The Comics Journal http://www.tcj.com Thu, 30 Mar 2017 02:40:25 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.3 Copyright © The Comics Journal 2011 editorial@tcj.com (Mike Dawson) editorial@tcj.com (Mike Dawson) 1440 http://images.tcj.com/2011/04/tcj_talkies.jpg The Comics Journal http://www.tcj.com 144 144 http://www.tcj.com/feed/podcast/ The Comics Journal podcast TCJ Talkies is a biweekly creator interview podcast hosted by Mike Dawson at The Comics Journal. Cartoonists and other comic book luminaries will stop by the Talkie-Hut and chat about their creative process, motivation, and careers. Comics, cartoonists, The, Comics, Journal, graphic, novels, sequential Mike Dawson Mike Dawson editorial@tcj.com no no Episode 18: Maggie Umber http://www.tcj.com/episode-18-maggie-umber/ http://www.tcj.com/episode-18-maggie-umber/#respond Wed, 29 Mar 2017 12:00:32 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99494 Continue reading ]]>

 

On the eighteenth episode of Comic Book Decalogue, Maggie Umber (Time Capsule, Sound of Snow Falling) discusses Ron Wimberly, Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, and the comics tastes of Guillermo del Toro.

Previous Episodes

Episode 17: Eddie Campbell (Part II)

Episode 16: Eddie Campbell (Part I)

Episode 15: Trungles

Episode 14: Anders Nilsen

Episode 13: MariNaomi

Episode 12: Anna Bongiovanni

Episode 11: Dean Haspiel

Episode 10: Lane Milburn

Episode 9: Anya Davidson

Episode 8: Gabrielle Bell

Episode 7: Inés Estrada

Episode 6: Dylan Horrocks

Episode 5: Sammy Harkham

Episode 4: Ed Luce/2DCloud

Episode 3: Yumi Sakugawa

Episode 2: Caitlin Skaalrud

Episode 1: Josh Simmons

Jingle credits: Fanfares created by Freesound.org user primordiality, uploaded September 2009. Sounds included under Creative Commons licenses allowing for reuse.
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http://www.tcj.com/episode-18-maggie-umber/feed/ 0 0:35:15 On the eighteenth episode of Comic Book Decalogue, Maggie Umber (Time Capsule, Sound of Snow Falling) discusses Ron Wimberly, Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, and the comics tastes of Guillermo del Toro. On the eighteenth episode of Comic Book Decalogue, Maggie Umber (Time Capsule, Sound of Snow Falling) discusses Ron Wimberly, Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, and the comics tastes of Guillermo del Toro. Mike Dawson no no
Authorized Rates http://www.tcj.com/authorized-rates/ http://www.tcj.com/authorized-rates/#respond Wed, 29 Mar 2017 12:00:02 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99725 Continue reading ]]> On the site today, Greg Hunter talks to Maggie Umber (Time Capsule, Sound of Snow Falling) on the eighteenth episode of Comic Book Decalogue.

Well folks, the beat goes on. Apparently it’s MoCCA this weekend in New York! Can you believe it still exists? Good heavens. Anyhow, here are some events, including one with noted Legion of Superheroes author Paul Levitz, and another with our own fearless leader Gary Groth! I hope there’s some ice cream in this for me. Seriously. The best news is that both Sammy Harkham and Kevin Huizenga, National Treasures both, have new comic books coming out.  

Best of all this weekend: Matthew Thurber and William Wegman are opening a two-person exhibition in Brooklyn. That’s a beautiful thing!

In other comics news, the Paris Review has a fine interview with Pénélope Bagieu, author of the new Mama Cass graphic bio, California Dreamin’. And Heidi MacDonald brings news of the Neil the Horse reprint — a beloved 1980s comic that has aged… well, we’ll see. 

I thought more about what I wrote yesterday and realized that my instinct is to be defensive, for fear of being called a killjoy. But then I remembered that I actually like so much superhero stuff… I just like it done well. It should go without saying that there’s nothing inherently wrong with the genre. What I guess I find depressing is that the jump to this stuff is somehow held up as rebellious. It smacks of reactionary politics and head-burying by once “sensitive artistes” indulging in… not their own ids, but someone else’s. It’s an odd kind of role-playing in public. Publishing-as-cosplay, maybe? 

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Market Advantage http://www.tcj.com/market-advantage/ http://www.tcj.com/market-advantage/#comments Tue, 28 Mar 2017 12:00:58 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99690 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Joe McCulloch takes us on a walk through the present of comics. 

Elsewhere:

Ben Katchor: The agony and the ecstasy.

Michael Chabon talks nostalgia, and mentions Superman, too.  

I don’t care about either of the links above, but, y’know, gotta fill the space! I actually find Chabon especially irritating in almost everything he writes. Remember when he had his own comic book version of the fictional comic book from his novel? Ooof. Anyhow, a side note: I read the much-hyped Crime Destroyer #1, the first release from All Time Comics, a Fantagraphics imprint funded by writer/artist Josh Bayer’s brother, Sam. It is basically a sub-par Marvel or DC comic from the early 1980s… imagine a random issue of Indiana Jones or Legion of Superheroes written and drawn by a couple of young hacks as a try-out for the “big time.” It’s not bad-good, or kitsch, or anything on which you could hang a reason for liking it. And of course it’s vaguely misogynist and racist, but so is the amped-up pop culture world it comes from. All the publicity that money can buy positions All Time Comics as daring and both somehow new and somehow classic. It’s none of these things. Bayer’s writing is overly verbose and mostly incoherent. The drawing by old-time hack Herb Trimpe (now, along with fellow hacks Al Milgrom and Rich Buckler, somehow regarded as an important artist — so depressing) is badly composed, static, and without a trace of distinction. Even the lettering is terrible — crooked, inconsistent and crowded. Some recent superhero riffs, like, say Copra or Street Angel, have actual narrative momentum, personality, and individual points of view. This is just soulless and boring. I suppose some of this comes down to being unable to differentiate between good work and the work you liked as a kid. Or, rather, work with interesting qualities and the work you remember fondly. 

Worse (since my own problem is that I somehow care), one of the big selling points for this line, both in interviews and in Bayer’s editorial in Crime Destroyer #1, seems to be that it’s wacky and transgressive that supposedly “snooty” Fantagraphics is releasing superhero comics — a genre which somehow becomes Trumpian code for populism. How is that true? Fantagraphics, by its own lengthy, page-after-page confession/admission in the recent 40th anniversary brick, has been releasing garbage, including superhero comics, for decades: Amazing Heroes, John Byrne comics, impossibly long novels by Charles Schulz’s son, and imprints including Eros, Monster and others I’m forgetting. That’s not a knock. I’m actually proud to work for a publisher that will do anything it takes to continue publishing great material and doesn’t spin a line of bullshit about community or connection. I would hope and guess that Sam Bayer’s money is very green and very plentiful, so my Seattle brethren held their noses, closed their eyes, and took it like champs. Plus, some of my freelance friends are earning solid (and easy) paychecks working on these comics, and money is hard to come by in this biz. So, for my friends’ sake, I guess I hope this line will last until the money or attention span runs out. As Bob once said, you gotta serve somebody, and, on a spiritual level, this is not that much worse than the very few other outlets that pay money for art. So, finally, in it’s favor, the money-beats-all viciousness of All Time Comics is perfectly 2017.

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (3/29/17 – Goodbye, Sweetheart) http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-32917-goodbye-sweetheart/ http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-32917-goodbye-sweetheart/#comments Tue, 28 Mar 2017 12:00:37 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99696 Continue reading ]]>

Above we see my favorite bit of Dominique Goblet’s Pretending Is Lying – published in French in 2007 and entirely re-lettered by the artist herself for the 2017 English edition. Goblet also collaborated on the translation itself, with Sophie Yanow; it’s a work that benefits from as much of the artist’s presence as possible. Immediately, we think of the unique state of the work’s visual presentation: how its ‘color b&w’ pages incorporate the wear of time into the drawing, because some of the boards are a decade older than the eventually published book. And yet, to usurp time is not the only defiance of the work; even Goblet’s resistance to narrative chronology, to the spectacle of ages passing, even modest ones, is not the paramount affront.

The tradition of American autobiographical comics is that of centering the author. Harvey Pekar, addressing the reader; the present-tense exclamations of Robert Crumb’s myriad neuroses. Goblet’s autobiography, to this American, is marked by departure. Primarily, she reacts. To my mind, the narrative genders her associations: with men, she interacts with strong, charismatic, not always sympathetic personalities. There is her father, a drinker and a fast driver with whom she spends roughly half the book trying to visit. There is also her lover, with whom roughly the other half of the book is concerned; in fact, he co-wrote those portions of the text concerning him, and by god is it not disquieting to witness a male leaving some imprint on a formidable female artist’s work, his lover’s work? God, it unnerves me, though I don’t know the details that aren’t in the book, and art anyway isn’t really really-for-real in touching the banality of creative exchange.

But anyway, up top: they have temporarily broken it off, Goblet and her lover, and her father will not accept her tears. This is the primary crossover between the two streams of male interaction in Pretending Is Lying, and here — perhaps with Goblet herself — we see a new facet of her father’s blowsiness. “Believe me my dear, nobody’s important enough for your tears…” It is not that he wants to overpower her with his personality; this is perhaps what happens regardless, but he does not want it. What he wants, is for her to be as fierce as him, though she will not do it in the same way.

Women, in Goblet’s book, are less knowable. An ingenious prelude introduces Goblet’s mother as a magician and a charlatan, believed to possess nigh-wizardly powers by the young “Nikske”, which means “Little Nothing”. Later, the mother is presented as a fearsome God, binding the child Goblet with rope as she screams and cries; it is horrifying, and followed immediately by the mother’s wary comfort of the child, who accepts everything as natural. Goblet’s own daughter is elsewhere characterized as faintly unknowable in the way small children inevitably are, while her father’s lover is drawn as a Munchian grotesque, with whom Goblet comes to quarrel over her daughter, a double-reflection of her mother. The women in the book, thus, are powerful and contentious figures, against whom the artist collides.

To her father, Goblet depicts herself absorbing. Or perhaps she is absorbed. As it happens, when her father drives off with her, drunkenly, dangerously, in chapter 3 of 4, Goblet physically disappears from the book. The final chapter depicts only her lover on-panel, as he seethes over boots, listens to music, tangles with the cat, and from the author’s disappearance we understand the absence of her as a presence in his life. Previously, he was characterized as haunted by a ghost, by the indecisive conclusion of his last relationship. Goblet draws the other woman as a ghost, another elusive feminine figure, but she simply declines to draw herself at the end of her book, and her absence is felt, by us and him. Hers is a space in his obnoxious, talkative mind. His cat brings a dead bird and he invents from that a reason to call her. Goblet pulls back from depicting characters to depicting city architecture; François Schuiten appears in the Acknowledgements. She pulls back from architecture to birds, and then to just the sky, a smear of oil against paper, with text booming in space. God, she is there again. She didn’t leave.

“I really want to see you!” he says.

“When?”

“now”

***

PLEASE NOTE: What follows is not a series of capsule reviews but an annotated selection of items listed by Diamond Comic Distributors for release to comic book retailers in North America on the particular Wednesday identified in the column title above. Be aware that some of these comics may be published by Fantagraphics Books, the entity which also administers the posting of this column, and that I also run a podcast with an employee of Nobrow Press. Not every listed item will necessarily arrive at every comic book retailer, in that some items may be delayed and ordered quantities will vary. I have in all likelihood not read any of the comics listed below, in that they are not yet released as of the writing of this column, nor will I necessarily read or purchase every item identified; THIS WEEK IN COMICS! reflects only what I find to be potentially interesting. You could always just buy nothing.

***

SPOTLIGHT PICKS!

What Parsifal Saw: A new Fantagraphics collection of recent work by Ron Regé, Jr., without a doubt one of the most distinctive cartoonists of his generation. The slim, 80-page color softcover deals in “magical, alchemical, ancient, and mysterious ideas,” per the publisher, which as it happens is also issuing a new softcover edition of Regé’s 2012 esoteric manifesto The Cartoon Utopia this week, in case you missed it the first time. This is total invocation here – a whirling tour of an author’s worldview with no conceivable compromise; $14.99 ($24.99 for Utopia).

Otomo: A Global Tribute To the Mind Behind Akira: TALES OF CAPITALISM – I saw the Japanese edition of this at the same bookstore where I picked up Golgo 13 magazine last week; the ¥ 5,400 cover price translated to north of $70.00 USD off the rack, which was definitely too rich for my blood. Now, like magic, Kodansha has a much less expensive English edition ready at basically the same dimensions: 168 pages at 10.7″ x 12.4″ in hardcover. You may recall Ōtomo winning the Grand Prix at Angoulême in 2015; this book is essentially a mass-market catalog for an exhibition held the following year in his honor, amounting to a fancy collection of tribute art by international notables. Contributors include Manuele Fior, Masamune Shirow(!), Tanino Liberatore, Taiyō Matsumoto, Tomer & Asaf Hanuka, Naoki Urasawa, Juan Giménez, Stan Sakai, Tsutomu Nihei, Jordi Bernet and the late Jirō Taniguchi, among many others. Will anyone dare throw in a Domu piece? Note also that Kodansha is planning a deluxe all-hardcover box set of the entire Akira series (and the Akira Club art book) in the unaltered right-to-left format for this October; $29.99.

PLUS!

Audubon: On the Wings of the World: If the Otomo book above doesn’t fit your criteria for a comic — which would make since, because it isn’t — then your *formal* Eurocomic pick of the week is this 2006 album from artist Jérémie Royer and writer Fabien Grolleau, profiling the 19th century naturalist of the title, author of the famous The Birds of America. Lots of opportunities for nature drawing, released in English via Nobrow as a 184-page, 8.07″ x 10.83″ color hardcover; $22.95.

Lobster Johnson: The Pirate’s Ghost #1 (of 3): Your no-doubt extremely smooth and pretty mainstream costumed action comic of the week comes from one of the most reliable teams around – writers Mike Mignola & John Arcudi, and artist Tonči Zonjić. With the main Hellboy series wrapped up, this is the only Mignola-branded project where I never miss an issue, as the focus is very tight (early 20th century period antics starring a determinedly un-nuanced pulp avenger), the pace is very fast, and nothing ever really gets in the way of its formidable surface appeal; $3.99.

Space Riders: Galaxy of Brutality #1: In contrast, I don’t really know anything about the Black Mask-published Space Riders title (“Capitan Peligro and his fearless crew deal harsh justice to the scum of the galaxy while searching for the hidden truths of the universe!”), under which this appears to be the second miniseries, but I do like what I’ve seen of the artist, Alexis Ziritt, who works in a kind of tattoo art style buzzing between Mike Allred and Gary Panter. Try and flip through if you see it. Preview; $3.99.

Valerian and Laureline Vol. 14: The Living Weapons (&) Blake & Mortimer Vol. 24: The Testament of William S.: Cinebook has a whole stack of Franco-Belgian translations out via Diamond this week, so I’m gonna highlight a duo of classy youth adventure comics with long histories behind them. The Living Weapons, granted, isn’t from *too* many years ago, being a 1990 release from creators Pierre Christin & Jean-Claude Mézières. If you have the old iBooks omnibus Valerian: The New Future Trilogy (2004), this 56-pager is one of the albums in there. The Testament of William S. is far more removed from the source; it’s actually the newest Blake and Mortimer investigatory adventure, released in French only last year. The writer is Yves Sente and the artist is André Juillard, working in the tradition of creator Edgar P. Jacobs for 72 pages set in the late 1950s, at which time the actual series was already ten years old; $13.95 (Weapons), $15.95 (Testament).

Scene But Not Heard (&) Beyond Palomar: Here’s a pair of books from longtime alt-comics guys that have been around before, and now will be available again. Scene But Not Heard is a 128-page collection of wordless, rather Kurtzmanesque color comics Sam Henderson created for Nickelodeon Magazine, perhaps rousing memories of an era when that very mainstream forum gave a lot of work to small-press cartoonists. Noah Van Sciver contributes a comics-format introduction to the Alternative Comics release, which was initially co-published with Top Shelf, although I don’t know what the status is now. Beyond Palomar, meanwhile, is a collection of Gilbert Hernandez comics from Love and Rockets, specifically the one that contains Poison River, one of the holy fucking shit comics of the late ’80s/early ’90s. It is accompanied by its lifelong companion companion serial, Love and Rockets X, for 256 big pages of challenge and reward; $14.95 (Scene), $16.95 (Beyond).

The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains: Also humor but not exactly comics is this print iteration of an enduring type of online entertainment – the funny commentary on wacky old funnybooks. Actually, I can’t remember the last time something like this appeared in print. The author is Jon Morris, a webcomics artist going back quite a ways (he was nominated for an Ignatz in 2001, the year the awards were cancelled), and a comics blogger dating to at least the late 1990s. The present volume is a 256-page Quirk Books survey of oddball rogues, following up on a 2015 look at similarly goofy superheroes; $24.95.

Asian Comics (&) On the Graphic Novel: Finally, here are two University Press of Mississippi books-on-comics now available in softcover editions. Both are of some unusual interest. Asian Comics is a massive (352-page, 8.5″ x 11″) overview of the comics of 16 nations – not Japan, but China, Hong Kong, Korea, India and others. The author is John A. Lent, founder of the International Journal of Comic Art, and I man whom I suspect has forgotten more comics than any of us have read. On the Graphic Novel is a 375-page Bruce Campbell translation of a text by Santiago García, a Spanish-born writer and translator recently seen with the artist David Rubín on a version of Beowulf released stateside by Image. García “follows the history of the graphic novel from early nineteenth- century European sequential art, through the development of newspaper strips in the United States, to the development of the twentieth-century comic book and its subsequent crisis,” as the publisher puts it; $30.00 (each).

