GROTH: You made reference to your having to turn into a drawing machine. I assume that has to do with the sheer number of drawings you have to do so quickly. Are you a quick drawer?
MOSCOSO: At that point, very quick. I can be quick. I can also take my time. I can be very fast. I was with posters. I did those very fast. I mean, the Chambers Brothers I did in six hours. Six fucking hours!
GROTH: They don’t necessarily look it. Some of the strips in Zap that I’ve seen, they look like you did them quickly, and they have a nice spontaneous quality to them, but I have the feeling they’re carefully worked out. In Zap #10, “The Oasis,” that looked like you —
MOSCOSO: I worked that out. That’s a movie. You’re looking at a movie storyboard.
GROTH: It’s got these terrific slashing lines that look very extemporaneous.
MOSCOSO: Yeah, that’s how I do it, but I could show you stacks of pencil drawings and even inks. I even carved figures for that one. I carved the head myself, so I could look at it lighted, the way Disney does it. And I made little sculptures after I made the drawings, and decided on the characters. I carved out little sculptures on my scroll saw and carved them with my Exacto knife. I’d make balsa-wood models, so that I could see them in three dimensions. So what you’re looking at in “The Oasis” is a storyboard, a very rough storyboard, too. There are sections; there are gaps there that are missing. The opening of it is the most finished, the part in the desert where the priestess and the tiger cars, that one is the closest, where Robin Hood shoots out the tires in the tiger car, and the priestess says, “What? Who dares? They noticed us. “Get that bastard.” I’m really moving up there in the dialog, eh? But it fits. It helps move the pictures along. It’s basically mirroring or commenting on what’s obvious. You could almost take out the words and it’d still be clear, which I like to do. I like to turn off the sound off a movie: Does it still make sense? If it doesn’t make sense, then all you got is a bunch of talking heads.
GROTH: You expressed admiration for Harvey Kurtzman —
MOSCOSO: He’s one of my heroes.
GROTH: — And especially that beautiful line of his …
MOSCOSO: That calligraphic line .
GROTH: I think that perfectly describes your line: a calligraphic line.
MOSCOSO: Thank you.
GROTH: For example, I’m looking at “Dialogue of Things,” the two-page strip from Zap #13, 1994. Can you talk about what distinguishes the expressiveness of a line?
MOSCOSO: It comes from within. It sounds corny. It’s like my fingerprint, it’s like your fingerprint. This one came out of my warm-ups. I’ll sit down and I’ll just start with a circle, plane, circle and a round triangular shape, and then do variations on it, just move ’em around. Here, they’re a couple. Each one is a couple, and each one does something, that’s why I call it “Dialogue of Things” and that just developed after I did the first two drawings. And then the story appeared. And I did that in one sitting. No pencils. That one is a direct combination of spontaneous, unconscious drawing coupled with consciousness. Once it started, I said, “OK, keep the grid the same. That way you’ll be able to use it in Zap.” So I was aware already what I was going to do with it, but I still hung on to the original notion that anything could happen. Anything does happen, big deal. They separate; they’re body parts. That’s the story.
GROTH: You mentioned that you read Little Lulu. Now, that’s a very controlled line that John Stanley and his assistants had. And yet, it worked. I think often it doesn’t work because the line can be dead. But in that instance, it really did work, and I’m wondering why.
MOSCOSO: Because it worked! Why does Barry Bonds hit it out of the park and somebody else doesn’t?
GROTH: Do you like Hergé’s work?
MOSCOSO: Yes! I love his work. He’s good. And I like Milt Caniff’s Dickie Dare.
GROTH: Hergé has an incredibly controlled line.
MOSCOSO: Yes! I have nothing against controlled lines. Josef Albers has a controlled line. You want to talk about control, man, he actually inscribes his, you know he has these plastic intaglios and that he has the lines machine driven. It’s interesting.
GROTH: Your line is controlled; Kurtzman’s line is controlled, but there’s also something very fluid about it.
