An Interview with Victor Moscoso

Form and Content

MOSCOSO: My and Rick’s importance to Zap — we almost came in as brothers — was that we pushed the boundaries of the form of the comic book to where no artist had traveled. Wilson and Crumb were taking the linear form and fucking with the content.

GROTH: Do you make a hard and fast distinction between form and content?

MOSCOSO: I can. I went to school. I know all the words. I can make the separation. They’re arbitrary, because that’s like interpretation of the art. Every critic, every individual who’s interested, will give you a different definition, and say, “No, this is the end of the form, here.” The way I can explain to you what I mean is that the form is the actual … Shit, man. Let me see, how would I explain that. Crumb and Wilson were using Eisner’s technique: The story had a beginning, a middle and an end. Griffin and Moscoso weren’t doing that. Our stories had no beginnings, no middles and no ends. That would be an example of the use of a form, or the change of a form. A non-linear story. That’s interesting. And not only is it interesting, it’s more lifelike. When you get up in the morning, and you go out in the street, you don’t have a linear day. You don’t know who you’re going to run into; you don’t know what they’re going to say; you don’t know how it’s going to end up. What is life? Life is a sequence of one event after another, and Rick and I were much closer to reality in our absurd, non-linear use of the comics form to actually become more lifelike than Wilson and Crumb, who were definitely and obviously lifelike, since they were drawing like life. But really, it’s all marks on paper.

That’s my quote, by the way. It’s been credited to Crumb, but that quote is mine. You can see it first in print in Zap Comix — I’m not sure whether it’s “Loop-de-loop” or one of the others — and I developed it when I was teaching at the Art Institute. I would hold up a picture and say, “What do you see?” They’d say, “I see a house on a hill with some trees.” I then would turn the piece of paper on its side, I’d say, “What do you see now?” They say, “Nothin’” I’d say, “See? Only marks on paper.” I learned that as a teaching device and then introduced it into the comics. Then I’m reading they’re giving Crumb credit for this. Jeez! Anyway, those things happen.

GROTH: I’m glad to set the record straight, though. Victor, let me just challenge your assertion that your comics are non-linear, because I’m looking at Color right now, for example, and there is a panel-to-panel progression, and it’s not so much non-linear as it is surreal and hallucinatory, but I wouldn’t call it non-linear; I’d call it fanciful.

MOSCOSO: Rick and I were most non-linear when we were into the posters. And “Luna Toon” and “Hike” in Zap #2 are an example of any pre-Zap contact — there we were really non-linear because we were drawing these things on cards and we were going to interchange the drawings, like a deck of cards. That really was non-linear. What happened when we joined up with Crumb and Wilson, and later with the other guys, is that — I remember I had a conversation with Crumb. I said, “Gee, I really like the way you guys,” meaning him and Wilson, “use words, because that gives you a double-barrel shotgun.” What Rick and I were doing were just using one barrel of the shotgun. We were using the pictures to tell a sequential story, and here were Crumb and Wilson doing the same thing, but having a contrapuntal relationship with the words. It’s like bringing the chorus in the last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth. Not only does he have the orchestra in there, which can make sounds and music, but he brings in a chorus, brings in words. That’s where I ended up with “Artist and Elves,” and everything in-between. “Luna Toon” and “Artist and Elves” I can look upon as my increasing drift toward linearity.

Anyway, I told Crumb “Gee, I wish I could do that.” He says, “You can.” I said, Holy shit, he’s right because I have no problem with words spoken. All I had to do, I realized at that moment, it was like “click!” A light bulb went on in my head. And all he said was, “Yes, you can.” Translate that which I can do in words — the spoken word — to the written word. Now you have to translate because it’s not the same.

GROTH: Why was that such a revelation? Surely you must have realized that comics use words, but were you just so visually oriented that you —

MOSCOSO: I was a very good student in art school. Not in regular school. In grade school I always “could do better.” Well, I was bored. I had one teacher, I don’t even remember what the class was, in junior high school and whenever anybody asked him a question he said, “That’s a very good question. Go home, write a report on it and present it to the class.” Well, shit, in no time at all nobody raised their hand. I was really turned off by school. Luckily I wasn’t turned off to my art, for whatever reason. I wanted to be an artist. So they couldn’t turn me off that. It was the only part of school I enjoyed. So I was a good student in art school. I was a shitty student in high school. So when Crumb said that, and I realized, OK, what I have to do in order to make use of the written word, and the picture — use both barrels on the double-barrel shotgun — I would have to learn how to translate my ability in language verbal to language written.

A page from “Loop-de-loop,” Zap Comics #6 and Moscoso Comix #1. © 1972 Victor Moscoso.

GROTH: As you did more strips in Zap, you actually used language more and more.

MOSCOSO: I did. You can line ’em up and you can see it.

GROTH: Is that because you became more sure of yourself in terms of writing?

MOSCOSO: I became more sure of a form I had basically ignored from bad teaching, nobody turned me on to it. I had heard so much about the Iliad and the Odyssey that I finally read it and I was just blown away by what an exciting story it was. Well, they had presented it to me in school, so that I thought of it as a piece of shit. Well, not a piece of shit, but boring. They made it sound so stodgy. When I read it, it was very exciting. I thought Kirk Douglas did a pretty good job in the movie, but actually I thought the written version of what was an oral tradition. … Imagine memorizing the Iliad and the Odyssey. It’s hard for me to conceive of it, but that’s what they did. That’s what the poets did in those days. There were no books.

So, if you line up my books, you can see my development — same thing with the posters. Same thing with any artist’s work. Big deal. If you line up my work, the comics to be specific, you can see how I went from “Luna Toon” where there are no words, to where there are a few words, to more words, to finally I get to “The Artist and the Elves” and there I actually get it in the normal way. In the academic way, academic by way of the comic academy. Everybody has academies. You can even have an underground academy. Except we’re too old and who cares, huh?

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