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A Look Back at 20 Years of Mankoff’s New Yorker http://www.tcj.com/new-yorker-cartoon-editor-steps-down-after-20-years/ http://www.tcj.com/new-yorker-cartoon-editor-steps-down-after-20-years/#comments Mon, 27 Mar 2017 12:00:32 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99429 Continue reading ]]> On Thursday, March 2, 2017 at 1:30 in the afternoon, David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, sent a memo to the magazine’s roster of cartoonists. A minute later, the same memo arrived at the inboxes of the rest of the staff.

“We are going to have a change,” Remnick began, quoted by James Warren at poynter.org, “—after more than two decades as cartoon editor, the incomparable Bob Mankoff is stepping aside from that post and assuming what is arguably a higher post, that of a regularly contributing artist. Bob has been a remarkable and innovative partner to me, as he was to Tina Brown [Remnick’s predecessor]. He brought a real sense of originality to this work, but, even more important, a sense of the artists and their interests. He has brought everyone’s best work to the table and managed a complicated balancing act with grace, sustaining the work of people who have been publishing in The New Yorker for many years while bringing new artists into the mix, including more diverse voices and views of the world.” “A huge antic talent and wonderful wry observer,” Tina Brown told Warren. “I saw how special he was immediately and will always be proud I made him the cartoon editor of The New Yorker.”

Remnick continued: “In addition to going back to the drawing board with greater frequency, Bob will edit an ambitious new anthology, The New Yorker Encyclopedia of Cartoons [scheduled for publication in 2018], and will continue to work with Condé Nast on redeveloping the Cartoon Bank, which he founded and ran for many successful years.”

Mankoff, “known for his erudite, absurdist sensibility and a distinctive, pointillist drawing style,” said Andrew Chow at nytimes.com, will enter into this new phase of his career on the first of May. And what will he do then?

“I think I will rest on my plaudits for a while, if I can find them,” he told Michael Cavna by phone at Comic Riffs. “Last time I tried resting on them, I slipped and threw my back out, so I’m going to be cautious.”

Cavna asked: upon reflection, what will he miss most? “The unwarranted adulation and respect that comes with the imprimatur of being cartoon editor of The New Yorker,” Mankoff said. “However, if no one is looking, I might try to sneak that imprimatur out of the building.” And what might the late Mollie Mankoff — whom the cartoonist describes as the stereotypical smothering Jewish mother — say to her son, if she could, upon his farewell from an editorship that greatly enhanced the magazine?

“They paid you for that?” Mankoff quips. He said he is looking forward to finding the comic side of an increasingly fraught era, reported Chow: “The humor is very dark, but it’s there. If we lose that, we’ve lost everything.” And if he’s not up to the task? “I’ll go bowling,” he said, with a laugh. That’s pretty much what there is to the public Bob Mankoff—a joke and a quip. Or, rather, jokes and quips in a seemingly unending cascade.

Bob Mankoff is a funny fella. A very funny fella. He could be a stand-up comic. Instead, he’s the cartoon editor of the most prestigious cartoon-publishing enterprise in the country. Tall and thin with a salt-and-pepper moustache and chin whiskers fringing a cadaverous visage framed by long luxuriant locks, Mankoff obviously enjoys being funny. And that’s part of his act: when making appearances hither and yon, he joyfully assumes the persona of an egomaniacal cartoon editor.

In the guise of a towering ego, he struts back and forth across the stage, mugging and dropping one-liners at every step. He basks in the laughter he provokes in his audience. He enjoys the spotlight so much that he doesn’t share it noticeably with the three New Yorker cartoonists who have accompanied him to Chicago on a promotional tour in the summer of 2004 for the new landmark compilation, The Complete Cartoons of the New Yorker, a nine-pound 656-page gargantuan compendium that prints 2,004 of the cartoons the magazine has published from its first issue, February 21, 1925, through the February 23, 2004 anniversary issue. This historic achievement comes equipped with two CDs that contain all 68,647 cartoons published during that period.

Mankoff pauses, an elaborately dramatic moment, and then says he’ll give ten bucks to anyone who can find a cartoon in back issues of The New Yorker that isn’t in the Complete Cartoons. Another pause. “Twenty bucks if you keep quiet about it,” he snarls with a fiendish grin.

My first exposure to Mankoff’s stage persona was in watching him in a video as he introduced The New Yorker’s digital archive. He held up a disk, saying every cartoon the magazine had ever published was recorded on the disk.

Then he dropped the disk and pretended that it was smashed beyond repair. But—no matter—he quickly reached into his suit coat’s inner pocket and produced another disk. Holding it up, he said: “Backup.” At the time—mid-1990s—the rest of the world was just beginning to appreciate the necessity of backing-up whatever was put on a computer. Mankoff dramatized the need—with a laugh. Then I saw him “live” at that promotional appearance in Chicago.

Behind Mankoff on stage is a table at which are seated David Sipress, Matthew Diffee, and Charles Barsotti, each with a table mic in front of him. They watch, rapt, their editor cavort in front of them, gesturing at key rhetorical moments to the projection screen behind them upon which New Yorker cartoons flash in sequence, beginning with some early ones from the magazine’s first year and continuing through 2004.

When Mankoff reaches the year Barsotti’s first cartoon was published in the magazine, he urges Barsotti to take up the narrative, but as soon as Barsotti says something, Mankoff jumps on it, elaborating on the idea to make it funnier. Barsotti tries a couple more times, but we never find out much about what he thinks because Mankoff is helping him along every time.

When the chronology gets to Sipress’ debut in The New Yorker, he is invited into the monologue. Mankoff asks him a question or two, Sipress responds, grins, and Mankoff plunges on into the next decade. Diffee enjoys a similar monosyllabic cameo appearance.

During Mankoff’s monologue, we find out that he is not only cartoon editor for The New Yorker, he also contributes cartoons from time-to-time, and he’s the president (or CEO) and founder of the Cartoon Bank, an online cartoon marketing operation that he invented and then sold to The New Yorker. Mankoff pauses at this point to wonder, eyebrows erect with mock suspicion, about conflict of interest, which he expresses in terms of organization chart logic: who’s in charge here, he wonders. Mankoff is, of course.

During the question-and-answer period following Mankoff’s presentation, we learn that The New Yorker cartoon editor is no longer involved in picking the magazine’s cover illustration as of yore. That duty has fallen to a relatively new staff position, art editor, filled these days, and since its inception in the early 1990s under Tina Brown’s editorship, by Francoise Mouly, who, with her husband Art Spiegelman, is apparently responsible for bringing much new talent into the magazine, often recruiting from the ranks of Spiegelman’s underground cartoonist “gang” (as Mankoff termed it) whom she and Spiegelman promoted in their avant garde 1980s magazine, Raw.

Mouly not only cultivates cover illustrations but, we assume, all other illustrations in the magazine that are not captioned cartoons. Mankoff, I suspect, wishes it were otherwise, that he, like his predecessors in the cartoon editing chair, had some say in these matters. But he doesn’t. Much.

I also suspect that Mankoff chaffs a bit at the fame the magazine’s reportage has earned over the years, beginning, most spectacularly, with John Hersey’s “Hiroshima” in the 1950s. He mentioned investigative reporter Seymour Hersh a couple of times in a less than deferential way.

The New Yorker enjoys a reputation as the forcing bed for the modern single-panel gag cartoon: the genre achieved its apotheosis at The New Yorker, and the magazine is revered among gag cartoonists as a result. Its cartoons also rank high on the cultural scale generally. But the New Yorker writers seem to stand higher in our sober Puritan work-ethic culture: serious reporting is closer to God than silly laughter. And it was ever thus.

Mankoff, I think, is somewhat resentful of this state of affairs and regards cartoonists, justifiably, as superior beings. After all, many cartoonists, he observes, can write passable prose; few journalists can draw acceptable cartoons.

Asked about the future for cartooning, Mankoff says, “The future will be online in combination with on-demand publishing.” His opinion reflects his own bias in favor of the business he created, Cartoon Bank, a distinctly online, on-demand operation.

How acute his prognostication is may be judged from his response to another question. He was asked his opinion of the current plight of editorial cartoonists, whose ranks have steadily dwindled over the last ten years or so as newspapers discontinue staff positions. Mankoff professed to know nothing about this dilemma; he has never even heard about the crisis, he said. But he may have been kidding. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell.

All of the minor annoyances that plague Mankoff fade when he’s on stage. There, he’s in his element—always joking. His wife is a tolerant person, he implied: there are few places they go together that she doesn’t hit him for uncontrollable wise-acreage. “Like when I got to the supermarket,” he explains, “and they ask, ‘Paper or plastic?’ And I say, ‘You know, I’m gonna eat it all here.'”

Someone in the audience asks, “How does a cartoonist protect his work from being ripped off?” “Guns!” Mankoff quips.

Warmed by the glow of the spotlight, he prances around the stage, mugging to the audience and sometimes laughing at his own jokes, the perfect caricature of a genuinely funny man, thoroughly enjoying himself. And we, seated in rows at his feet, enjoy him just as thoroughly.

 

*****

Mankoff in public is what everyone doubtless thinks a cartoonist should be—a wise-acre, a smart-ass, a stand-up comedian spouting punchlines at every breath. And Mankoff, 72, is good at it. He started as a class clown. It was self-defense.

According to Cavna in a profile he wrote about Mankoff in 2014, as a youngster, Mankoff “needed to develop techniques to combat his mother’s solo obsessiveness and onslaught of Yiddishisms. … When it comes to his mom, the issue was always one of closeness. The cartoonist says Mollie Mankoff, as an ever-loving presence, was not a Jewish mother — she was a Jewish smother. “He became the Boy Gevalt, developing a mouth as rapid as Mom’s. ‘Yiddish excels at combining aggression, friendliness, and ambiguity,’ he writes, ‘a basic recipe for humor that my mother was excellent at cooking up and on which I was spoon-fed.’

“Mother and son had a less-than-ideal personal relationship, Mankoff says, but the dynamic was perfect for honing his humor: she was not an audience but a target, and comedy thrives on conflict.”

“I am a ‘made’ cartoonist,” Mankoff he says, “but I was born a comic.”

“Beyond his parents’ walls,” Cavna continued, “Mankoff soon became the quick-quipping kid from Queens. He went to New York’s High School of Music and Art, but his draftsman’s hand didn’t match the best in class; it was the gags that gave him an edge and a niche. By his calculation, it was humor that leveled the playing field of life.”

“You need chutzpah, whether you’re Jewish or not,” Mankoff said during his profile interview with Cavna. “Humor levels the playing field. I understood that early on — that was something I had.” The class clown is “on” all the time. Quips define his personality. For the sake of his individuality, he needs the attention that he gets by cracking wise all the time. Given this display of egotism, it is surprising to realize that as an editor he went outside and beyond his spotlight-craving essence.

 

*****

The New Yorker is a notoriously tough market for cartoonists to break into. It customarily takes years and thousands of submissions before a cartoonist finally sells one to the magazine. In his memoir, How About Never—Is Never Good For You? My Life in Cartoons, Mankoff discusses his first sale to The New Yorker —and that of other New Yorker cartoonists. Michael Maslin submitted cartoons for seven years before he sold one. Mankoff’s first sale occurred, in 1977, after he’d submitted 2,000 cartoons in merely two years.

The legendary exception to this agonizing rite of passage is Roz Chast. She sold a cartoon on her first try in 1978 when she brought a portfolio of her work in to Lee Lorenz, then New Yorker cartoon editor. I like to think she’s still undergoing the initiation phase even though the magazine is publishing her attempts with clockwork predictability.

Like most children who wind up as cartoonists, Mankoff doodled all the time as he grew up. At the High School of Music and Art, he learned that he didn’t draw well enough to aim for a career as an illustrator or artist. But he didn’t stop doodling, and his doodles were often funny. His senior year at Syracuse University—1966, when he was 22—he encountered Syd Hoff’s book, Learning to Cartoon.

“The preface was very encouraging,” Mankoff writes, “—with genial Syd assuring me how easy the process would be.”

But Mankoff’s first experience trying to sell cartoons to magazines by taking a bunch of them around to cartoon editors’ offices in Manhattan was bleakly unsuccessful. To avoid being drafted and sent to Vietnam, he entered graduate school. Attending, first, Atlanta University, an all-black college in Georgia where (he says) he was the only white guy, and then Fairleigh Dickinson University, he earned a master’s degree in experimental psychology. But “when my experimental animal died, I took it as an omen to quit,” as Mankoff puts it, and, having never given up drawing funny pictures, he entered the cartooning racket, submitting cartoons to the numerous magazines that were headquartered in New York.

He sold several cartoons but the Holy Grail for magazine cartoonists, he knew, was The New Yorker. It paid better than any of the others. And it had status.

Setting his sights on selling to The New Yorker, Mankoff describes in his memoir his research: he looked at New Yorker cartoons in every reprint volume he could find, learning, among other things, that “there was no such thing as a typical New Yorker cartoon.” They could have short captions or long ones, be whimsical or satirical or philosophical. “One common thread,” however, that ran through them all “was that they made the reader think. You had to be a participant in the experience, up-to-date on the latest trends and buzzwords, aware of the world around you, and possessing a mental flexibility able to appreciate different comic visions, techniques and talents.”

Two such talents inspired Mankoff, he said—Saul Steinberg for his “philosophical meditation in ink,” and James Thurber, for his weirdness and “his apparent lack of drawing skill.” Here was something Mankoff could aspire to do. Although his initial cartoons were drawn with lines, Mankoff soon developed a distinctive “style” of his own, creating his images by using dots—stippling, it is called. “I might say,” he said, “I eventually found my style by connecting the dots.”

Instead of adding gray tones to his linework with a wash, Mankoff did what he saw in halftone reproductions of photographs: he added gray tones with dots. The closer together the dots, the darker the gray.

In his study of New Yorker cartoons, Mankoff realized that “the perfect melding of an enigmatic image in need of humorous clarification by a one-line caption was the hallmark of the New Yorker cartoon.” This verbal-visual blend is the hallmark of all good single-panel cartoons: the picture is a puzzle, and the caption explains the puzzle. Or vice versa. The single-panel cartoon is the haiku of cartooning.

As cartoon editor, Mankoff also came to understand that New Yorker cartoons often ridicule the magazine’s readers. The presumed reader of The New Yorker was culturally literate, socially aware and empathetic. Cartoons often satirize the pieties of these readers as well as their self-centered dissatisfactions. Writes Mankoff: “The most New Yorker magazine-ish cartoons are not making fun of the less fortunate, and they’re not faux rebellious, speaking ‘truth’ to power. Rather, they ridicule their own class—maybe, just maybe, producing some skepticism about its unconsciously held assumptions, and, if not an out-and-out laugh, then at least an out-and-out wry smile of recognition.”

 

*****

 

After his first sale, Mankoff appeared regularly in the magazine. He was good enough and dependable enough that he was offered a contract in January 1981. A contract New Yorker cartoonist agrees to give the magazine first refusal rights: it gets first choice of all his/her    cartoons. Those that are not accepted he can try to sell elsewhere. A contract cartoonist is also paid more than a non-contract cartoonist; the payment increases over time and according to the number (and size) of the cartoonist’s cartoons that are published.

The New Yorker’s famed taste about what a good New Yorker cartoon is results, inevitably, in more cartoons being rejected than being accepted. Typically, as you correctly suppose, a New Yorker cartoonist has heaps and piles of cartoons the magazine has rejected. As cartoon editor, Mankoff says he looked at about 1,000 cartoons a week (500 from contract cartoonists). He winnows this down to about 50 good ones and takes them to the weekly “art meeting” with editor Remnick and others (usually a secretary or assistant), where about 20 are picked for publication at an average rate of about $675 each. Before publication, every cartoon is checked against the computer-file of New Yorker cartoons to make sure the same punchline hasn’t appeared in the magazine before. Ideas, not artwork, sells the cartoons. “It’s not the ink,” Mankoff intones, “it’s the think.”

Mankoff is  conscientiously on the look-out for new talent, always, and he would like to see more women cartoonists in the magazine. “I’d say about 10% of the cartoons submitted come from women,” he said in an online interview recently, “and there’s no doubt if women ran the magazine and one was cartoon editor, more would be selected.” (And what you wish for….) The rigorous selection process means, usually, that about 30 good cartoons, at least—not counting the other 900-plus submissions—are homeless.

The usual practice of freelance magazine cartoonists is to produce a batch of 10-20 cartoons a week. In offering them for sale, cartoonists begin with the highest-paying magazines (The New Yorker and, until last year, Playboy). The cartoons rejected by those markets are then offered to other magazines, starting with the next highest paying and going down the list until the final possibilities (paying, sometimes, only $5 a cartoon) are reached. Cartoons that survive this process are presumably really lousy, but at any moment going down the list of markets by their rates of payment, a cartoonist has several cartoons that he/she thinks are good but haven’t sold.

Before he was cartoon editor, Mankoff was selling to The New Yorker pretty well: one week, the magazine bought seven of his 10 submissions. But that meant he still had three unsold cartoons that he thought were good enough for The New Yorker. And most weeks, he had more than that left over.

He realized that other New Yorker contract cartoonists also had a substantial number of unsold cartoons every week. And since the left-overs had been concocted expressly for The New Yorker sensibility, most of them were not suitable for other publications and could not be offered for sale anywhere else. That’s when Mankoff had his idea: why not create a platform on which these unsold cartoons might have another change to sell.