MOSCOSO: Yes. Mine is like spontaneous control. I work very hard, like Harvey Kurtzman did, to make it look like it was effortless. But it’s not. You have to work very hard to make it look easy.
GROTH: As you get older, is it more difficult to maintain that control?
MOSCOSO: No. It’s easier. I picked the right profession. If I had become a rock ’n’ roll musician, which I considered at one time, I would be going on the road now. An old, crotchety fart, going on the road? Now? Forget it. As a young man, cool. As an old man, no way; I like my little studio. I know where it is. I can find it in the dark. Hokusai did his best work after he was 70. I mean all these great old artists. Picasso, even.
GROTH: And there’s Grandma Moses. We mustn’t forget her.
MOSCOSO: My all-time favorite, Grandma Moses [quote:] “I paint up”. That’s cool, mama! I mean, grandmama. She started painting when she was 80!
Commercial Art vs. Fine Art, Round II
GROTH: Zap only came out, on average, about once every couple of years, and you did some comics outside of Zap, but not many. So, you filled the rest of your career with commercial assignments. And you balanced the commercial work with your more pure self-expression.
MOSCOSO: Yeah. This is the way I put it: There are two kinds of jobs that I do. One where I work for somebody else, and one where I work for myself. Zap, I’m working for myself. When I do a Levi’s poster, I’m working for Levi’s. It’s a different attitude, because with a Levi’s poster, I have to please two people: them and me. With my poster or strip, I only have to please myself. I only have to answer to myself. There are advantages to both. The deadline, which Levi’s or any client will put on you, I have been able to use to great advantage. The reason I have been able to progress so fast is because of the weekly deadline. You don’t have time to come up with the best solution. You only have time to get it in there Monday morning, nine o’clock. I don’t give a shit whether it’s the best solution or not, but if that poster’s going to get out Friday night at the Avalon Ballroom, it’s got to be in to the printers nine o’clock Monday morning. No foolin’ around, man, otherwise you blow it and your poster will not come out and do its job, which is to advertise. They were all advertisements. They were not fine art. They were useful art. They were art that had a purpose and did a job. Fuck fine art!
GROTH: Would you consider your Zap work fine art?
MOSCOSO: No, it’s personal art. What’s so fine about fine art?
GROTH: You really have a thing against fine art.
MOSCOSO: Well, so does Williams.
GROTH: Right, right. Although Robert really wants to be accepted in those circles.
MOSCOSO: I know. The fool — he’s giving the galleries half the money. Put the money in your pocket! On the other hand, who am I to criticize a very successful guy? We all have our own things. Hey, I come from New York. I don’t give a shit if they recognize me in New York. Well, I do give a shit, but not that much. It’s not a big concern of mine.
GROTH: Have you felt pretty comfortable in the way you’ve been able to balance your commercial work with your personal work?
MOSCOSO: Yes, I would rather do more of my own work than do work for other people, though, because every once in a while, you run into some weirdoes. Be they art directors or clients, they so do not understand the process of what you’re doing. After all, they wouldn’t go to the automotive shop and tell the guy who’s dropping the transmission in their car how to do it, yet they give not a second thought to telling me things like, “The horizon line is too straight,” to which I respond, “The horizon line is just right.”
GROTH: Well, some of these bozos who are commissioning you to do commercial work have to drive you crazy sometimes.
MOSCOSO: Yes. And on the other hand, some of them are real good at what they’re doing, and basically tell you about the job and leave you alone. Those are the good ones. And if you’re off-track they say, “Wait a minute. The job is this and this and this.” To quote Milton Glaser, “The job of the art director is to make the job easier,” and some art directors go out of their way to make the job as difficult as possible. What it usually comes down to, in my analysis, is that they’re frustrated artists. And they’re trying to draw through you. In other words, they see you as an extension of themselves, of their hand. And they try to draw through you, without being you. Those are the guys that I would like to not have to deal with.
GROTH: How do you get your commercial jobs? People just call you?
MOSCOSO: I don’t call up people any more. They call me up. “Hey, we need a psychedelic job here! OK, call up Victor Moscoso! Yeah, he can hit deadlines.”