Bill’s next question: “Do you listen to your record collection when you work?”
No. I don’t. I can’t have background music on when I work. I take a break: listen to some records.
So you work in silence.
I do. The more silence the better. Then all I can hear is the insanity in my brain, [Groth laughs.] the crazy monologue that goes on in my head all the time. [Laughter.] I can’t have music in the background. The music I like is too distracting. I stop and listen to it.
Because you’re incapable of not stopping and listening to it?
It takes me away too much. When I listen to music I listen totally. I put the record on, I sit there and close my eyes and listen to it. In the process, if you do that, if you give your full attention to music when you listen to it, you automatically become a connoisseur, because then you can’t tolerate music that’s mediocre or less than great.
What about when you’re inking? That doesn’t require the same kind of focus as writing or penciling, does it?
No. Can’t do it, can’t do it. I dunno. I can’t have the music on while I’m inking.
His last question is, “If we live in a godless universe, how do you explain Dream Fluff Donuts?” [Crumb laughs.] He said you would get that.
[Laughs.] Well, obviously that’s a great paradox [Groth laughs], which seems that it’s not the right question. Wrong question.
Yeah, he’s not asking the right question. It’s the opposite. How do you explain God if you live in a Dream Fluff Donut universe? For which there is no answer!
Jaime Hernandez: “How have you found the process of aging to affect your work, work practice and your attitude toward your work?”
That’s a good question. I’m much less motivated to draw than I used to be — much less. So much ink has gone under the bridge. And at the same time, I’ve just been constantly bombarded with people wanting things from me, and the value of the work and all that. It all mitigates against sitting down and drawing. All that. And when people are quarrelling about the value of an old drawing, that’s just very demoralizing. Like two years ago I agreed to do that sketchbook series for Taschen. So, Dian Hanson is saying, “When are you going to do it, when are you going to do it, now you got a deadline, where is it?” So I have to spend like a month putting that together, instead of drawing. Or, OK, there’s this French guy that does this series of reprints of my work, and he does a beautiful job, beautiful job. That Cornelius company, you’ve seen their books?
Yeah. I have.
They’re beautiful. Beautifully done. The production values are tops, first rate. So every so often I have to re-work an old drawing for the cover of that series, so that’s what I’m doing right now, I’m re-working an old drawing for that. And I have to do a color guide; I have to do some lettering for that. And then I have a job here, I have this local woman who’s doing a documentary about this village, and she wants me to do the cover. So I have that job, and like that.
Now, does that specifically have to do with aging? Or is that just tangential problems having to do with your eventual fame?
Well, it’s the accumulation of your karma, of your life. This is where mine has ended up. And I’ve watched this process happen over the last 20 years, 30 years, 40 years, whatever, of this life eating away at my motivation to draw. And I draw less and less and less and less over the years, and now I even marvel at the amount of sketchbook drawing I did in the ’90s. Even in the early 2000s compared to now, I almost never draw in sketchbooks any more. Just never do it. I used to take it everywhere and draw. Now I don’t even bother.
You once told me that if you didn’t draw every day, you didn’t feel right, or you felt badly.
Yeah, and for years it was a battle, just a battle against all of these complications of life to keep drawing. I mean, life’s always a battle for everybody. But, gradually, bit-by-bit, my will to keep doing it’s been eroded.
[Laughs.] Jesus Christ.
It’s true. But look, I’ve done thousands and thousands of drawings, how much drawing do you have to do in one lifetime? I’m not as motivated to prove myself. OK, I’ve proved myself, I did that. I’m actually much more motivated right now to study and learn. I read voraciously now, more than I ever did in my life. I always have like five books I’m trying to get through, and they’re not novels, believe me, they’re books packed with information. It’s so hard to retain, I have to keep notes and everything. [Laughs.]
Were you a big reader of fiction?
No. Never. I read some fiction, but I’m not a big reader of fiction.
Gil Kane once told me that as he got older he read less and less fiction, and he had been a big reader of fiction, but he read less and less fiction and more for information.
Huh! Oh yeah?
Is he dead now?
Yeah. Yeah, he died in 2000.
Oh. Interesting man. I remember meeting him at that one public affair of some kind or another.
Oh, yeah, yeah, you were on a great, two-person panel, in Dallas, where you talked to each other.