“The basic idea for the Cartoon Bank,” he writes in his memoir, “was quite simple: to do for cartoons what photo-stock houses had done for photos—make cartoons available to publishers and the general public for purchase and licensing.” He elaborated in his phone interview with Cavna: “In the early ’90s, the market for magazine cartoons was already not only drying up, but dried up. There was still the Everest of The New Yorker, but the rest of the markets were pretty much the equivalent of foothills.” [And most of them were quickly giving up publishing cartoons.]

Quoted in the spring of 2005 by Jerome Weeks in the Dallas Morning News, Mankoff explained the disappearance of cartoons from most magazines in those days by saying that “they’ve gotten over-designed—there’s no place for a cartoon.” I’ve been saying as much for years: cartoons disappeared from magazines when art directors started controlling the content of the publications. Art directors like solids—solid colors, solid blacks, solid white space, and the solid “gray” of columns of type. Cartoons interfere with the cadence-counting impulse of page design by manipulation of solids. 

Said Mankoff in his memoirs: “I conceived of the Cartoon Bank as a way for cartoonists to make money by licensing the nine cartoons out of every 10 they did that got rejected, often unfairly by obtuse editors like I became. The Cartoon Bank hasn’t been a failure, but it hasn’t been successful enough to do what I wanted it to do: provide enough of a supplementary income so that cartoonists could devote themselves full time to cartooning. When it does that, I’ll be very proud. Until then, I’m partially proud.”

He added: “Most of the cartoons rejected by The New Yorker, then and now, are quite good.” Good enough to still attract buyers.

He started the Cartoon Bank with just New Yorker cartoonists, but it soon expanded. Even though it didn’t produce enough supplemental income to make its cartoonists independent financially, it worked as a marketing device. The other aspect of Mankoff’s idea was to make the Internet the platform. All at once, there was a virtually universal marketing mechanism.

The Cartoon Bank was up and running by 1991 when The New Yorker acquired a new editor, Tina Brown, from her previous post at Vanity Fair, where she had been editor since 1984. Brown thought the Cartoon Bank was a “million-dollar idea” and urged Si Newhouse, then owner of The New Yorker, to buy it from Mankoff. After a few years, Newhouse went along with her, and they made Mankoff an offer.

Mankoff agreed to sell the Cartoon Bank but only if two conditions were met. First, he would continue to be the president of Cartoon Bank. His second condition amounted to extortion: he’d sell the Cartoon Bank if The New Yorker would make him its cartoon editor. In describing this ruthless (not to say unscrupulous) proposal in his memoir, Mankoff says he didn’t, really, expect them to meet his second condition. (But he felt that proposing the second condition at least proclaimed his ambition.) The magazine had a cartoon editor, Lee Lorenz, also a cartoonist, who had been at that post for 24 years. In order to give Mankoff the job, they’d have to fire Lorenz. And it was Lorenz who had brought Mankoff into the magazine’s stable of cartoonists. How much of an ingrate was Mankoff? Mankoff slides by this moral contretemps by saying, simply, that “Lorenz decided to retire later that year.”

Then, presto—“ambitious, eligible Bob got tapped by Tina for the job,” assuming what would soon be the last great cartoon editorship in the country. Was Lorenz offered any special inducement to retire? Did someone urge him to retire? Mankoff doesn’t say.

 

*****

And what kind of cartoon editor was Mankoff? Not bad, over the long haul. In fact, very good, all things considered. And with Mankoff, there are a lot of things to consider. He was the fourth person to fill that function but the first to have the title “cartoon editor.” The first to act as cartoon editor was Rea Irvin, a cartoonist and artist who was at foundering editor Harold Ross’s elbow since the magazine started in February 1925. Irvin’s taste in art and in comedy established the basic aura of New Yorker cartoons—as well as the design of the magazine. Irvin quit his unofficial role when Ross died in 1951, but by then, Jim Geraghty (not a cartoonist himself) had joined the staff in 1939 and held the cartoon editing post until 1973 when Lorenz assumed the cartoon editorship (albeit still without that title; both Geraghty and Lorenz were called “art editor”; Irvin was called “art supervisor”).

At first, Mankoff concentrated on the Cartoon Bank. At The New Yorker, the process of submitting and selecting cartoons and a stable of cartoonists whose talents were proven meant that the cartoon operation could proceed with little guidance from Mankoff. But the Cartoon Bank was still in a start-up phase, and he spent comparatively more of his time as its “president” and chief operating officer.

Once the Cartoon Bank was running as smoothly as could be expected, Mankoff shifted more of his attention to the cartoon editorship. Critics carping from the sidelines had complained that the quality of the artwork and the sophistication of the humor in New Yorker cartoons wasn’t what it used to be. To which, Mankoff, writing his memoirs, responded: “It never was.”

It is true, however, that few of the New Yorker cartoonists draw in ways that compare favorably to Peter Arno or George Price, Helen Hokinson or Carl Rose, Whitney Darrow Jr., Chon Day, Alaln Dunn, Syd Hoff or Mary Petty, Gardner Rea, Otto Soglow, William Steig or Gluyas Williams. At the same time, the magazine no longer runs full-page cartoons; indeed, for most of Mankoff’s tenure, cartoons didn’t even rate a half-page.

And there were other subtle changes that had seeped into New Yorker cartooning over the years. In the old days (roughly until Geraghty came aboard), cartoons were often written by people who weren’t the cartoonists. George Price’s distinctive comedy was not his: all of his New Yorker cartoons were written by others. Staffers James Thurber and E.B. White often provided captions for drawings submitted by other persons. By the time Lorenz was cartoon editor, cartoonists were expected to both write and draw their cartoons. (In fact, to reveal an undisguised bias of mine, true cartooning, blending words and picture, can most happily take place in a cartoonist’s mind, not a writer’s. Which may account for the typically inert comedy that prevailed at The New Yorker for so many of its first decades. And, even—inevitably—into current decades.)

Talking to Weeks at the Dallas Morning News in 2005, Mankoff says he had to “teach” The New Yorker editor Remnick about how cartoons should be deployed in the magazine. New Yorker cartoons are topical (and always have been) but not as front-page topical as newspaper editorial cartoons. For decades, thanks to the magazine’s founder’s Puritan bent, sex was taboo as a subject for cartoons. Then when Tina Brown took over as editor, that area opened up. New Yorker-style sex, that is. In his memoir, Mankoff explains—”that means no sex. No sex is funnier.” He cites the drawing of a couple in bed, the woman snuggling up to her husband and saying, “Is this a good time to bring up a car problem?”

In their phone interview, Mankoff told Cavna that since he became editor, “the biggest change was that cartoons, even of the very benign variety that appear in The New Yorker, now have great power to offend — at least among the easily offended — a class whose numbers grow even as I write,” Mankoff says. “Now, even Canadians take offense at being stereotyped as polite.” Mankoff jokes about the shift, observed Cavna, but when he inherited the lofty office from Lorenz, he had to cultivate cartoonists who worked in comic tones increasingly absurd and meta — talents who, “when they use a cliche, they destroy it,” he likes to say.

When Remnick became editor in 1998, cartoon humor backed off a little from Brown’s edginess—but not as far back as William Shawn, who had succeeded Ross in 1951. “It didn’t happen immediately,” Mankoff says in his memoir. “We needed a while to shake off Tina’s inclination to shock.” 

Although Mankoff has a clear grasp of what makes a good cartoon—its blending of words and pictures—any issue of the magazine contains cartoons the humor of which is essentially verbal: the caption doesn’t need the picture for its comedy. Here are a couple captions without pictures:

“My life has become a tangled web of fictitious user names and fiendishly clever passwords.”

“So, as you can see, health care is so complicated you may never get well.”

Other cartoons, happily, maintain a visual-verbal blend that makes them superior representatives of the artform.

Over the last year or so, runaway whimsy has elbowed New Yorker social satire out of the running as the most frequently published: too many cartoons feature talking animals saying just what you’d expect a talking chicken, say, to observe about a weather vane or goats going to have  their entrails read or a couple of moose (meese?) who avoid crowds because they claim not to know the plural form of the name of their species. 

*****

Mankoff’s great achievement as cartoon editor is not so much in evolving the nature of the cartoons as it is in the cartoonists: he brought new talent into the magazine.

“Lee Lorenz handed me a plane on automatic co-pilot,” Mankoff said of the established roster of talent. “People were ready to do this forever,” he told Cavna in the 2014 profile. But, added Cavna, as the comedy zeitgeist shifted, Mankoff came to a realization: he needed to cultivate a new crop of cartoonists. In his memoir, Mankoff says: “This wonderful plane flying on autopilot needed some actual piloting or it was gong to run out of fuel. Unless I shifted my course, all that would be left of the New Yorker cartoon tradition would be found in cartoon anthologies. So, I would have to do what Lee had done and find some new cartoonists.”

 But before any new cartoonists could get a foot in the door, Manoff said, “I need to open the door a bit wider. That’s why in 1998, I established Open-Call Tuesdays when anyone who wanted to show me cartoons could make an apointment to see me. Previously that privilege had been restricted to established New Yorker cartoonists. … I thought Open-Call Tuesdays was a great idea, that in and of itself it would bring a bunch of new cartoolnits to the magazine. And a lot of fresh-faced aspirants did show up.”

But Mankoff realized showing up was not enough. These new talents needed cultivation. So instead of simply giving them rejection slips—the usual New Yorker cartoon tutorial—Mankoff started coaching them. “Why shouldn’t the new generation have the privilege of covering their bathroom walls with rejection slips [like he did]?” he asks in his memoirs. “It wasn’t just that I wanted younger cartoonists to suffer as I had; I understood that you learn more from your failures than your successes. But I realized that if all you ended up having were failures, all you would have learned is how to fail. So I broke the code of silence and became a real blabbermouth, giving aspiring cartoonists feedback and developing a mini-course in cartoon fundamentals and the psychology of humor.”

He tinkered with captions and explained why. He pointed out composition variations in the pictures and asked why one was better than another. He also did the unheard of. He arranged for newcomers to get published in The New Yorker quicker than the magazine’s traditional arduous acceptance rituals allowed. “If I had to wait for new cartoonists to assimilate all the rules and produce perfect cartoons before they could get into the magazine, I would be waiting a very long time,” he says in his memoirs. “And time wasn’t on my side.”

With Remnick’s collusion, Mankoff eased talented new cartoonists into the magazine a little before they were absolutely, unquestionably ready. “We were cutting new cartoonists some slack,” he explains, “—doing some affirmative action, giving them some reinforcements to get them hooked on cartooning the way I had been.”

Positive reinforcement might take a while. Recruit Matt Diffee waited eight months before his second cartoon was purchased. “When he was finally published again,” Mankoff says, “the improvement was obvious, both in the idea, which is not just a twist on a common cartoon cliches, and in the drawing, which also departs from traditional cartoon conventions by creating a fantasy scenario.” 

“What I absolutely take satisfaction in is that, as I leave as cartoon editor, I leave The New Yorker and my successor with a bumper crop of new and talented cartoonists who came in under my tenure,” Mankoff said on the phone to Cavna at the Washington Post’s Comic Riffs. “To name a few—Liana Fink, Emily Flake, Drew Dernavich, Paul Noth, Harry Bliss, Edward Steed,” Mankoff said, before wryly deciding to name more than a few: “Alex Gregory, David Sipress, Joe Dator, Zachary Kanin, Farley Katz, Pat Byrnes, Ben Schwartz, Tom Toro, Chris Weyant, Amy Hwang — well, you get the idea.”

Chicago-based New Yorker cartoonist Pat Byrnes expanded on Mankoff’s role during his interview with James Warren at poynter.org: “Bob Mankoff sees thousands of individual cartoons each week, but what he looks for are individual voices. And then he cultivates them, as he did mine. Mankoff gave me my big break, not simply by buying a cartoon, but by buying into me as a cartoonist.

“And it’s amazing he can do that for me,” Byrnes continued, “—and so many other cartoonists he has brought into the magazine. The number of cartoons he sees each week would numb anyone else’s sense of humor. But Bob has a sense for humor. He not only sees what is funny, but why it’s funny.”

And, yet, Byrnes went on, Mankoff seems to take it all quite seriously. “Some of it’s an act. He loves to wear the persona of the crusty New York cynic, but inside he’s still a gangly, insecure, smart aleck kid. That’s evident in his most famous cartoon, ‘No, Thursday’s out. How about never? Is never good for you?’ No surprise, the cartoon was autobiographical. He can be deadly serious and outrageously silly in the same breath.”

Ironically, the more cartoonists Mankoff brought into the magazine, the fewer are published regularly. With only 15-17 cartooning slots to be filled in each issue and a couple dozen new cartoonists—plus the roster Mankoff inherited—there are more than twice the number of cartoonists than there are places in the magazine for their cartoons. Still, a few, mostly standbys from Lorenz’s day, get in nearly every issue—Roz Chast, Barbara Smaller, Dave Sipress, Michael Maslin, Tom Chitty; of the newer cartoonists, Edward Steed and Drew Dernavich and, lately, Liam Francis Walsh.

With his interest in computers and the digital universe, Mankoff also contributed to growing The New Yorker’s Internet audience by shepherding the daily presence of cartoons on the magazine’s website. And in the print magazine, he developed the weekly cartoon caption contest from its once-a-year appearance in the short-lived annual Cartoon Issue of The New Yorker. His successor will inherit more than an airplane on auto-pilot. And she is both a throw-back and a iconoclast: like Geraghty, she’s not a cartoonist. And, that’s right, she’s the first female cartoon editor at The New Yorker.  

In the memo announcing Mankoff’s retirement, Remnick made the introductions: “The person I’ve chosen to be the next cartoon editor is Emma Allen, who has worked in recent years an editor of The Talk of the Town, a writer, and the driving force behind Daily Shouts, which is one of the best features of newyorker.com. Unlike Bob and Lee, she is not a cartoonist, but then neither was James Geraghty, who did the job before Lee. (Hell, William Shawn was not a writer, either, and he wasn’t too bad in the editing department. [Shawn was the second editor of The New Yorker, succeeding Harold Ross, the founding editor, in 1951.] ) Emma has a terrific eye for talent, knows the history of cartooning deeply, and is an immensely energetic and intelligent and sympathetic editor. She will work with Colin Stokes [associate cartoon editor] on selecting cartoons, running the caption contest, and creating a bigger digital footprint for cartoons. I am quite sure that we have only just begun to figure out new ways to explore and exploit digital technologies as a way to distribute your work to more and new readers. All of this is intended to stake out a healthy future for cartoons at The New Yorker.”

To which Mankoff had the final word (as he often does): “My greatest gratitude goes to the cartoonists. I know how much easier it is to pick a good cartoon than do one, much less the many thousands they have done and will continue to do. And, continue they will, with Emma Allen who now takes over this most iconic of all New Yorker features. I wish her and them the best of luck. And me, too—I’ve got to find that old cartoon pen of mine.”

Here at Hare Tonic, we’ll edge out Mankoff’s final word with some from one of the cartoonists he brought into the magazine, Pat Byrnes, who made an observation that poynter.org’s James Warren recorded:

“Oh,” said Warren, “a final thing noted by Byrnes that involved not Mankoff but Remnick and the art of leadership. It’s a little thing, but one that editors everywhere should note, especially those who increasingly rely on (and, in many cases, shaft) freelancers and other needy journalists.

“‘The important detail to cartoonists is the ‘2:32 p.m.’ part,’ Byrnes noted, referencing the time on the email Remnick sent to the magazine’s editorial staff. ‘Remnick’s email to the cartoonists arrived one minute earlier,’ Byrnes said. ‘I know that’s not much, but it speaks well for Remnick that he informed the cartoonists first.’”

Well, yes. But he didn’t pick a cartoonist to be the new editor. What does that say? With Playboy no longer an outlet for magazine cartooning, The New Yorker is the last magazine cartoon outpost in civilization. How well will Emma Allen serve the profession and the arts of cartooning? We’ll see.

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I Hope No One See Me In Here http://www.tcj.com/99682-2/ http://www.tcj.com/99682-2/#respond Mon, 27 Mar 2017 12:00:00 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99682 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, R.C. Harvey looks at Robert Mankoff’s tenure as the cartoon editor of the New Yorker, and his recent exit.

And what kind of cartoon editor was Mankoff? Not bad, over the long haul. In fact, very good, all things considered. And with Mankoff, there are a lot of things to consider. He was the fourth person to fill that function but the first to have the title “cartoon editor.” The first to act as cartoon editor was Rea Irvin, a cartoonist and artist who was at foundering editor Harold Ross’s elbow since the magazine started in February 1925. Irvin’s taste in art and in comedy established the basic aura of New Yorker cartoons—as well as the design of the magazine. Irvin quit his unofficial role when Ross died in 1951, but by then, Jim Geraghty (not a cartoonist himself) had joined the staff in 1939 and held the cartoon editing post until 1973 when Lorenz assumed the cartoon editorship (albeit still without that title; both Geraghty and Lorenz were called “art editor”; Irvin was called “art supervisor”).

At first, Mankoff concentrated on the Cartoon Bank. At The New Yorker, the process of submitting and selecting cartoons and a stable of cartoonists whose talents were proven meant that the cartoon operation could proceed with little guidance from Mankoff. But the Cartoon Bank was still in a start-up phase, and he spent comparatively more of his time as its “president” and chief operating officer.

Once the Cartoon Bank was running as smoothly as could be expected, Mankoff shifted more of his attention to the cartoon editorship. Critics carping from the sidelines had complained that the quality of the artwork and the sophistication of the humor in New Yorker cartoons wasn’t what it used to be. To which, Mankoff, writing his memoirs, responded: “It never was.”

Elsewhere:

I recommend this print by Carol Tyler honoring the late Jay Lynch, with proceeds to benefit the National Cartoonists Society Foundation, which provides financial assistance to cartoonists and their families in times of hardship. 

