Ethan Persoff is an archivist, sound artist, and cartoonist based in Austin, Texas. He maintains a widely read Internet Archive of unique "drug comics", "government comics," and other "comics with problems." The following interview covers a lot of ground, but mostly, it contains interesting insights into comics, condom wrappers, and other crazy kitsch made of paper.
ephemera: When did you become interested in collecting condom
Do you mean as opposed to collecting condoms -under- the covers? I'm always interested in cultural items that deal with all the dirty stuff: sex, government, racism, offensive kitsch, drugs... The condom art interest came up while I was preparing an issue on 1950s birth control for Comics With Problems. Usually, I like to find and document the actual item myself, but in that instance I found a store in Uruguay, which is described on the actual page. They're beautiful and I now refer to every condom on the market as a Poncho, and every female item as Pousse L'amour.
ephemera: The dirty stuff is always interesting, and it often proves valuable to collectors. What challenges or obstacles do you encounter finding objects of this nature?
Persoff: Usually, it's just some one other person or Institution wanting the same item, and most importantly: them also finding out it's available. Ask anyone, it's never more than one other individual that ruins it for you every time. It can get ridiculous. There's the obvious 'last minute outbid' eBay situation, but very little of what I'm searching for comes off the Internet. I've had instances where I'm tracking down an item that I've found from researching old newspapers and other sorts of non-computer methods and am told 'yeah, I had that thing on the shelf for years, and then some guy came by last week....' This sounds ridiculous, but it happens.
You overcome these challenges by keeping organized records of what you're looking for, and by just having patience. Karma matters too, so don't ever screw someone over for something. No matter how unique it is it will come around again, provided you're respectful to others and not a prick. 'Kindness rewards you,' and all that.
Persoff: Generally, if I'm going to spend time finding something it's because it catches my attention in a unique and exciting way at first sight, or even at the first clue it exists in some book. I have good feelings for everything in the archive. The most recently posted item is a George Wallace comic on Segregation that might be one of the most historically significant things I'll ever offer. That took five years to find. But just go to the front page and pick a comic or problem from the drop-down menu. I have everything from government comics produced by the CIA and FBI, to bomb-scare comics from the 50s, ones on abortion rights, and tons of comics on sex and drugs. They're all great.
ephemera: What's your advice for achieving success as a collector?
Persoff: I take some disagreement at being called a collector, as most of the job is with cultural research and preservation, etc. But with regard to any labor of love: Genuinely care about what you're studying. Take good notes. Nap between meals.
ephemera: That's the first time anyone has suggested napping, but I like it. What resources do you recommend to those seeking outsider comics and other kitsch ?
Persoff: Libraries. All forms of them. And just keep your eyes open. The clues get more obvious the more you do this sort of thing, and you learn from previous things.
ephemera: That's always sound advice, Ethan. Thanks for give ephemera readers a glimpse inside your archives.