Dallas, right. He was interesting, very interesting guy.
Yes, he was. He was a great guy.
OK, just a couple more here. I’ve got a couple of questions related to Genesis. Gilbert Shelton asks: “Why doesn’t Adam have a beard?”
[Laughs.] Why didn’t Adam have a beard.
[Laughs.] That’s a stumper.
He grows a beard I think after, doesn’t he grow a beard after he’s banished from he garden?
Maybe, I’d have to check that.
I think he grows a beard when he’s old. Wait a minute. Hold the phone. [Laughs.] [Long pause.] Yeah. Adam has a beard when he’s old. I guess I thought when he’s in the Garden of Eden he’s still just a boy; he’s still just an adolescent. I guess he could still have a beard, but…
That’s a pretty damn good answer. That should satisfy Gilbert. [Crumb laughs.]
His second question: “I’m also curious about where he got all those authentic-looking faces in the genealogies. Surely, he didn’t make them all up.”
Well he’s right. I didn’t make them up. [Groth laughs.] Most of them I got from photos out of books. I have these books called The Secret Museum of Mankind, two old books and they have lots of photos that were taken in the ’20s, I think, and they’re just full of photos of people in the Middle East and like that, and other sources. I accumulated and gathered photos of people from that region of the world, from the Middle East, North Africa and Afghanistan too. When Afghanistan was in the news, lots of great photos of these Afghani warrior guys, these Taliban guys, were great. They’re very biblical-looking guys: the bearded guys with towels on their heads. [Chuckles.]
So you interpreted these photos?
Yeah, yeah. I spent a lot of time going through stuff looking for photos, like the old National Geographics and stuff like that.
The amount of detail you put into those relatively tiny portraits was amazing.
[Laughs.] Yeah. I’m an obsessive-compulsive person.
Here’s the question you’ve been waiting for. It’s from Trina [Robbins].
Now, I was hoping she was gonna nail you for your racism or misogyny or whatever other politically incorrect impulse you indulge in, but she told me she couldn’t come up with a question about any of that. I mean, I didn’t actually ask her to do that specifically, but…
Well, I guess she’s had her say about that.
She wrote back and told me she couldn’t think of a question to ask you, but then a couple days later I got a question from her, and she wrote: “OK, I understand that you drew Genesis because you’re fascinated with Mesopotamian mythology, and you wanted to see that period illustrated correctly and authentically, as it has never been before, and you succeeded. But why Genesis? Why not, for instance, Gilgamesh, which, if I could draw like you, is the one I would illustrate?”
Well, that’s a good question, actually, an intelligent question. I’m a bit surprised. [Laughter.] I thought about Gilgamesh and other Sumerian legends, but there’s just not enough there, the translations of those things are not adequate. They’re still working on ’em. And Gilgamesh and all that stuff is very fragmentary, it’s all fragments. There’s just not enough there. And, I thought about that a long time ago actually, doing that stuff. But there just was not enough to chew on.
And also, there’s something iconographic about Genesis in Western culture. And like I often said, I first thought I’d do Adam and Eve in a jokey way: make a send-up of Adam and Eve, because Adam and Eve is such a powerful thing in our culture. But when that didn’t work, I thought of doing the whole thing, copy it straight out of the Bible and interpret it in an illustrational way. And even then I didn’t think of doing the whole damn Genesis until [Denis] Kitchen came up with that idea of getting some publisher to pay a lot of money to do all of Genesis. And I stupidly just said, “Oh yeah. OK.” [Laughter.]
Sounds like a good idea.
There it is. People say, “Why did he do it,” and I think, “Yeah, why did I do it?”: just kind of dumb reasons.
So in retrospect, are you pleased that you spent four years doing that?
Am I pleased?
Yeah, do you think that was four years well spent, that you wouldn’t have spent doing something else that would’ve pleased you more?
Well, complicated question. The fact that the text was all there already, once I got going on it, it was just a matter of keep on going ’til the end, the last page of chapter fifty. [Laughs.] It’s like I got on this track, and that was it. There’s no agonizing over it once you’re on that track, you gotta see it through, no matter how long it takes. I wasn’t sure how long it would take. I thought maybe I could get it done in a year and a half, when I first started it. But once I got a third of the way through, I realized it was going to take a lot longer. But there was no turning back at that point.
Can’t do half of Genesis.