Here’sJulia Gfrörer speaking to Max Morris for the Bad at Sports podcast. 

More Clowes talking, more! The Guardian.

Ben Schwartz has more thoughts about KRAZY.

 

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Gifts for the General http://www.tcj.com/99649-2/ http://www.tcj.com/99649-2/#respond Fri, 24 Mar 2017 12:00:58 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99649 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site:

Frank comes back with his Riso journey, this time talking to Ryan Sands, publisher at Youth in Decline.

I really think it is interesting that riso and the “art book fairs” of Printed Matter have run concurrent – meaning we are seeing more “zine” people at comics shows and vice versa – can you speak to this loose crossover? I feel like your label sort of runs in that corridor…

Whenever there’s a tool that has lots of funky ways you can mess with it AND a fairly low cost to experiment and make mistakes, this sort of machine is good for folks that care about all the details of physical book production. I get super bored by books that are simply “risograph-themed” anthologies, but I love seeing “art book” folks use it in unexpected ways – like the thermography technique of Colour Code Printing to create elevated inks and push the envelope with the machine. That said – at its heart, the machine was intended to be a blue collar workhorse for schools and churches and offices to churn out hundreds of pages a minute for cheap, so I bristle a bit at the trend of high-end “risograph prints” in limited editions. I saw a gallery show in SF recently that had a 3-color risograph print for $40!!! Are you kidding me? That shit cost like $0.90 to print and you could make 1000 prints in an afternoon (including drying times!).

On a less cranky note, some of my favorite risograph books are actually not comics at all, but text-heavy magazines and journals. When I visited Motto in Berlin back in 2011, I saw a bunch of poetry zines and literary journals published on risograph – my favorite in this vein is the queer film journal Little Joe Magazine. Their embrace of a limited spot color palette feels vintage without being slavishly retro or lame. So nice.

Elsewhere:

-Tomorrow night the great Brian Chippendale is opening a show of his new paintings at one of my favorite galleries, Safe Gallery in Williamsburg. Go check it out. 

-TCJ-contributor Philip Nel discusses children’s books that address the ideas and realities of refugees. 

-The NY Times has a lengthy obituary of Skip Williamson.

-Tributes to the illustrator Jack Unruh.

-I always enjoy an interview with Daniel Clowes, and here he is talking Wilson.

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Risograph Workbook 4 http://www.tcj.com/risograph-workbook-4/ http://www.tcj.com/risograph-workbook-4/#respond Fri, 24 Mar 2017 12:00:25 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99578 Continue reading ]]> Ryan Sands, Publisher at Youth in Decline, joins me for Part 4 of my ongoing series where I speak to some of the pioneers of risograph printing.

I started this conversation with Mickey Z, then spoke to Jesjit Gill of Colour Code Printing, and caught up with Ryan Cecil Smith – check out the rest of the Risograph Workbooks: Risograph Workbook 1: Mickey ZRisograph Workbook 2: Jesjit Gill/Colour Code Printing; Risograph Workbook 3: Ryan Cecil Smith.

Now Ryan Sands steps up to the plate!

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Santoro: Ryan, have you heard this legend which has it that Mickey Z was one of the first makers on the comics scene in the States to use a risograph printer? Ryan Cecil Smith mentioned to me that he got interested in using risograph because he heard she and YOU were using them – can you talk about your “riso origin story”?

Sands: The legend is true! When folks ask me what got me into risograph printing, the answer is the photo below:

Comics risograph printed by genius Mickey Z

When I was still just a baby zinemaker, I got to know Mickey Zacchilli and her work online. We became friends talking about horror manga via my old blog Same Hat, and Mickey did some cool drawings for my “mixtape” zine Electric Ant (which includes Mickey and Michael DeForge‘s first-ever collaboration, the end papers for Issue #2). I was totally enamored with Mickey’s comics, and how she used limited spot colors to give the zines a lot of life. Before her risograph comics, I hadn’t seen people use their own handwriting as a specific layer of color, which makes a zine have this cool depth while still looking like a hand-made DIY object.

Titus Andronicus drawing by Mickey Z for the Electric Ant zine (2008)

People ask me about risograph a lot, and I get hesitant to characterize it as a look or aesthetic unto itself. The machine is just a means to production, and how artists mess with it and use it is a reflection of their priorities and style – Mickey uses the riso to maintain spontaneity and a handmade griminess to the comics, while someone like John Pham applies his printmaking emphasis and precision to create these really sharp and dense books full of color and gradients. Then there are folks like Ryan Cecil Smith, and Colour Code Printing‘s Jesjit Gill, who want to push the color blending and technique as far as possible, recreating (and sometimes surpassing) the sharpness of CMYK offset printing. A risograph machine is just tool that allows creators & publishers to speed up & expand on an existing approach.

Tell me about what machines you’ve used or are currently using?

I currently use a RP 3105 at my space, which doubles as a little print shop and as a warehouse/shipping hub for Youth in Decline. The machine I use now was purchased by my friend David Murray (Telegraph Gallery/SEIBEI) via Craigslist – I believe from a printer in Sacramento who didn’t want it and basically gave it away if he’d pick the thing up. We co-parented that machine when David lived and had an office here in the Bay Area, and I basically learned how to risograph over the course of printing Thickness #1 on it.

Jonny Negron’s cover artwork (2011)

From Julia Gfrörer’s story “The Chasm” in Thickness #3 (2012)

At some point along the way, I also purchased a risograph GR model from a church near Oakland, which had been using it to print their weekly bulletins for years. They were getting rid of it to get an all-in-one laserjet printer, and sold the machine to me for like $150. So, for a short while I actually had two risographs, but I gave my GR Series machine to another local SF bookmaker, Luca Antonucci at Colpa Press. It was getting expensive to acquire additional color drums (and keep supplies stocked) for two different models, so I doubled-down on the RP 3105. It’s such a sturdy workhorse, and can print up to 11″ x 17″. I have 8 or 9 different colors for it, I believe.

Did you go to school for printmaking? I assume you were interested in printmaking before you discovered risograph printing.

Oh no, I have no formal art training whatsoever. I think of myself as a publisher (or zinemaker) first & foremost, and use a few different printers and methods to make books. Youth in Decline uses a few local offset printers, a bindery, as well as my own machine – it all depends on what a specific artist wants to do for their project.

That said, I did screenprinting in high school and college – mostly to make t-shirts – and learned a lot about stencils and color trapping via trial & error. The basic principles of screenprinting (layering inks, overlays, etc) all completely apply to the risograph. In university I worked as co-editor of my school newspaper’s A&E section, and that was where I learned a few layout programs like Quark and InDesign, and how to plan out book signatures and layers.

I really think it is interesting that riso and the “art book fairs” of Printed Matter have run concurrent – meaning we are seeing more “zine” people at comics shows and vice versa – can you speak to this loose crossover? I feel like your label sort of runs in that corridor…

Whenever there’s a tool that has lots of funky ways you can mess with it AND a fairly low cost to experiment and make mistakes, this sort of machine is good for folks that care about all the details of physical book production. I get super bored by books that are simply “risograph-themed” anthologies, but I love seeing “art book” folks use it in unexpected ways – like the thermography technique of Colour Code Printing to create elevated inks and push the envelope with the machine. That said – at its heart, the machine was intended to be a blue collar workhorse for schools and churches and offices to churn out hundreds of pages a minute for cheap, so I bristle a bit at the trend of high-end “risograph prints” in limited editions. I saw a gallery show in SF recently that had a 3-color risograph print for $40!!! Are you kidding me? That shit cost like $0.90 to print and you could make 1000 prints in an afternoon (including drying times!).

On a less cranky note, some of my favorite risograph books are actually not comics at all, but text-heavy magazines and journals. When I visited Motto in Berlin back in 2011, I saw a bunch of poetry zines and literary journals published on risograph – my favorite in this vein is the queer film journal Little Joe Magazine. Their embrace of a limited spot color palette feels vintage without being slavishly retro or lame. So nice.

Left: Assembling Wacky Wacko Magazine #1 (2015) and Right: the press release follow-up letters for Dream Tube, printed on leftover wedding invite card stock (2016)!

Personally, I am fascinated with how risograph printing has changed making color comics. Before risograph was around the choices were expensive offset or expensive print on demand. I remember you stapling and folding zines the night before festivals like many of us but I think for you it has been different because of the riso – can you speak to the excitement surrounding the options now, as opposed to “just xerox or offset”?

You’re right, my background is as a zinemaker and I’ve stapled thousands of zines by hand over the years. I have usually taken the approach that I want to learn something myself and do it by hand before I pay someone else to do it – whether collating and stapling, trimming, or perfect binding square books. A risograph is not some magical machine that takes the work out of DIY, but it does totally change the economics of self-publishing at a slightly bigger scale than purely DIY zines (say, doing 200-1500 copies of a book). For a run of that size, the cost of printing a 2-color book on Risograph is cheaper than xeroxing a B&W zine, and than printing offset in the US.

When I started Youth in Decline, I originally maybe conceptualized it as a risograph publisher, and all our books would have a signature “risograph” look. But, by the 2nd book I wanted to do – a collection of full-color paintings by Hellen Jo – I felt limited by that definition. Now I think of the risograph as one of many tools in the toolbox, and let the content decide the production approach (offset, xerox, risograph, digital-only) and not the other way around.

From Frontier #5: Sam Alden (2014)

Some of my favorite things we’ve done have included a little of each medium. For both Frontier #5: Sam Alden and Love Songs For Monsters (a Science Fiction chapbook by Anthony Ha), we did the interiors on risograph, the covers offset in full-color, and then worked with a local bindery to bring the entire thing together and trim/bind the books. There’s something really nice and elevated about a book mixing those techniques together with decent finishing that looks “pro” but still very personal. I also try to use the machine for anything that would cost money to do elsewhere – we’ve printed our shipping labels, our manila envelopes, our subscriber mailings, and even our wedding invites(!) on that damn thing.

Can you talk about how you choose to take on projects – how has it changed over the years?

We’ve put out a few dozen books by now, but Youth in Decline is still very much a small publishing house with limited bandwidth. My mission is basically focused on two things: Developing and fostering new talent with thoughtful editorial & production attention to their work, and helping most-established and international creators indulge in an interesting or experimental book or digital project. Youth in Decline is still (for now) my side project after work, so I try to work with good people on projects that have something unique and urgent to say (both aesthetically and narratively).

My wife Jane and I were lucky enough to welcome a daughter at the start of 2017, so we’re taking a bit of a hiatus as we figure out this parenting thing. Juggling everything is a challenge, but we have some really cool plans in store for our Frontier series and other projects in the 2nd half of 2017 and in 2018.

==========================================

See the latest publications from Youth an Decline HERE. Be sure to check out Mickey Z’s new RAV 2nd Collection and the Frontier series.

Mickey Z – RAV #2

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Maybe next Spring? http://www.tcj.com/maybe-next-spring/ http://www.tcj.com/maybe-next-spring/#respond Thu, 23 Mar 2017 12:00:44 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99635 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site:

Frank Young interviews the Tumblr phenom Samplerman.

Do you consider yourself a cartoonist? What led you to creating your “Samplerman” persona?

I am a 46-year-old cartoonist. I’ve been writing and drawing comics for more than 25 years, without any popular success, I have to admit—perhaps because of a lack of self-confidence, not harassing publishers enough, taking no answer for a “no thanks,” and no longer posting my pages (lots of improvised and unfinished stories) on my obscure blogs.

I have always chosen the DIY way to make my fanzines and minicomics: it is affordable and it mostly requires commitment and time. Due to lack of feedback, I’ve felt discouraged from time to time. Sometimes I can’t believe that I’ve kept doing this for so long instead of finding a real job…

I’ve been obsessed with comics all my life. I would have liked to be a comic strip cartoonist, but that career doesn’t exist in France. The conventional formats here are the hardcover, annual 44-page book or the black and white, 300-page one-shot graphic novel. I’ve always been attracted to arts of all kinds: poetry, radio, cinema, animation, the avant-garde, experimentation and the borders of communication. I’m also drawn to abstraction, distortion, destruction, surrealism, sociology and politics. Most of my past comics are kind of absurd and meaningless (nonsensical, to say it nicely). At the end of the day, whatever I am doing, the path from a panel to another has become for me the ordinary way to explore this alternate reality (comics) where I feel at home. So yes, I think am a cartoonist; a weird cartoonist.

Hence the question could be: “Are the Samplerman pieces strictly comics?” I would answer: “Depends on how restrictive your definition of comics is.” If the reader considers certain of my “stories” just as a sequence of panels without any logical connection, I am fine with that, but my works are at least a failed attempt at doing a story from a cartoonist’s neurasthenic brain.

 Elsewhere:

Our friends Sean T. Collins and Julia Gfrörer talk about their upcoming anthology, Mirror Mirror II

And Michel Dooley remembers Jay Lynch and Skip Williamson with an image-heavy post.

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An Interview with Yvan Guillo/Samplerman http://www.tcj.com/yvan-guillosamplerman-interview-by-frank-m-young/ http://www.tcj.com/yvan-guillosamplerman-interview-by-frank-m-young/#comments Thu, 23 Mar 2017 12:00:39 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99309 Continue reading ]]>
A quiet revolution in comics—as relates to its connection with fine art and design—is staged on the tumblr of Yvan Guillo, under the pen name of Samplerman. Using castaway imagery from comics—much of it found at free websites like the Digital Comics Museum, and Comic Book Plus—Guillo creates breathtaking, playful kaleidoscopic images that have, until recently, been confined to the web.

With the self-publication of Street Fights Comics (2016, and one of my picks for the best comics work of that year.) and a new, self-titled 44-page art book of Samplerman images published by Los Angeles’ Secret Headquarters, the time seemed right to talk with Yvan Guillo about his delightful, dizzying and thought-provoking comics art and how it’s created. This interview was conducted via e-mail in January and February of 2016. Guillo has chosen a selection of some of his Samplerman favorites to illustrate this piece.

Do you consider yourself a cartoonist? What led you to creating your “Samplerman” persona?

I am a 46-year-old cartoonist. I’ve been writing and drawing comics for more than 25 years, without any popular success, I have to admit—perhaps because of a lack of self-confidence, not harassing publishers enough, taking no answer for a “no thanks,” and no longer posting my pages (lots of improvised and unfinished stories) on my obscure blogs.

I have always chosen the DIY way to make my fanzines and minicomics: it is affordable and it mostly requires commitment and time. Due to lack of feedback, I’ve felt discouraged from time to time. Sometimes I can’t believe that I’ve kept doing this for so long instead of finding a real job…

I’ve been obsessed with comics all my life. I would have liked to be a comic strip cartoonist, but that career doesn’t exist in France. The conventional formats here are the hardcover, annual 44-page book or the black and white, 300-page one-shot graphic novel. I’ve always been attracted to arts of all kinds: poetry, radio, cinema, animation, the avant-garde, experimentation and the borders of communication. I’m also drawn to abstraction, distortion, destruction, surrealism, sociology and politics. Most of my past comics are kind of absurd and meaningless (nonsensical, to say it nicely). At the end of the day, whatever I am doing, the path from a panel to another has become for me the ordinary way to explore this alternate reality (comics) where I feel at home. So yes, I think am a cartoonist; a weird cartoonist.

Hence the question could be: “Are the Samplerman pieces strictly comics?” I would answer: “Depends on how restrictive your definition of comics is.” If the reader considers certain of my “stories” just as a sequence of panels without any logical connection, I am fine with that, but my works are at least a failed attempt at doing a story from a cartoonist’s neurasthenic brain.

At the start, “Samplerman” was a side project. The first attempts sat on my hard drive for months before I posted them. These were very simple panels, in low resolution, that displayed samples of web-downloaded scans of “Superman” or “Fantastic Four” that I had duplicated and symmetrically joined: the most basic manipulation. The abstract visuals resulting from this treatment didn’t corrupt the seduction of the original drawings and colors, which were visually familiar though modified, like comics seen through a distorted mirror.

I thought that it would be fun to make a parody of a comics using this method—a 36-page kaleidoscopic comic—and then I would go back to my old hand-drawn comics. But when I posted these few pages on my tumblr la Zone de Non-Droit/the No-Go Zone, which I share with my friend, the cartoonist Léo Quiévreux, the feedback for these posts was quite strong. Soon a publisher asked me if I had plans to make a book. I decided to dig deeper.

The pseudonym (more than a persona in my opinion) is the term that I was putting as a hashtag (#samplerman project) each time I posted these things. I am doing various kinds of comics which attract different tastes and interests, so the pseudonym is a simple way to not confuse people. It has its issues, though. I haven’t figured out how to display my different universes on the home page of my website, and I still wonder if I should give up the part of my work that remains unpopular.

The “Samplerman” title refers to how my work has conscious musical connotation (by the way, a Spanish DJ used this same pseudonym before me). There is a fabric and pattern association as well, and it’s kind of a stupid superhero name: Superman with a patchwork outfit. The name came to me in one piece in my brain without too much thinking. And the people who contacted me about this work by referring to this word adopted it too.

How do you approach the anonymous vintage comic books that you use to achieve your collages? Have you taken advantage of the enormous body of digital scans available on Comic Book Plus, Digital Comics Library, etc.?

I approach these old comics with gluttony; and, yes, I visit these websites all the time. I am not a specialist of American comics. I didn’t read them as a kid, even though they were widely available here. I am constantly discovering and learning about the artists of these past eras of comics history. As my knowledge slowly and randomly increases on the subject, I no longer consider these comics anonymous. I am constantly amazed by the designs, the styles, the variety and the energy displayed there.

