St. Cloud, Minn. — Mitch Clem sits in a booth in a downtown St. Cloud coffee shop. Surrounded by painted pictures of cups of coffee on the exposed brick walls, Clem is working on his own art. You wouldn't necessarily pick him as the punker in the crowd. Hunched in his hooded sweatshirt, he's sketching the latest installment of his online comic strip "Nothing Nice to Say."
"Nothing Nice to Say" debuted about a year ago. It features two 20-something punk fans named Fletcher and Blake who spend their time drinking coffee, talking about music, and going to clubs. Clem says over the past year Fletcher and Blake, along with a host of back-up players, have developed personalities.
"It makes it easier to write the comic," Clem says. "It's to the point where the characters do their own thing, and I can just put them in a situation and something will happen."
Clem gets his ideas from what he sees at underground punk shows. His own life offers up inspiration too -- he plays bass in a punk band. But Clem says the punk moniker shouldn't scare everyday Web surfers from his online strip.
"It's pretty easy for someone who never heard a Clash record to read the comic and get the jokes. Sometimes I'll make specific jokes about really specific albums, that even half the people that listen to punk rock don't get the joke," Clem says. "I'm just mean like that."
Along with the comic strip is Clem's blog, his online diary. Clem uses the blog to explain jokes in his strip, to talk about music, or to share personal stories.
"I've gotten e-mails from people who say, 'Yeah, the comic is all right, but the writing is what I really like,'" Clem says. "I never know what to think about that, because on the one hand it's cool that they like my writing. But on the other hand, I spent eight hours on that comic and the writing took me five minutes."
The popularity of "Nothing Nice to Say" has grown exponentially over the past year. It's already getting hundreds of thousands of page views every day.
With that popularity comes a quandary.
Clem could make a decent living selling ad space on his site, but he knows cashing in would cause a backlash.
"One problem with doing something in the world of punk rock is that anytime you ever make some sort of push towards trying to make profit off of what you're doing -- even if you're not compromising ideals or anything like that -- you're still going to have a large amount of people call you a sell-out, get mad, get self-righteous about it, and I really don't want to have to put up with that," Clem says.
Clem says he's OK with not making money from his work for the time being. He's satisfied to make an artistic contribution to the Web and the world of punk.