An Interview with Victor Moscoso

Deconstructing This Interview

MOSCOSO: One of the things I noticed that really pissed me off while I was reading the first half of this interview is that I keep saying “man” all the time. It’s not “fuck” this time. It’s “man, man, man. Hey, man. Like, you know, man.” When you’re talking, those words are invisible. I don’t even hear them. However, when I see them on a piece of paper, I say, “This is fucking getting in the way.” You know, we gotta get rid of some of these. [We did.] This is boring. It interferes. This is good in talking because it gives you time to gather your thoughts for your next sentence. So it works OK in the spoken language, but not in the written language, where it stays there as part of the dialogue or monologue, and actually begins to dominate and get in the way.

GROTH: Well, when you’re trying to write naturalistically, and I guess interviews may be the ultimate attempt at providing a naturalistic conversation; you have to navigate between what conversation really sounds like, which is often gibberish, and what you want it to sound like on the printed page.

MOSCOSO: “Navigate” is the correct word. It’s a good word. It feels more realistic to what’s actually going on. This is a living thing. A conversation is a living thing, unless you’re reading from a script, in which case it’s acting. And we’re not acting; we’re exchanging information.

Comics Influences

GROTH: Let me talk a little about the artists that influenced your approach to comics. There’s obviously Winsor McCay.

MOSCOSO: Actually, he was not an influence until 1967. I was unaware of Winsor McCay’s work until then. At that point he became an influence. I had done a poster for Neiman Marcus in Dallas, called the Dallas Poster Show. In it, I have a flower-covered satellite with yellow forming a shadow to it which gives it a yin-yang shape, rising above a flower-covered planet. I looked into Winsor McCay about a month after I did that, when I went to New York. My friend, Pablo Ferro, who I did a poster for, had a McCay book — I think it was from Nostalgia Press. I looked at it, and McCay had this dirigible flying over this planet covered with lilies, and I said, “Holy shit.” He drew 50 years ago what I just drew. We were both going in the same direction, even though he was ancient. He was gone; he was art history, literally. So yes, he was an influence from that point on. Not like Carl Barks, who was an influence on me when I was 4 years old. I used to wait for the comic book to come out, with the Walt Kelly covers — 1946, 1947 are my earliest ones. And I was very disappointed when an issue came out that did not have Carl Barks in it. None of the other artists that did the duck stories came anywhere near him. I didn’t know his name — Crumb told me his name. We were talking about it and he was very knowledgeable in comics, so I asked him, “Hey, who was the good duck artist?” That’s how he was known: the good one. And he says, “Carl Barks.” That was the first time I ever heard the name, because they were all signed “Walt Disney.”

GROTH: Were you familiar with Cliff Sterrett’s Polly and Her Pals?

MOSCOSO: I’m familiar with that. I love Little Lulu. She was cool, man!

GROTH: And that’s, again, a very linear narrative strip along the lines of Barks’ work.

MOSCOSO: It is. Well, all the strips were linear. But I wasn’t. That’s why I say Rick and I went to where no one was. All the strips I grew up on: Walt Disney shorts, Walt Disney features, the Fleischer features, the Fleischer shorts. They’re all linear. But they weren’t taking acid, man! They were smoking cigars and drinking booze. Rick and I were smoking dope and taking acid. What would Walt Disney Studios have done if they’d been on acid?

GROTH: It seems like there’s a heavy animation influence in your work and I would look at Max Fleischer as someone you might —

MOSCOSO: Definitely. Mr. Bug Goes to Town or Hoppity Goes to Town — I’ve heard it by both titles — had a profound influence on me when I was a child. I remember that very vividly, more vividly than any Disney movie. I remember the scale, the fact that they were crawling through these weeds that looked like forests, that they could walk between the spaces in the bricks with cars rolling over them and not even touching them. This was so great. This really appealed to me for some reason, I guess because I was a little child. In a way, it is like a bug’s view. I remember once walking in downtown Brooklyn, and I reached up and I grabbed what I thought was my mother’s hand, turned out to be another woman’s hand, and it scared the shit out of me. Where’s my mother! Here you are, in a forest of legs. I remember that because I was lost for an instant. My mother wasn’t very far away, but for a minute there, I was lost. And what could I see? Knees! I was at the level of knees. So the heads were way up, like the canopy of the trees. And that must have been what appealed to me so much about Hoppity Goes to Town; the scale really impressed me.

GROTH: You must have liked M.C. Escher.

MOSCOSO: Later on, when I got to college, I said, “Hey, this is far out.” I’m looking at it, and it’s still tricking me. I could figure out the trick and it’s still tricking me. That’s what I did in the Zap “Special ’69 Issue.” That and Josef Albers. Josef did these figures that you can read. They’re just lines. He reduced it to just straight and diagonal lines, where you can read a figure two ways. Is it up or is it facing down. “69,” now that was an interesting story. Again it’s one of the few times that one artist had an influence on another artist. I had done a drawing for the special ’69 issue, a center spread of Donald and Daisy doing a sexual 69. But I had it sideways, in the way that Playboy has their centerfolds. Crumb looked at it and says, “I don’t like it sideways.” I looked at it and said, “Hmm. I can fix that.” I saw it right away. I turned the drawing 45 degrees so that the her feet are on one floor, and his feet are on the other floor, and I extended half a panel out on the right-hand side, half a panel out of the left-hand side, and then continued it over into both incoming pages, so that I made a four-page story out of what was a two-page story or picture. And that way, we had two front covers. And in fact, two halves of right-side-up books, that were twisted properly. I’ve seen books that have two front covers. You get to the middle and one page is upside-down in relationship to the other one. Very obvious that what they did was just half together two upside-down books. Mine turns it around, because of tricks like Escher’s, because of tricks like Albers’. The multiple-reading figure.

GROTH: I always thought that the M.C. Escher of comics was Gustave Verbeek, who did The Upside Downs.

MOSCOSO: I’ve heard myself compared to him. I’m not familiar with his work. But that happens all the time. People invent things all the time, over and over again. And they never saw the previous one.

GROTH: Let me ask you a little about the context of underground comix from the time you got involved in Zap. My impression of the underground-artist milieu is that there were certain factions. There was the Zap crew. People congregated around Rip Off, like Gilbert Shelton and Jack Jackson. There was Last Gasp. There were people who did more fantasy oriented stuff, people who did more satirical material. Did you freely wander from one social context to another?

MOSCOSO: Sure. You forgot Bijou Comics in Chicago. You could include The Hairy Who, from Chicago, although they were more gallery oriented. We intermingled mostly where it was geographic, as far as personal. I wouldn’t go to Chicago to hang out with Jay Kinney or Skip Williamson, but if they were here, we probably would have been hanging out in the same places — at a time. In the early days, we used to hang out. But as time went by, we hung out less and less. We were with our family, and things change.

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