I want to download everything, but there are so many comics available that I wonder if I will be able to get everything. I find something interesting and usable in almost every comic I get from those websites. Without these incredible resources, I wouldn’t have been able to fill my pages with so many diverse graphic elements, and I wouldn’t have produced as much work.

I am like a kid surrounded by an infinite stack of comics, A kid who doesn’t really read, and can’t follow the stories, but immerses himself into the universes found in their pages. With gluttony and delight!

I didn’t know about these sites at the beginning, when I wondered if I’d be able to produce more Samplerman pieces… I encountered them at the right time. I also appreciate their principles of scanning only public domain material. It prevents me from using copyrighted works, and the risk of getting myself into legal trouble, which I can’t afford.

My only regret: Sometimes the definition and the quality of the scans aren’t good enough to be used. It’s too pixelated, or too compressed, but this remains a bottomless source for my pieces. I’ve started to buy some physical copies of old comics on eBay, so I can scan the pages myself and get the best quality, but I’m not rich. I have to make choices.

In “Street Fights Comics,” you obviously sought out images for the purposes of building a free-form comics narrative. In your regular “Samplerman” images, which you post on tumblr, you create stand-alone, poster-like images. Which approach is most artistically rewarding to you?

It seems like I make either right-brain or left-brain comics. Both are rewarding in their own way. I have a formal, pictorial approach which requires spontaneity and embraces randomness, open-mindedness and non-verbal communication. I put myself in a sort of trance and start working with no pre-existing plan. I start by choosing a template for a page (a six panel or a more unconventional template). This is my only constraint. Then I compose my page. This is a bi-dimensional visual reality. This kind of work is made for viewing rather than reading—it’s the side of Samplerman that no longer belongs to comics.

And there is the more intellectual approach, which involves more humor, sense/nonsense and collection/repetition. The idea of collecting the pages into a book was in my thoughts almost from the start. And, yes, Street Fights Comics belongs to this.

It requires preparatory work—collecting and gathering elements connected to a theme and a vague idea of a story. The balloons, dialogue and transitional signs (“meanwhile,” “after that,” “then” etc.) play a more significant role for this kind of comics. They are more linear and kind of realistic or surrealistic; the human figure is more present and more consistent, and there is a ground and a sky. But they are contaminated by the other approach. As long as I forbid myself to write my own text, they will fail to tell consistent, normal stories.

I work like I’m playing a game, with constraints, but I like to change the rules to avoid boredom, or becoming a living algorithm. I follow the paths that appear one after another. Sometimes I have a stupid idea like: “What if I made a hole in a page, or a panel, to see what happens?” I am interested in Brian Eno’s “Oblique Strategy” cards, which I consider an exciting tool that helps push the boundaries of the creative process.

A sense of absurd humor informs all your work. Do you find some of this humor inherent in the 1940s and ’50s stories you dissect for your work?

The comics of all eras contain involuntary and voluntary humor. Reading them 70 years after their first publication inevitably leads the reader to find it at times laughable, stupid and ridiculous. The serious comics (romance, horror and war comics) contains a humor that comes from a propaganda-oriented way of telling stories. Commercial and advertising comics are especially funny and ridiculous. This is seriousness from a period when comics weren’t taken seriously including by their creators.

Some texts are pure genius. I have in mind the panel from by Fletcher Hanks where a bunch of evil characters say: “We must end democracy and civilization forever!” I find this funny and terrifying at the same time.  I also take my material from comics which are still actually funny: the newspaper comics from the 1920s and ‘30s, Herbie, Plastic Man, Abbott and Costello etc. My use of the source material isn’t always in contradiction with their initial meaning.

I’m always looking for a strangeness, a silliness in the juxtaposition of dialogue balloons I extract from these extraneous stories. What makes some of my panels funny is the misplacement, the décalage. It can be unexpectedly realistic: in real life we experience people talking without really listening to each other. The practice of collage prevents me from going where I wanted to go in the first place. With collage, you have to play with what you have and be open to unexpected results—a different meaning and many possible interpretations and reactions from the readers, including laughs.

Patterns and textures are a big part of your stand-alone images. You create these patterns from insignificant images within comics panels—hats, hands, shoes, even lettering. Do you see patterns emerge from the original comics sources as you examine them? Or do you isolate these elements and play around with them as you design a new page?

My method is flexible. As someone who make collages and draws comics, I might have the ability to notice, as I flip through the scanned pages, which element will produce a better effect and be magnified by duplication and the kaleidoscopic treatment.

I’m drawn to the primary bright colors mixed with halftone printing dots, overlapping and crossed lines—the organic melting of the ink with the paper. Some panels are likely to express the joy the artist had when he drew a specific element. It’s often half-abstract, half-figurative: women’s hair, cigarette smoke, sea waves, clouds and in animals like snakes, elephants or octopi. They were opportunities for the artist to escape the story and give some freedom to their hand and pencil.

I enjoy mannerism in art. I enjoy the variety of styles: some artist show their obsession for details (Basil Wolverton) and some are more gestural. The rounded “toon” style has its own very interesting energy.

I usually come across a comic where the components triggers a compelling desire to make a collage. I select, cut out and place the elements on my composition. At the same time, I try to keep them in an organized image bank. This process slows me down a little. Sometimes I don’t file the elements, which I regret later, because their large number makes it difficult to remember which comic I found them in. Sometimes I revisit my image bank to reuse the elements. The same element can be used on its own or transformed into a pattern. I also have a “pattern” section in my image bank.

I would imagine you use Adobe Photoshop, or a similar computer program, to assemble your images. Does your creative process occur within those programs? Or do you make sketches or do other pre-planning before each image is assembled? Some “Samplerman” images seem extremely composed, while others have a feeling of spontaneity. The blending of these two opposites is a compelling factor in your work.

The creative moment occurs mostly when I face the computer screen. I only make sketches when the computer is not on—when I take a walk with a paper and pen in my pocket, or when I have an idea related to structure or geometry for potential compositions. I am always thinking about some elementary geometrical manipulations, combined and applied to the samples. Squares, triangles and circles are everywhere. And I fear this is where my work could start being boring and repetitive—I could apply this to anything.

I try to keep a sense of movement in my work. Sometimes I feel the urge to break my composition, to destabilize the eye-scan and push it toward the next panel. I tend to use symmetry a lot when I start putting together a background and the elements. It’s somewhat satisfying but at the same time it paralyzes any feeling of movement. I usually end up distorting the symmetry I rely on. I try to give it a shake and extend the life of these unearthed objects in any way, like a mad scientist.

Your use of color adds a great deal to the Samplerman images. Do you ever alter the color of the material you source from old comics? Or do you use the found images as the basis for your color choices?

I make only the most minimal changes to the color. I may change the colors from parts of my samples for special effects, but I try to stay within the four-color spectrum of the letterpress printing technique that dominated comic books until the 1990s. It’s possible that I’ll break this rule in the future, and take the license to make more extreme adjustments.

I correct only the black and white balance. The scans are so different, with various dominant colors from one to another. I like the yellowish tone of the aging, low-quality paper. I want the general tone to remain moderate—not too saturated but bright. When my pages are selected to be printed, I convert them to the four-color process and inspect each channel. The colors have a great impact on my choices and they trigger my creativity. When I compose a panel, I often look for a particular color in whatever element I pick.

I assume you are aware of the work of 1950s comics collagist Jess Collins, whose “Tricky Cad” pieces are brilliant dissections of “Dick Tracy.” Though your work goes into far different places, has Collins been an influence on your Samplerman pieces? Are there other collagists who have inspired your work?

I must confess that I only heard about Jess after I started my project. I immediately looked for his pieces when someone compared my work to his. From the examples I’ve seen, there are definitely some similarities.

Other artists came to my attention after I began my collages, so I can’t say they influenced me, but I’m curious to see what they have been doing by using the same approach and material. Öyvind Fahlström (1928-1976) is another artist I recently discovered. Some of his pieces remind me of mine, except he made them four decades ago.

Other artists who have made a strong impression on me, not so long before doing this kind of collage myself, include Ray Yoshida (1930-2009), who systematically collected samples from comics during the 1960s; his pieces are very nicely composed. His work brought to me the idea of making collections of items that appear again and again from one comic to another. Some comics have influenced me for my collages even though they weren’t collage: I have seen a lot of character removal approaches in art, leaving background spaces empty.

I was quite impressed by the “Garfield Minus Garfield” project. This kind of intrusion into someone else’s work inspired me towards other kinds of manipulations in comics. In a similar vein, the French cartoonist Jochen Gerner has revisited Herge’s 1931 Tintin en Amérique album by highlighting, on a black background, its many symbols and signals in a half-comics/half-artbook untitled TNT en Amérique. I remember a story by Art Spiegelman (1976’s “The Malpractice Suite”) in which he drew extensions to panels of old comic strips.

Artists reading other artists’ work creatively have attracted my interest for a long time. My best friends are not cartoonists, but they have influenced me too. They make digital and “real” collages (with glue and scissors): Laetitia Brochier, Frédox and Jean Kristau. Their work is published mostly by Le Dernier Cri in Marseille. My friend the cartoonist/illustrator Léo Quievreux creates drawings that look like collages. He is influenced by William Burroughs’ cut ups and has managed to make visually similar experiments. Pakito Bolino, who runs Le dernier Cri, makes secret collages (in the sense that he rarely displays them) that blend manga, E.C. horror comic, old horror movies and pornographic photos, which he uses as a basis for his drawings.

I’m also fascinated with the meme phenomena on the Internet: the sprawling, unleashed creativity of an anonymous community of unconnected artists. And I must pay tribute to the collages by Max Ernst, based on 19th-century engraved illustrations. I’ve loved them for a long time. Twenty years ago, I went to a Kurt Schwitters retrospective, and I consider his work important, if not directly influential on me. A few more names: Chumy Chùmez for his book Una Biografìa, Roman Cieslevicz, John Heartfield and the Dada movement.

NOTE: A new printing of Street Fights Comics should be ready when this interview is published. The first run of 50 copies sold out quickly. With its republication and the Secret Headquarters art book, plus Miscomocs Comics, an existing compilation published by Le Dernier Cri, the “Samplerman” side of Yvan Guillo may be on the verge of wider global recognition.

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Taking All the Lox http://www.tcj.com/taking-all-the-lox/ http://www.tcj.com/taking-all-the-lox/#respond Wed, 22 Mar 2017 12:00:34 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99539 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site we have Gary Groth’s lengthy 1985 interview with Bernie Wrightson. It’s a great read.

GROTH: Again, about the Frankenstein book, what I’m interested in finding out is what is the intent of the illustrations? Are you intent upon adding another dimension to the novel?

WRIGHTSON: Not really. I started this in 1976. All this time, and all this work, all this effort and aggravation and what not have gone into this simply to embellish this old book. Which, when I started out, I thought was a terrific book. Now, six years have gone by, and I don’t think it’s such a terrific book, anymore. Okay, we’ve got some good drawings to go in there, some of them are spectacular. And for anybody who does like the book, this is going to be a real good edition of it. My personal feelings have nothing to do with that at all. You should just buy the book because you want it, and enjoy it, and don’t worry about how I feel. When I did the drawings, I was really involved with the book and my intentions were really good when I did them. They had to be or my drawings wouldn’t be that good. I really believe that an artist can’t communicate to a viewer unless he really pours himself into it and tries to do that. And I tried to do it with that, and they work. So, I’m not apologizing for that, I’m not apologizing for anything, I’m just saying that I’m glad I’m still not doing it, because my attitude has changed completely.

GROTH: It sounds like you think a little less of the book now than when you first started.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, I guess I do.

GROTH: Who are some of your favorite authors?

WRIGHTSON: Stephen King.

GROTH: Poe, I guess? Or isn’t he one of your favorites?

WRIGHTSON: He was real good to start out with, but I don’t think I’d ever read him again. Wells, H.G. Wells, in limited doses.

GROTH: Lovecraft?

WRIGHTSON: Nah. He was always a little too ponderous. I have a hard time with the language. There are a few things that he’s done that I’ve really enjoyed, but for the most part I can’t take him.

GROTH: What do you like about King?

WRIGHTSON: What do I like about King? Damn near everything. The guy has an uncanny knack for creating characters who are people that you know, just really solid people. A storyteller par excellence. Absolutely riveting from the first page. A terrific command of the language and colloquialism and slang and bullshit and whatever. And on top of that, he can scare the fucking pants off me.

GROTH: That’s what friends tell me.

WRIGHTSON: Have you ever read him?

GROTH: No, I never have. And friends have told me that they’ve actually gotten frightened reading his books. And I can’t imagine that.

WRIGHTSON: If you’ve never experienced that, I envy you. Because I wish I could re-experience that feeling for the first time.

GROTH: I keep intending to read The Shining, but I’ve not gotten around to it.

WRIGHTSON: I think you ought to start out with Salem’s Lot.

WHITE: How about Firestarter?

WRIGHTSON: Firestarter and Salem’s Lot, I think, are the two best stories he’s written.

 

Elsewhere:

Robert Silvers, the truly legendary editor of the New York Review of Books, passed away on Monday. The New Yorker has a series of tributes.

Peter Bagge talks about his new graphic biography of Zora Neale Hurston over at CBR.

Comics culture: The Paris Review looks at bodybuilding and the old sand-kicking ads.

 

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The Berni Wrightson Interview http://www.tcj.com/the-berni-wrightson-interview/ http://www.tcj.com/the-berni-wrightson-interview/#respond Wed, 22 Mar 2017 12:00:18 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99589 Continue reading ]]>

Circa 1996.

From The Comics Journal #76 (October 1982)

Berni Wrightson, famous for his graphic portraits of rotting zombies, slavering werewolves, maniacal axe-murderers, and drooling witches (as well as the odd dinosaur or sword-wielding barbarian), is possibly the most popular artist to emerge from comics’ short-lived artistic renaissance of the late 1960s; one might say that he, along with his contemporaries Neal Adams, Jim Steranko, Michael Kaluta, and Barry Windsor-Smith, were the motivating forces behind that peak period. It wasn’t just what Wrightson drew that made his work so striking, but the attitudes behind his work.

After an apprenticeship as an editorial cartoonist for the Baltimore Sun (and a fanzine illustrator for such publications as Squa Tront, Amra, Heritage, and others too numerous to mention), Wrightson graduated to the professional comics, drawing two issues of Nightmaster for DC’s Showcase. From there, he went on to revitalize DC’s mystery titles, bringing to them his zest for all things gruesome and ghoulish; during this period, his style became increasingly lush and sophisticated.

While working in color comics, Wrightson also worked briefly for Web of Horror, a black-and-white Creepy imitation that lasted three issues and also featured the work of Jeff Jones, Michael Kaluta, and Ralph Reese. Wrightson worked briefly for Marvel: the bulk of his comics work, however, was done for DC in the early to mid-’70s, and it was there that he scored his greatest popular success in comics with Swamp Thing. The feature was popular enough to spawn a feature film (albeit a poor one); many believe Swamp Thing’s success was due (with all respect to Len Wein) to Wrightson’s superb artwork.

After winning the Academy of Comic Book Arts’ award as Best Artist for two years running, Wrightson left color comics (for good, he thought) to pursue other projects, including work for Warren’s line of black-and-white horror magazines. He produced some classic work for Warren: many impressive single page illustrations, adaptations of stories by Poe and Lovecraft, and original collaborations with Jeff Jones and Bruce Jones. Among Wrightson’s other projects during this time were a series of full color horror and fantasy paintings executed in a variety of media, issued as posters by Christopher Enterprises, and an eight-painting portfolio based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe.

It was late in 1975 that Wrightson began work on what might prove to be the most distinguished and important project in his oeuvre; as of this writing, he is nearing completion of his profusely illustrated edition of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein, and it has been suggested that Wrightson’s monster will stand as the definitive graphic interpretation.

In 1978 Wrightson’s work appeared alongside that of his friends Kaluta, Jones, and Windsor-Smith in The Studio Book, an artistic chronicle of the two years that the four artists shared a studio on Manhattan’s West Side. A Look Back, a voluminous collection of Wrightson’s work from every phase of his career, was published in 1979 by Christopher Zavisa.

Wrightson’s latest project, a full-color comics adaptation of Stephen King’s screenplay for George Romero’s feature film, Creepshow, has just been released.

Recently, Executive Editor Gary Groth (assisted by Peppy White) visited the smiling master of the macabre, who remained cheerful throughout the following conversation, despite a broken leg.

—STEVE RINGGENBERG

This interview was conducted in May 1982. It was transcribed by Tom Mason and copy edited by Gary Groth.

 

GARY GROTH: [Referring to Harlan Ellison’s introduction to Berni Wrightson: A Look Back] Were you intimately familiar with Katsushika Hiroshige’s work?

BERNI WRIGHTSON: Who? [Laughter.] No. I was a little dismayed when I read Harlan’s intro, because he seemed to go off on that and boy, he just lost me in that first paragraph. I thought, “Gee, I don’t know these guys.” I’m real happy for Harlan that he’s familiar with them and all and I’m glad he likes their work but I just never heard of them before. And I thank him for bringing it to my attention, and I have since looked into it and the guy is quite good and I can see all the correlations and everything but at the time, I just said, “what the hell is he talking about?”

GROTH: Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, why don’t we talk about Creepshow, the newest thing you’re doing—the adaptation of the Romero/King film collaboration. Could you talk about what it is, how you got involved in it, how big it is, who you’re doing it for, and what format it’s going to be in?

WRIGHTSON: Oh boy.

GROTH: All at once.

WRIGHTSON: Well, NAL (New American Library) is doing it. They’ve never done a comic book before but they are King’s publisher right now. So they of course want to do it; it’s going to be a trade paperback along the lines of the Alien comic book, whatever that sold for. Sixty-four pages I think, full color. So whatever those things are going for now, that’s what it’ll be. It’s kind of a comic book adaptation of the movie and I say kind of because the movie is kind of an adaptation of a comic book.

