these last twenty years. I used to draw up until I was about 23, which was when I moved to DC. I’m not so certain why I stopped, but I did. Maybe because I was seriously trying to do music back then. No matter the reason, I have been drawing more and I will do something eventually. That’s my word.
You mentioned one of the first comics you remember liking was “Hot Stuff” (The little Devil) and you even called Casper a punk, which begs the question: Were you a mischievous kid?
Yeah, I was. I would like to have said otherwise, but I honestly was. I wasn’t evil, but I was definitely mischievous. I grew up in the 80s, and for reasons that I’m not going to expound upon, developed a rather duplicitous idea of legality. I used to steal a lot. I liked Polo and we couldn’t exactly afford it. stealing was like sport to me for a while. Maybe I’ll discuss that in the comic one day. I do have another comic coming out that deals with some of my illegal escapades as an adult, but it isn’t related to boosting. More on that later.
Another comic book series that seemed to have made an impression on you is Green Lantern, specifically issue 171 where Hal Jordan resigns from the corps. Why was this issue so pivotal for a young Chad?
I used to think a lot about heroes and villains a lot as a youth. It seemed that the villains were easier to understand; they did what they did for power, prestige, money, fame. Villains were logical. They had the ability to go for what they desired, so they did it. The heroes were always the complex ones to me. Why exactly does this guy want to save the world? I didn’t really grasp the concept of altruism when I was younger, so although I liked heroes and usually rooted for them, I always considered the villains to be the more attractive individuals. I suppose seeing a hero actually quit this role as an appointed savior intrigued me. So Hal Jordan quits saving the planet and the space sector. What will he do now? Pursue a normal life? Have kids? Get married? Do all the square shit that us lames with no powers do? I couldn’t believe it. I was really into why and what would follow. And on a way more superficial level, I just thought it was cool for him to tell the Guardians of Oa, “Man, fuck this ring and fuck this bullshit.” I guess I’ve always admired firebrands and defiance to authority.
As the good people from Deconstructingcomics.com pointed out, “we’d love to see what you’d do with fiction”. Now I know you’re working on something in the realm of fiction comic books as well. Is there anything you could tell us about this already?
I can tell you that it will be super power related. It deals with this couple who do as Hal Jordan did and quit the super heroics. From there it goes to a place that most super powered stories don’t. I think it will be both hilarious and relatable for anyone who has wanted to change their life. I’m sort of in the phase right now, as I would like to move from Amsterdam one day and start life anew again. I’m patiently waiting on Dany Modesto Rodriguez to draw the first 10 pages that I gave him and then I’m going to try and actually shop this one around. If no one bites, we will go the Kickstarter route. Either way, I’m really excited about this one. Be patient. Making comics as a broke-ass self publisher ain’t easy, even if I occasionally make it look like it is.
You always seem to be working on multiple things, so please tell the people: what can we expect to see from you in the future and where can we get your stuff and support you?
The sixth issue of Chad in Amsterdam is being worked on now. I hope to have that out by November, and I’m working diligently to make that happen. I have an anthology coming out that was sponsored by the good folks at the Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam. It’s going to be pretty fucking amazing. I’ve got artists from around the world creating some incredible comics for this thing. I’m really happy about how everything is looking and can’t wait to release it in October. I’ve got something going with my good friend, children’s book illustrator Juliette de Wit. We are going to collaborate on another autobiographical comic; I’m writing, she’s on art. Again, it deals with true crime, which seems to be a topic everyone enjoys. And lastly, the aforementioned super hero ting with my dude Dany Modesto Rodriguez. For anyone who wants to support, you can purchase the comics at chadinamsterdam.nl and I have a Patreon account that gets $0.00 per month over at patreon.com/chadinamsterdam. Get at me, dog. Peace.