GROTH: EC’s?

WRIGHTSON: No, it’s a very EC-like, horror comic called Creepshow. Basically it starts out with a kid reading a comic book in his bedroom and his father comes in, takes it away from him and says, “You readin’ this shit?” and throws it out in the garbage and the wind blows the comic book open to the first page (of course a storm is coming up), and the camera comes down on the splash page real tight; the drawing, which is done by Jack Kamen, becomes a freeze frame, and the first story starts. And the whole story runs through and the last shot becomes a freeze-frame, turns into a comic picture, the camera pulls back, and you see a full page and this awful skeletal hand reaches in and turns the page, and so on. And it just goes on like this for five stories. At the end of the last story it pulls back, freeze-frame, comic book, it fades out and comes back in to some garbage men coming down the street and they find this comic book laying in the garbage can. The guy picks it up, looks at it and says, “What is that?” “That’s a comic book.” “Oh great, say, I love this stuff” and he’s thumbing through it and he says, “Oh, look at these ads. Look at this. Venus Fly Trap. Look at this, X-Ray glasses. You want some of those? And how about that, A voodoo doll?” “I don’t know, somebody already got that,” and he holds it up and there’s the thing clipped out. The camera cuts to the kid’s house and his father’s sitting in the kitchen and he’s going like this [rubbing neck] and his wife’s at the sink saying, “What’s the matter honey?” “I don’t know, I slept on my neck funny or something, just kind of got a pain back there.” Cuts upstairs, kid’s got this voodoo doll and he’s sticking in the neck of it and it freeze-frames, becomes a comic book drawing, the camera pulls back and it’s the cover of the next issue. End of movie. So it’s just this really neat kind of well worked out thing.

GROTH: And King wrote the movie?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. Did the whole screenplay, everything. A couple of the stories in it are adaptations of things he had published elsewhere. The longest segment is “The Crate” and runs about 30, 40 minutes, and appeared in Cavalier, Gallery, or something, and another one, the segment that King is in, which is a short one, like 15 or 16 minutes, was originally published under the title of “Weeds,” in some men’s magazine, I think. Anyhow, I didn’t get to see the whole movie because I was down there in October of last year and at that time the movie should have been done, but they were running overtime.

GROTH: Down where?

WRIGHTSON: Pittsburgh. And they were just finishing up the segment that Stephen King is in. And I was there. I was only supposed to be there for a couple of days to talk with King and Romero and try and get correlated with them about what we wanted to do with the comic book. But I ended up being there a week because I had to talk to the producer and he was out of the country. Just a lot of missed connections and everything. So, I spent a lot of time hanging around the studio, watching the movie being made and looking at footage that had already been shot. It’s not going to be Jaws, and it’s not going to be Superman, but it’s going to be a lot of fun. I got a real good feeling about it. Romero’s got a real respect for trash, if you know what I mean. The kind of trashiness that’s associated with horror comics. Or like B horror movies and stuff like that. The man has a genuine love and the movie has this kind of trashy aspect about it which is totally intentional, and it’s something that a slicker director would have missed entirely. It’s like the Vault of Horror and Tales of the Crypt movies. But those things are really kind of lame, just all the slickness, and pretentiousness and really, “Well, I know it’s coming from a comic book, but this is the movies, my good man.”

GROTH: That brings to mind Kubrick’s [The] Shining.

WRIGHTSON: Right.

GROTH: Which was just ponderous.

WRIGHTSON: Right. Right. Because King has a very trashy aspect to him and about this stuff. He’s not afraid to get his hands dirty in telling a horror story. Whereas that didn’t come across in Kubrick’s movie at all. Kubrick’s movie was very prissy somehow. Even though the performances were terrific, and you can’t fault the production and all it’s just, “Christ, who wrote the cretinous script” and really changed the thing around. Creepshow is just the other end of the scale entirely. It’s like every drive-in movie there ever was rolled into one. Just real great spirit of fun about it.

GROTH: Good trash.

WRIGHTSON: Good, good trash. Yeah. Exactly.

GROTH: How many pages is your adaptation!

WRIGHTSON: Sixty-two.

GROTH: And it’s in full color?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. My adaptation doesn’t have the bridge thing with the little kid, because we figured as far as the movie goes, that’s reality and what we want to present to the public is the same thing the kid is holding in the movie, which is just a comic book.

GROTH: And the coloring is full process?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. The coloring is done by my wife, as is the lettering. I just couldn’t handle the whole thing myself, and besides, I prefer that she do it because after drawing that many pages I just don’t want to know from it any more.

GROTH: You don’t want to look at it any more.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. Just take it away from me, please. [Laughter.]

GROTH: What was it like getting back into comics after staying away for a few years?

WRIGHTSON: A little stiff at first. But I was surprised. I got back into it very easily, and I think the material had a lot to do with it. I was just working with good stuff.

GROTH: Did King write the comics adaptation, or did you adapt it yourself?

WRIGHTSON: No, he offered to, and I told him I would prefer just to take the screenplay, which is like this thick [indicate 5 inches], this massive tome of a screenplay, something like 3-4,000 scenes. And I just took that and re-adapted it myself to comics. I did a lot of editing and deleting, because, Christ, the way he writes, I just didn’t want to lose a word of it. But it was just too much to put into 11 pages a lot of times, because his dialogue is just so rich.

GROTH: Have you read some of his other books? Are you familiar with his work generally?

WRIGHTSON: Oh, I’ve read everything he’s ever written.

GROTH: Really?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, I’m a big fan of his. And that helped too. I’ve never felt this good about a project this big all the way through. It’s always been the case where I was real excited to begin with, and then halfway through it starts to run out and towards the last quarter, I could give a shit. And it really falls down.

GROTH: Which is what happened to Swamp Thing?

WRIGHTSON: Oh, yeah. It’s like 90 percent of my work you can look at and the last quarter of it falls flat. I just really run out of steam. And Creepshow doesn’t do that.

GROTH: I guess we’ll get into this more later, but to do comics and to do illustration must take an entirely different frame of mind. You really have to change your approach.

WRIGHTSON: It does. Yeah.

GROTH: Could you talk a little about that? Breaking things down into small panels as opposed to having a major illustration.

WRIGHTSON: It’s kind of difficult to talk about, really.

GROTH: Do you have to simplify your drawing for comics?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, which is something I didn’t realize until just recently. You just can’t go on putting all that work in there. Like when I brought out the first Frankenstein portfolio and had these things selling at conventions a couple of kids, came up and said “Boy, I really wish you were doing comics again” and I felt a little miffed because I had these illustrations and I said, “What do you mean doing comics again?” “Oh, I could see you doing comics because you do a whole comic book and every panel would look like that” and he pointed to one of these Frankenstein things and I said, “You’re out of your Goddamn mind. There’s no way I would put that kind of work into it any more.” Not that I ever did in the first place. You just can’t do it. I don’t know what percentage applies to comics … but a good deal of comics rely on spontaneity in the way it’s done and the spontaneity is communicated to the reader in a way. It seems to me that a comic book is enjoyed spontaneously in direct ratio to how spontaneously it is produced. And I’m not saying that “quick comics is good comics,” because you can work a long time on a comic book and still be spontaneous, but it does reach a point of overwork. I love Steranko’s work, and always have. Especially his comic stuff. But, too many times, I think he really overworks it and just cerebralizes it a little too much and, I don’t know about the rest of his audience, but he loses me when that starts to happen. And I can’t think of any specific instances because I haven’t seen his stuff in quite a while. But I remember that happening to me pretty often. Like once a job, at least.

PEPPY WHITE: His Outland adaptation was sort of like that.

WRIGHTSON: I never saw enough of Outland because I didn’t get Heavy Metal regularly enough to follow it, so all I could see of Outland was an isolated episode here and there. So I couldn’t really say how it worked all strung together, but I kind of got that feeling from it. Although that might be a prejudice now that’s kind of built in. I kind of expect it from Steranko. But I hate to single him out because I really like his work, but he’s the only example I can think of right now of really overwork … well, Neal [Adams] does it too. Neal at his worst. Neal at his best can be the best fucking comic-book guy in the business. The Superman-Muhammad Ali thing is just a classic and I still take that thing out and read it, it’s still enjoyable. And that’s Neal at his best. But you can look back and see where a lot of that stuff came from which was just Neal at his worst, well, not at his worst, but being experimental and all. And a lot of the stuff just didn’t make it.

GROTH: What do you think of Krigstein and his work for EC with all that over-elaborating and so on?

WRIGHTSON: I’ll tell you I’m probably least excited by Krigstein of any of the EC guys, including Kamen. You talk to anybody, he’s the guy that everybody is least excited about. I’m more excited about Kamen than Krigstein. But then, you have to understand. I’m always going to be more of an illustrator than a storyteller. And I look at the drawing and I don’t really like Krigstein’s drawing. And if I don’t like the drawing I don’t read the story. And if you don’t read the story you can’t comment on the storytelling. And I do read the Krigstein stories, but I’m really turned off by the drawing.

Panels from Krigstein’s “Dinosaur.”

GROTH: I tended to think you would be. You’re one of the few people who can be an illustrator and comic artist with equal facility. I don’t know if you consider that to be true, but it seems true to me.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, there aren’t a lot of us around. I don’t know who else I can think of … Kaluta, Jeff [Jones]. Although I really wouldn’t call Jeff an illustrator, and I don’t think he’s really done enough comics to qualify as a comics artist. He likes to dabble and play around with the medium, but he’s certainly not an illustrator and I think he’d be upset if I called him one.

WHITE: What does he consider himself to be?

WRIGHTSON: An artist. And I think that’s about as much as you can nail it down with him. I think he doesn’t mind being called a painter but there’s a lot more to him than that.

GROTH: One of the major criticisms about most of the EC artists was that they were illustrators and not comic book artists. People like Williamson, Frazetta, and so on.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, but is that much of a criticism? I don’t really consider it anything like a put-down. What the hell is wrong with good draftsmanship, good drawing? And as far as storytelling, outside of Krigstein, who, from what I understand, was just hanging on by a toenail there because of what he did to Feldstein’s stories, you couldn’t do much in the way of storytelling. Krigstein blocked that stuff out and it was all very straightforward, cookie-cutter breakdowns, never varied from the standard format, which I always thought was one of the great strong points of EC, was that terrifically overpowering format they had. Speaking more in line with the horror books it seems like any artist of a lesser caliber than they had would not have been able to survive the format, the format was that tight and that restrictive that you needed somebody who could really draw well and draw straight. Even Graham Ingels was considered a straight artist.

GROTH: Yeah, that’s because the format was so strict. I guess what we’re getting into now, what comics are developing into is a more organic process where the artist is the writer or the artist and writer work so closely together they almost become one.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. That’s good and bad. There aren’t too many artists around who work well as their own writers, myself included. Sometimes it clicks, most of the time, no. Never really have been. There have been people like Eisner, Johnny Craig …

GROTH: Kurtzman.

WRIGHTSON: Kurtzman … Woody [Wallace Wood], to some extent.

GROTH: Have you seen Miller’s work?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. Yeah. I like what I’ve seen. I think he could spend a little more time on his drawing. Not too much though, he’s got it down. Personally, his drawing doesn’t turn me off to the point where I don’t read the stories. So I read the stories and it’s like … Christ, his strong point really is storytelling. I mean, aside from plotting, characterization, and everything else it’s just this cinematic, well let’s just get on with it.

GROTH: I would think the reason the drawing doesn’t bother you so much is because the narrative is so powerful.

WRIGHTSON: That might be, but I really don’t think there’s all that much wrong with the drawing. Or maybe I’ve just gotten used to that Marvel house style, but that’s something I think everybody’s gotten used to, as far as super heroes go anyway. Kirby set the pattern for that 20 years ago and, hell, we’ve all settled into it very comfortably, thank you.

GROTH: Are you a big fan of Kirby’s and that whole school?

WRIGHTSON: No, never have been.

GROTH: Do you like his work, or are you just indifferent to it?

WRIGHTSON: Not especially. My own peculiar tastes. I liked Kirby’s stuff in the horror books before he started doing superhero stuff. Although I was a carryover into the superhero stuff when he did it. Like the early Fantastic Four. The first 3 or 4 years of that were just tremendous, and Ditko’s Spider-Man and all that stuff. But superheroes I’m pretty much out of.

Panel from Kirby’s “The Scorn of the Faceless People.”

GROTH: You never were into them?

WRIGHTSON: Not especially, no.

GROTH: Well, let me get back to the beginning here. I read your book, Wrightson: A Look Back, and one thing I noticed was at the very beginning you said you were taught in Catholic schools and I quote you as saying, “It was awful.” How much do you think that had to do with your subsequent passion for horror?

WRIGHTSON: A hell of a lot, I’m sure. I mean, I’m not scared of being struck down by God any more [laughter], and I’m not scared that the Holy Mafia’s going to come after me. But I think the whole idea of that kind of parochial education is pretty twisted in a kind of medieval way. Especially for somebody who is slightly sensitive like I was, and like a lot of other kids were too. It really has deep effects. And it affects just everybody else deeply too, although a lot of people just muddle through life and never really notice it. So they send their kids to Catholic school and it just continues on and on and on.

GROTH: I went to seven years of parochial school.

WRIGHTSON: Oh yeah? Is this early grade school?

GROTH: From 1st grade to 7th. Very oppressive. Hated it.

WRIGHTSON: Well, especially from where we’re from. That was in Virginia, I presume. GROTH: Yeah.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. And Maryland’s not too far off. And that part of the country is really … I hate to be prejudiced again and make sweeping statements and all … but it seems like the further South you go the more backward you get in a lot of ways. I’m speaking from experience, and my own experience having grown up in Baltimore and knowing people that have grown up in Virginia and the Carolinas and everything and Jeff [Jones], my God, who grew up in Georgia, and it’s … I’m at a complete loss for words …

GROTH: How long did you go to parochial school?

WRIGHTSON: I went for the limit. Twelve years.

GROTH: No wonder you’ve turned out this way.

WRIGHTSON: Oh, it got even worse in high school.

GROTH: Yeah?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. Cause in high school you could get punched by a priest. The nuns … there was a limit to what the nuns could do.

GROTH: I got punched by nuns. [Laughter.]

WRIGHTSON: Well, yeah, but they were not as physically strong as a full grown man. Nuns were mostly little old ladies. Once in a while you’d get a young one, like an ex-basketball player or something who could really swing.

GROTH: An ex-boxer. [Laughter.]

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, in high school a lot of the priests there were ex-boxers and they still did it like for exercise, recreation.

GROTH: Practice.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, they’d spar. When it came time for a little corporal discipline, Jesus, these guys were whap, whap, whap. I mean, you can’t use the old deadly weapons thing on a priest.

WHITE: It seems like a contradiction, too. Priests slapping around little children.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. Well at the time I don’t know how … They were the only ones around who could still get away with it. We had lay teachers in the same school with the priests because there weren’t enough priests to staff it, and at the time the lay teachers in parochial school could slap you around too.

GROTH: My experience was that the lay teachers were just as bad. There was really a sadistic streak …

WRIGHTSON: Oh, boy, we had some, let me tell you, we had a guy who wasn’t content to make you write “I will be a good boy” 50 times, this guy would do things like make you take off your jacket, roll up your sleeve, and hang your arm out the window in the middle of January for the whole class. He had a broken brick that he used for bookends and, this is going to sound like a sadistic fantasy but it actually happened, he put the thing down with the jagged ends up, and when some kid in the class was talking out of turn or something, he’d make him kneel on it, make him put his arms out like this and start piling books on the guy’s hands. And make him stand there like that for the whole class. And the guy’s up there trembling, y’know, and the books are starting to fall off and the guy would go and put the books back on. And the guy is whimpering up there, crying, tears, and all but wetting his pants, y’know. I was riveted between the spectacle of this poor fellow being crucified and watching the teacher really getting his rocks off in a strange way.

GROTH: That really is medieval.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, and it was really … I could give you a lot of really overt examples of all this kind of nastiness.

WHITE: You ever do any stories of nuns with axes in their hands?

GROTH: You mean axes in their heads. [Laughter.]

WRIGHTSON: No. No.

GROTH: Do you see a lot of your work as a kind of purging? Or do you really think of it consciously?

WRIGHTSON: No. Sometimes if I get depressed or confused I’ll start to think along those lines but usually not. Usually I’m having too much fun with it.

GROTH: It’s probably not wise to psychoanalyze yourself and your work.

WRIGHTSON: No, I have a real fear of that. I’ve got a feeling that maybe the reason I’m doing what I’m doing as well as I’m doing it is because I got bent very badly somewhere back there and if I went to a doctor and got myself straightened out I would lose just my whole motivation for working. It’s like, “Well, shit, thanks, Doc, I just don’t feel like doing this any more. I’m going to sell shoes now. Thanks.”

GROTH: Yeah, because you really do have an obsession with horror and really ghoulish aspects of life that has not diminished in the least over the years, as far as I can tell …

WRIGHTSON: I’ve occasionally tried to clean house in my own psyche and try to suppress it and get on to something else. Come along and do something like Captain Sternn and kind of get sidetracked and all. But, Jesus, it always comes back full force. I’m working on a bunch of stories right now for no particular publisher, just playing around with ideas that are probably some of the most horrendous comic book stories, comic book horror stories that have ever been done.

GROTH: Are you writing them too?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, oh yeah. I mean, these things are …

GROTH: Beyond the pale?

WRIGHTSON: Well, these things are made for reading on the toilet.

GROTH: Yeah?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. I’m determined to write some horror stories that will scare the shit out of you.

GROTH: Are you at all worried about the conservative bent of the country, the Moral Majority, and book burnings and things like that, with regard to what you just talked about, the horror stories?

WRIGHTSON: Yes and no. Sometimes I think that the majority, not the Moral Majority, but the majority of the country has got so much better sense they’re not going to let anything like this happen. It’s like this block of people, fine, they’re going to live their own lives and they’re going to complain from time to time, and what it’s going to come down to is that if they don’t like a particular book, they aren’t going to buy it, and if they don’t like a particular TV show, they’re going to change the channel, and if they’re not going to like a particular movie, they won’t go see it. And that’s all that’s going to come of it. Other times I get real paranoid. And I think that this is just the groundswell, and it’s just going to grow until it takes over the whole country like some kind of awful rotten cancer. Just invade everything.

GROTH: It really is frightening because it’s based upon infringing upon certain freedoms.

WRIGHTSON: Well, that’s it. I mean, I’m a confirmed abortionist, and have no patience with right-to-lifers because they want to tell somebody what they can and cannot do with their own body. I’m sure the majority of the Moral Majority are very honest, hardworking …

GROTH: Wrongheaded.

WRIGHTSON: Well, not really wrongheaded. I mean, they believe in what they want to believe in very strongly and life works for them and all. Don’t impose it on me, because what works for you isn’t going to work for me and I am every bit as good as you are as a person. And we will meet in heaven, if there is such a place, and don’t tell me I have to do everything you have to do to get to heaven because that’s all bullshit.

GROTH: Are you a particularly religious person?

WRIGHTSON: No, not at all. Not in the standard, academic sense. I don’t practice, don’t go to church, don’t go to confession. Couldn’t even tell you if I believe in God, because I … okay I guess I do believe in God, but what is God? I don’t believe that he’s this big guy in a robe and white beard. And I don’t believe that he’s any kind of person, he’s just some force completely beyond our understanding. There’s gotta be something out there running the show. I mean, there’s gotta be something behind all this. And in that respect, okay, and as far as life after death, who knows. If there is a thing like heaven, like I learned in school with the golden streets and the gates and the harps and angel wings and like that, I’m going to go there. I’m not going to go to hell just because I’m not going to church. It’s like, I got an arrangement with the guy upstairs and I’m leading a good life, not doing anything bad, not hurting anybody.

GROTH: I’ve never known you to be a particularly political person. Are you?

WRIGHTSON: No. I’m probably the most apolitical person I know. Drives my poor wife crazy sometimes.

GROTH: Is she very political?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. I couldn’t tell you how, or in what direction because I just have no interest at all. I figure there are so many people out there that are so much more hip to that than I am. For me, I’ve got better things to do, I’ve got horror stories to tell.

GROTH: Does your wife ever jump on you for that?

WRIGHTSON: Every once in a while, she gets a little despondent about it, but it doesn’t last very long. I think my saving grace is that I can only take it seriously up to a point, and then it all becomes a big joke. She refuses to see horror movies with me, though.

GROTH: Really?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. Unless they’re really top-of-the-line horror movies. She’s agreed to see Cat People although I don’t know if I can go now with a broken leg. I like to see trashy stuff. I like to go see like Friday the 13th, and He Knows You’re Naked, and all this stuff. [Laughter.] And she just refuses to see that. We went to a triple feature at the drive-in last summer. It was The Fog, Escape From New York, and Scanners, and they ran Scanners last. Escape From New York was fun, we loved that. The Fog was okay. It was an all right ghost story, nothing special. And then Scanners, oh God! After sitting there and getting media burn for about four hours, they give you this thing and in the first 10 minutes a guy’s head explodes and that was a bit much for me to take, and my poor wife was just cringing under the seat.

GROTH: There’s something really disturbing about that movie.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, yeah. Can’t put my finger on it. I mean, I’ve seen other movies with a lot more splatter than that, but that one had some undercurrent of sadism which really kind of …

GROTH: I thought there was really something ugly and distasteful about it but I really couldn’t put my finger on it.

WRIGHTSON: It seemed to kind of revel in its own excesses or something.

GROTH: Okay, moving right along. You said that a TV personality actually taught you basic drawing. Guy by the name of Jon Gnagy.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, Jon Gnagy.

GROTH: Could we just talk for a minute about that?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, I’m surprised you never heard of him.

GROTH: No, I never did. And of course, I lived down there.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, I know he was in Virginia because Kaluta used to watch him too when he was a kid.

GROTH: My whole life could have changed if I watched this thing.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, yeah! [Laughter.] The guy was on something like 9:30 in the morning every Saturday.

GROTH: I was probably watching Romper Room.

WRIGHTSON: Or Rocky and Bullwinkle or something. Although I think that was before their time. But it was fascinating. I mean, to this day I’ll stop on the boardwalk or in a shopping mall if there’s somebody there doing portraits or caricatures or whatever. It’s like, “Okay, I can do it myself, but I just love to watch other people draw.” I’ll be delighted for hours over at Jeff’s place while he’s working. He’s used to me hanging over his shoulder. And he can just paint away, and we’ll sit there and talk and drink beer and all and just watching him work even somebody who isn’t a goddamn genius like Jones, just some guy picking up pennies doing caricatures. I love to see that thing moving around on paper. And I think that was the basic fascination with this guy on TV. But of course I was young enough and had the energy and really wanted to give it a try and started dragging out the paper. He just had these four basic shapes, the circle, the cone, the cylinder, and the cube, and he would just show you that anything you wanted to draw was made up of these components. Which is oversimplified, but it’s like basic construction for just about anything. And that’s where it came from.

GROTH: And you took the Famous Artists Course for one year?

WRIGHTSON: Oh yeah. Never finished. Haven’t met anybody who ever finished it. [Laughter.] But everybody speaks very highly of it. It’s a real good course. I think the problem is it’s a little too good and the students who take it have learned so much in the first year, they go out looking for an art job and they get it and once you get a job you don’t have time to mess around with it any more.

GROTH: After the first year, how did you learn, or elaborate on learning anatomy, composition, all the basics?

WRIGHTSON: That was just flying completely by the seat of my pants.

GROTH: Did you study certain other artists, or was it just practice, practice, practice?

WRIGHTSON: Oh, yeah, I think any other artist I ever looked at I studied to one extent or another, and learned something from them. I guess some small part of it was natural aptitude. But I can’t really say how much because I’ve been influenced by so many people, living and dead, that it’s hard to say where anything comes from. It’s all this big hodgepodge. And it’s hopefully something original by the time I’m done with it. But you can kind of narrow it down to a handful of people like most of the EC guys, and Frazetta the paperback cover artist as opposed to Frazetta the comic-book artist, because I never really saw much of his comic book work.

GROTH: What about the early illustrators like Franklin Booth?

WRIGHTSON: I didn’t get into that until later. My introduction to them was mostly through these later guys. I found out about J.C. Cole, Leyendecker, and people like that through Reed Crandall and his work, found out about Hal Foster and George Bridgeman through Frazetta, and Alex Raymond through Williamson and it’s like everyone of them you can kind of trace back, go back to the guys that influenced them.

GROTH: Do you like Foster?

WRIGHTSON: Oh, yeah, yeah. I like Foster a whole lot better than Raymond, actually. I used to get into intense arguments with Al [Williamson] about that.

GROTH: He preferred Raymond?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah.

GROTH: I suppose Raymond is a more romantic artist.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, Raymond is very romantic.

GROTH: Foster certainly seems a superior illustrator.

WRIGHTSON: Foster has this timeless quality about his drawing. And I don’t mean the fact that he’s dealing with Prince Valiant, which happens in the past, but it’s the actual drawing itself, you could almost call it absolute drawing. There’s seems to be very little stylization in Foster’s work. For the life of me I can’t think of anybody who can draw that well academically, that straightforwardly, with none of the flash that Raymond had. And I think that’s the key. It’s like Raymond maybe has a little too much flash. I don’t know. I can never get too much beyond this point talking about it because it starts getting very confusing and contradictory. I just prefer Foster over Raymond.

GROTH: You had a stint at the Baltimore Sun.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah.

GROTH: What did you do there, and how old were you?

WRIGHTSON: Oh, let’s see. I was about 18 or 19 I guess. And I worked there for nine months as an editorial cartoonist, which sounds better than it was. I just worked in a big room with a bunch of other artists and most of the work was photo retouching and paste-up, layout type work and not a lot of cartooning or illustrating. I would have preferred to do a lot more and give the goddamned airbrushing to somebody else. You know, I just couldn’t handle that fucking machine. [Laughter.]

GROTH: Still?

WRIGHTSON: Still. Keep me away from machinery. I just can’t do it. I was driving the car a few weeks ago and the windshield wiper went out of whack and I just panicked, because it was a thunderstorm, and I said, “Oh God, what’s going on with this thing?” I didn’t know what the hell to do with it. I had to drive from here to Poughkeepsie, which is about 50 miles, in the middle of a rainstorm, and after the rain stopped the road dirt was being splashed up and I had to get out of the car every five miles and wipe the thing off. I finally got to where I was going to go and Jim Starlin was there and I told him, “Oh Christ, the goddamned car is just no good,” and he said, “What do you mean?” “Oh, the windshield wiper doesn’t work, and I don’t know what I’m going to do, and it’s going to cost me a million dollars, Jesus, this is so goddamn depressing.” He goes out and looks at it, goes into his car and gets a socket wrench and tightens a nut. That’s it, y’know. It wouldn’t occur to me to do that because I’d be afraid of screwing it up. It’s like I’m not going to touch it because I’m going to make a mess, and it’s just going to cost me more in the long run. When I was living in Florida, the refrigerator started to make a funny noise. I was going to call the repairman in. A friend of mine came over and said “Well, let’s pull it out from the wall and look.” And I said, “What do you know about refrigerators? Let’s call the guy in and find out what’s making this noise.” “Look, what’s it going to hurt? We’ll take the thing off and look at it.” So we took off the front vent thing and looked down there. A register receipt from a shopping bag had slipped down and gotten stuck in the thing so the fan blade was hitting against it. [Laughter.]

WHITE: So he just took it out?

WRIGHTSON: Right. Just pulled it out, and the refrigerator was fine. No more noise. I would have called the repairman, who would come in, cost me $75 just to walk through the door, just to pull the goddamn thing out. Terrific. Me and machines, no way.

WHITE: There’s something mystical about machinery.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. I believe that machinery has a life of its own.

GROTH: Berni Wrightson meets the Industrial Revolution.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, yeah. I tell you, machinery to me means a pen point as opposed to a brush. I mean, it’s made of metal and if it’s flexible, that means it’s got moving parts, you know, and I don’t want to mess around with it. [Laughter.]

GROTH: Did you learn anything on your Baltimore Sun job or was it’ really drudge work?

One of Wrightson’s pieces for the Baltimore Sun.

WRIGHTSON: I learned a bit, yeah. I learned a lot of the realities of working as an artist

GROTH: Grim realities …

WRIGHTSON: Well, yeah. I learned that working as an artist was a little like a shit sandwich. [Laughter.] The more bread you have, the less shit you have to eat. [Laughter.]

GROTH: From the Sun you went to work for DC, you moved to New York. And that was a pretty big move for a 19 year old, 20 year old, or however old you were.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. It was a little weird. To this day, I keep feeling that there were other agencies afoot. I look back on it and it just somehow seems to me that a lot of that decision was completely out of my hands. I came up here with a few samples, and showed them around … I won’t bore you with the whole story, because it’s in the book anyhow. But it was just kind of word of mouth, people say, “Oh, I saw this guy Wrightson, blah, blah, blah” … on and on and on and next thing I know I get a call from Kaluta, who got a call from Williamson who got a call from Dick Giordano who said, “where’s this Wrightson kid?” And I said, “Oh really?” So I moved to New York.

GROTH: When you first moved up, you talked to Giordano?

WRIGHTSON: I think so, yeah. Or I talked to Williamson, who talked to Giordano. I talked to Williamson first, and I don’t remember if I saw Giordano at the same time, or if Williamson kind of passed it on to him or what.

GROTH: When you moved up, did you move right in with Kaluta?

WRIGHTSON: Well, no. That’s a little bit backwards. I moved up first and then he came up about four months later.

GROTH: Because around that time, the thing I remember was all you guys living in one big place.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. I was there alone for a couple of weeks. And then some friends from Baltimore moved in and then Mike [Kaluta] came in December or January, I think. But that was on 77th Street. You never came up until we were on 79th Street.

GROTH: Probably, yeah.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. And at that point, there were about 10 of us living there full time and at least another 20 coming and going constantly.

GROTH: Wait a minute. Ten of you? Not in one apartment?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, not usually there all at the same time, but, there were ten of us circulating through. We’d all kind of make an appearance at least once a month.

GROTH: Who other than Mike and Jeff Jones?

WRIGHTSON: Well, Jeff had a separate apartment. Jeff started out on the first floor and moved up to the 6th. We were on the 8th floor. And mainly it was myself, Kaluta, Al Weiss, always two or three girls, somebody’s girlfriend living there, and then a whole bunch of people I don’t think you’d know. They weren’t really in comics.

GROTH: Was it a kind of artistic commune?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, sometimes it sure seemed like that. Mostly it was just like …

GROTH: Chaos, lunacy.

WHITE: A big party.

WRIGHTSON: Well, no, it wasn’t really a party, it was, “Christ, where’s the money going to come from so we can get something to eat?” Although that was never really a big problem. I initiated those intro pages in the DC mystery books as a device to make money without having to do a hell of a lot of work because at the time it was just … you know, comics were still fun, but doing an eight or 10 page story took up a lot of time and I really wanted to fuck off because

everyone else was doing it.

GROTH: Everyone else was fucking off?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. And I felt left out if I had to stay home and work, you know. So, I wanted to go over to the park and play frisbee, and do all this stuff. And I decided to come up with some way to make some money without really busting my ass. So … covers were fun, but there’s a limit to how many covers you can do. But the intro pages … boy, I could do three or four of those things, just kind of do a backlog between House of Secrets and House of Mystery, and I don’t know what I was getting paid at the time, maybe $50 a page which doesn’t sound like much but the standard of living was a bit lower then too. And I could do one in a night, sometimes two. So that was fun. And just knock the sucker out, get the money and I could just breeze through for another week or two. Not have to work.

GROTH: Yeah, I remember you saying once that you could do one illustration a week and live comfortably, something like that. And I also had the impression that you would prefer to do that rather than busting your chops and making a lot of money and having a big bank account. You would almost prefer doing less work and living comfortably than …

WRIGHTSON: Ideally, the thing is to do a little bit of work and make a lot of money. But it doesn’t always work out that way. But, yeah, being comfortable is just fine. I don’t mind being comfortable. As far as being rich …

GROTH: You don’t mind being rich either?

WRIGHTSON: You gotta pay the fucking tax man. And that’s where it all goes. So what’s the sense in having a whole lot of money anyway unless you’re going to spend it on something. I mean, I’m going to make out real good this year financially, but I got a lot of things to spend it on. I’m building this studio, I might buy another car strictly for business. Okay, fine. I’m not going to be left with a whole lot of money at the end of the year. And most of what I spend is completely deductible. I don’t really want $100,000 a year. I don’t know what I’d do with it. Until I find out that I could do something with the money, that I could hang on to it, I don’t want to make it.

GROTH: Are you very materialistic? Do you buy a lot of things?

WRIGHTSON: I love to buy things, yeah. And I like to buy things that I can somehow deduct, if possible, and still have my nice possessions. Yeah, I’m real materialistic.

GROTH: Since you’re an artist, the world is your business.

WRIGHTSON: Oh yeah. I love having interesting things around to look at. You know, a lot of it, you look around and think, “Oh boy, what junk.” It’s like one man’s junk is another man’s treasure and a lot of this stuff I find real appealing.

GROTH: Your first big job for DC was Nightmaster. That was the first character. But you did, I think, a mystery story or … they put you on something before that, and there was a little dispute there because you didn’t get the first Nightmaster.

Panel from Nightmaster.

WRIGHTSON: They put me on Nightmaster first actually, and I did the first third of the book, I think seven pages. Carmine Infantino was underwhelmed. I mean he was just not impressed. “Who is this kid I’ve been hearing so much about?” He very, very diplomatically said, “Well, we don’t think you’re quite ready for a full book. We’re going to put you on mystery fillers to get you started.” I was kind of disappointed, but not really, because the Nightmaster stuff wasn’t what I wanted to do anyway. I thought it was going to be like Conan, real barbarian stuff. Of course, National in its own kind of wimp way wasn’t prepared to pull out all the stops and do a barbarian comic, so it had to be this kind of wimpy, wishy-washy fantasy thing with a rock singer. Real trendy and groovy and … Yeah. Just didn’t want to do that. I wanted to do horror stories anyway, so that’s what they put me on and I was happy to be doing it. Then by the time, I guess three months later, when the second issue of Nightmaster came around. I took that on out of injured pride. Just to kind of prove to myself that I could do it. So I did it. Big deal. Really set the world on fire, you know. [Laughter.]

GROTH: You only did about two of them, right?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. Believe me, that was enough. I’d really had it. After that I didn’t want to know from a fucking full comic book ever again.

GROTH: You were slow.

WRIGHTSON: Not just slow. But the material was just not your Stephen King, you know. WHITE: Slow and bored.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah.

GROTH: Was Nightmaster the one that Kaluta and Jones helped ink?

WRIGHTSON: Everybody helped on that. Jesus. I think Steve Hickman helped on that. Steve Harper. God I forget. Anybody who happened to be passing by helped on that, because I’m real slow, real slow. I’d never been up against a deadline like that before.

GROTH: After that, did you go to work for Marvel?

WRIGHTSON: I forget, really, at what point I went to Marvel. But it was mainly over a dispute about coloring my own work at National. They refused to let me do it there, and I said, “Oh, okay, I’ll go to Marvel.”

GROTH: Hmm. That’s sort of ironic, considering what happened at Marvel.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. And as it turns out, I did a couple of jobs for Marvel, colored them, and decided that I didn’t really like coloring anyway, and went back to National because I just kind of liked it better over there.

GROTH: You mentioned in the book a lot of glad-handing at Marvel, a lot of pep talks …

WRIGHTSON: At the time, yeah. It’s not like that anymore, it’s a lot more business-like and loose and actually a lot nicer, freer atmosphere than National now. But at the time, I don’t know how much of it was me, because I was a little bit of a tight-ass at the time, but I just felt there was a lot of glad-handing, phoniness. Never really warmed up to Stan [Lee] a whole lot. I always thought of Stan as this kind of grinning idiot PR man that didn’t write real good comics, let’s face it. But he really knew how to sell them. And really knew how to sell himself. I’ve since changed my mind. Stan is a lot more than that. But at the time I kind of had a chip on my shoulder.

GROTH: Can you talk about the King Kull job, which more or less sent you back to DC?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, not really much to talk about. I colored it. Or rather I didn’t color it. The whole idea was trying to figure out some way to show sound draining from a soundless medium. So, I thought, of course, the lettering and the balloons become smaller. The balloons stay the same size and the lettering becomes smaller until finally you have people speaking in blank balloons. That’s good, but that’s not quite enough. Well, what if it’s a really brightly colored thing to begin with. Lots of primaries: reds, yellows, and blues, and all. And this all starts washing out, until it finally becomes black and white, as the color drains out, the color bleaches out of the thing. I thought, “Yeah, that’s interesting. I like that.” So that’s what I did. That’s the way I handled this thing. And I drew it that way in black-and-white with that in mind so that the pages where the sound was all gone were going to be in black-and-white, and there’d be lots of zip-a-tone and screens and stuff so there’d be some interest, some grays and stuff, but no actual color. Then I got the silver prints to color, colored those up, spent a lot of time on it. Really sweated on it, y’know. And paid close attention to the color chart and getting this thing just right. Turned it in, everybody said, “Oh, lovely! Terrific! We love it!” I didn’t hear anything about it until the job comes out and when it comes out … in the first place, they obviously hadn’t printed from the originals. They had printed from low-grade photostats. So a lot of the line work, especially the zip-a-tone and the screens and stuff I had done fell out, was gone, completely. On top of that, they had gotten somebody to recolor it, so that all these pages, all this real careful orchestration where the color is bleaching out. If I’m going to put all that kind of work into it, and this is what happens, why bother? Of course, I got pissed off. I went in to Roy Thomas and Stan and raised hell: “What did you do this for? Didn’t you know what I was trying to do?” What I got out of that, was, “We’re doing color comics here.”

Panels from King Kull.

GROTH: Every panel has to have color in it.

WRIGHTSON: Right, right. Like the company is going to go under if they publish a comic book with one page of black-and-white.

GROTH: You probably don’t remember this, but I coincidentally happened to visit you in New York the day you got that comic …

WRIGHTSON: I don’t remember.”

GROTH: … and the thing that I remember most is that you were raving and ranting which struck me because …

WRIGHTSON: I can’t rave and rant like I used to.

GROTH: Is that right?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. [Laughter.]

GROTH: You never struck me as getting mad that much. I mean you always seemed to be sort of an easygoing guy.

WRIGHTSON: Oh, I save it up. When I get mad, I’m a real stinker. I go off on a hell of a toot when I get angry. But it takes a while. Sometimes I go for years without getting mad. But boy, when I get mad, watch out.

GROTH: I do remember you were really hot.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, yeah. Well, even at that, I don’t think I’d get quite that hot any more.

GROTH: Mellowing.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. I figure maybe I’ll live longer.

GROTH: Now at about this point in your career, you’re quoted as saying, “I’ve reached a point where I’ve outgrown comics.”

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, I’ve probably said a lot of dumb things like that. [Laughter.] I guess at the time, maybe I felt that I had. I realize now that I never did and probably never will. I think what happened at that time was, I’d been in the business long enough to see what had happened to a lot of the other guys. Most notably Woody [Wally Wood], who … Christ, Woody could have had the world at his feet at one point but didn’t do it. He just stayed in comics. One of the best, maybe the best comics man that ever lived. Even his comics stuff started getting stale after a while. He was just a very unhappy man, very disillusioned, very bitter. I mean for a long time, like the last 30 years of his life. And, boy, I didn’t want to be like that. And it’s not just Woody, I can talk about Woody like that, because he’s dead. But there are a lot of other guys around, now, alive, that aren’t terribly happy men, who are working in comics. They do good comics, and I can’t fault them on that. But they could do other things, and I get the feeling that they would like to do other things, but they’ve reached a point where they can’t. And I just reached a point back then where I thought to myself, “Do I want to be 40, 45 years old, and wake up in the morning and call Jim Warren and ask where my check is?” I thought, “Nah, nah, there’s more to it than this.” I just got to get out, see what’s going on in the real world. This is just becoming too much of an enclosed little microcosm, I just couldn’t handle it any more. So I had to get out. And I’ve done that periodically since then.

GROTH: There’s a certain tragedy in watching people do comics for 30 years by rote.

WRIGHTSON: Well, after a while it becomes a formula, a system. I’m real suspicious of stuff like that.

GROTH: What do you mean?

WRIGHTSON: For myself, when I was working in comics … well you can see it with the Swamp Thing series. The whole series, #1-9 were inked with a brush. And one of the reasons I got out of color comics was, you’ll notice that issue 10 was done with a pen, and there’s a big difference, stylistically. I had convinced myself that by the time I got to issue 9 that I had passed the point of being very good with a brush and it was … the question of quality I can’t really talk about. I can’t say that I had become too good or anything like that but what I can say is that inking with a brush had become too easy and I got real suspicious of that. I started seeing myself repeating little things with a brush and that frightened me. I started seeing this kind of business where it’s getting to the point where I can do this blindfolded. I was doing it without thinking. And that really bothered me. So I threw all my brushes out and started drawing with a pen. And this, of course triggered off a lot of other things. So the result was, I decided I had had it with color comics and quit that and I think at that point I went to Warren for a while, started doing stuff for him. A lot of pen work.

Panel from Swamp Thing.

GROTH: Let me ask you something directly related to that, getting tired of doing the same thing over and over again. Isn’t part of the involvement in comics being so involved in the narrative that it doesn’t seem like you’re repeating yourself? That the story so involves you emotionally or intellectually that you …

WRIGHTSON: Now I feel that way but at the time I didn’t because I felt fairly detached from the story end of it at that time. I was working with Len [Wein]. For the most part working with a writer will do that. And I felt it’s his job to write it and my job to draw it as well as I can so I got involved with the drawing, and was the mistake I was making about comics was this kind of separation. Like you’re the writer, and I’m the artist. And if we don’t communicate, that’s fine. We don’t have to. Which is bullshit. I don’t think you can be a good … I don’t think you can do comics well unless you’re a bit of both.

GROTH: Did you work with Len closer at the beginning of the series than at the end?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. Because that was the time of getting everything kind of nailed down. And after that, I didn’t have the time really to get involved with the writing aspect of it. Also, I was starting to lose interest real early on, starting with #6 … I think that was the “Clockwork” thing, wasn’t it?

WHITE: “The Clockwork Horror.”

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. I think that’s where it starts to show that my mind is beginning to wander a bit.

WHITE: But I think there are some incredibly detailed panels in there …

WRIGHTSON: It wasn’t easy. Boy, it wasn’t easy. I was not into that story at all. Len wanted to do that for #5 …  

GROTH: Well, detail doesn’t translate into passion …

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. Len wanted to do that for #5 and I was not ready for it. I mean he was real excited for this story, y’know, and he told me about it. “Oh, this is about clocks, and robots and stuff! Oh, it’s great!” “Yeah, yeah.” And at the last minute I backed out and I said, “Look, I can’t do it, okay? Let’s put it off until the next issue. I got this idea, we’ll do this witch thing in between. C’mon, let’s do it.” He didn’t want to do it, but I finally talked him into it. I think I said something like, “We’ll do the witch thing, or I’m going to quit right now.” [Laughter.]

GROTH: From what I can tell, you probably never worked faster than on Swamp Thing.

WRIGHTSON: That was real fast. I was averaging two pages a day of pencils. And maybe about a page and a half a day of inks.

GROTH: Not exactly John Buscema, but for you that’s …

WRIGHTSON: For me, that’s incredible. For me, that’s just super-speed.

GROTH: Well, you know in Europe of course they take one or two weeks to do a page. WRIGHTSON: Yeah.

GROTH: They turn out two albums a year.

WRIGHTSON: Sometimes I think it would be nice to have the luxury to do that. Other times I think … there’s a balance to be struck with doing comics. The time involved is a very delicate thing as far as I’m concerned. If you’re doing it too fast, you’re hacking. If you take too much time, you’re being too precious. And that kills it just as well as hacking does. But there’s a balance somewhere in between of just really being hot, knowing you’re hot and getting on with it. And being hot is not a consistent quality. It has its ups and downs and when you reach a down point you have to shift gears and really get on with it and say, “Okay, these two panels in between are a little bit clumsy. I could do better if I thought about it but I want to get on with it.” And you do it. Okay, every panel ain’t a classic. Big deal. It’s like you’ve got enough good stuff to let the so-so stuff … it’ll carry it.

GROTH: I guess the object is not to be so self-conscious about it.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah.

GROTH: Because Jack Davis for the EC’s worked like a madman. He would do stories in three days, whereas Wood would take a week. People like Williamson might take longer, but they all worked at the speed they were comfortable with, even though some were faster, some were slower.

WRIGHTSON: And the work was always high quality, too. Like Davis has my unending respect. The guy could do such good work so fast.

GROTH: He was extraordinary.

Panels from Davis’s “By the Fright of the Silvery Moon!”

WRIGHTSON: And there were other people. Johnny Craig, I understand was their slowest. I mean, he was every bit as good as Davis, but just not fast at it, so big deal.

GROTH: And of course Kurtzman took forever.

WRIGHTSON: But his stuff is always delightful.

GROTH: Let’s see, after Swamp Thing …  

WRIGHTSON: After Swamp Thing was Warren, wasn’t it?

GROTH: No. [Laughter.] Not if my notes are accurate. Purple Pictography. Is that accurate? With Bode.

WRIGHTSON: That came before Swamp Thing, actually.

GROTH: Did it?

WRIGHTSON: I’m pretty sure. Yes it did. Because I was still living in New York when I did that and Swamp Thing for the most part, I was doing upstate.

GROTH: All that means is that A Look Back isn’t in chronological order, exactly.

WRIGHTSON: Oh, well. I never noticed. But yeah, Purple Pictography came before Swamp Thing.

GROTH: And again with that, you lost interest toward the end.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. I hate to say for the same reason because it seems like I’m blaming the writer, which I’m not, but we were doing the pictography things … Vaughn and I would get together and talk about a premise and all. Mostly it was just an opportunity to get together for an evening and bullshit. So we’d sit around and do a lot of bullshitting and take five minutes off to work up a plot for the next Pictography. And it was real comfortable. We did that for the first three and it was fun. And it was mostly Vaughn saying, “What do you feel like drawing this month?” And I’d say, “Oh, I feel like drawing Frankenstein this month.” “Okay, we’ll do something about Frankenstein.” “What do you feel like this month?” “Oh, hell. I just saw 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Let’s do something underwater this month.” And it was easy, and it worked for the first three. And the fourth one, we didn’t discuss at all. He didn’t come to the city, he sent me a letter with a plot, not just a plot, but a full script and I just didn’t like it. It wasn’t what I wanted to draw. We didn’t have a chance to bullshit, we didn’t talk about it. And that just kind of killed it. I struggled through it, and struggled through it and couldn’t get it off the ground. Got Weiss to help me on it and he drew a couple of panels. Got Jeff to do some coloring on it. Just really was not happy with it. Don’t think I mentioned anything to Vaughn about it. And then he did the same thing on the last one. Instead of us getting together to chew the fat, he just sent me a finished script. And I just kind of gritted my teeth and got down and did it but said this is the last one.

GROTH: Prior to the fourth one did he give you full scripts?

WRIGHTSON: No, no.

GROTH: So it was more of a collaboration?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. We would just kind of agree on what I wanted to do, and we just did it “Marvel style.” I’d pencil it up and send it to him and he’d send it back dialogued.

Panels from “Water Job.”

GROTH: Now in the book you say you’ve been offered opportunities to work for magazines like Hustler and you’ve basically said you wouldn’t do that because you had moral qualms about some of the magazines.

WRIGHTSON: Well, times have changed. [Laughter.] When I was doing the thing for Cavalier, it was kind of an innocent, tits ’n’ ass book. And since then, we’ve gotten into all this beaver stuff, bondage—all this kind of crap. And … I hate to sound like my own little Moral Majority here and say, well, tits ’n’ ass is fine but cunt shots are definitely out. [Everybody chuckles] I’m uncomfortable with it and that’s all it really comes down to. My opinion of that kind of stuff is trash. I mean, I still like good tits ’n’ ass stuff. I still buy Penthouse, Gallery, kind of the relatively classy things. Playboy not so much unless they’ve got an interview with somebody I want to read. But the really trashy things, I don’t buy ’em. I don’t want to look at

them. It’s like … women are beautiful no matter what, right? But there’s an attitude involved with that that I just don’t like. I don’t know. It’s difficult to explain.

GROTH: Do you consider the exploitive aspect of things like Swank, Penthouse, Playboy? I mean, all of them in some way exploit women.

WRIGHTSON: It never really bothered me, because I never saw anything really wrong with it. I can’t ever remember thinking of it as pornography. And even Hustler isn’t really pornography, it’s what I consider bad taste. Well, not even bad taste, but wrong attitude. Which is even worse than bad taste. Bad taste can be fun, but a wrong attitude never is. It’s kind of a subtle difference and I don’t know if I’m explaining it well. I’m not talking about the attitude of the women being photographed. But it’s kind of an editorial attitude where the women are really … like Playboy and Penthouse, I really don’t get the feeling that the women are being treated as objects. Whereas things like Hustler, I really get the feeling that they’re being treated as objects. And that offends me.

GROTH: I think it’s the old adage that nothing succeeds like excess.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. But that’s not necessarily true. I mean, you can be excessive as hell if it works, and you’re doing it with the right attitude and it’s being received with the right attitude.

WHITE: Sort of the George Romero attitude.

WRIGHTSON: Exactly.

WHITE: As opposed to the Wes Craven attitude.

WRIGHTSON: Right, exactly. Romero can do it and get away with it, because there’s a purpose behind it.

GROTH: A good analogy would be the EC horror comics, which were always tongue-in-cheek.

WRIGHTSON: Exactly. And which were, strangely enough, never really all that excessive. It was like they didn’t have to be. They knew that they were quality, they knew that they had good stories and the best artists around and they were top of the line. They didn’t have to fall back on all the schlock stuff. Although …

GROTH: The baseball game with entrails …

WRIGHTSON: [Laughter.] That’s still an awful good story.

GROTH: It’s still fun.

WRIGHTSON: And it would not have succeeded if you hadn’t shown it. It’s that kind of thing. You had to see the guy there where all the schmutz and stuff hanging out of his head to be impressed for the story to make its point. It’s like “Yeah, of course,” and that’s not offensive at all.

GROTH: There was an odd kind of integrity at EC to even the worst stuff they did, because it was so beautifully crafted. Just to get back to Swamp Thing for a second …  Have you seen the movie?

WRIGHTSON: No, no.

GROTH: Do you want to?

WRIGHTSON: If it ever comes around, sure. I’m not going to break a leg to go see it. [Laughter.] It is supposed to be on Sneak Previews next week, so I’ll catch that.

GROTH: Yeah. I told you we saw it. God, was it incredible.

WRIGHTSON: All I know is what I’ve read in the magazines, fanzines and all and the stills I’ve seen.

GROTH: What’s the general reaction been, because I haven’t really been following the reviews?

WRIGHTSON: It’s been remarkably quiet. I haven’t heard anything from anybody. I don’t know if they have the mistaken notion that I don’t want to talk about it or anything. Or if they feel I’m embarrassed, which is completely erroneous. I couldn’t give a flaming fuck. [Laughter.] I’m curious. I would like to see what they did with my character.

GROTH: Or to.

WRIGHTSON: Or to, as the case may be.

GROTH: I—we—saw it at a preview and for the first half of the movie the audience was polite. Then, toward the second half, the film was so ludicrous that even at this preview where you’re supposed to be civilized, and the guy who produced it is sitting up, people in the audience were still screaming, giggling … Whenever this guy who looked just like Curly from The Three Stooges would appear you’d hear somebody in the audience go “Whoop, whoop, whoop, whoop.” [Laughter.] Did you see Craven’s Last House on the Left? I mean, that was a sick film.

WRIGHTSON: I saw a part of that and I can’t remember the reason for leaving. It had nothing to do with the movie, but I don’t recall it.

GROTH: It was not humorous or charming or …

WRIGHTSON: I never saw the end of it and I hear that was the best part.

GROTH: Yeah.

WRIGHTSON: Or the most notorious part. What else did he do?

GROTH: I don’t know what else Craven’s done, but I did see that one movie and thought, “Holy hell.”

WRIGHTSON:  No, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a Wes Craven movie. Although his reputation does precede him.

GROTH: Well this, I guess, is as good a time to get into that, just briefly. You were actually considering suing DC?

WRIGHTSON: Not really. That’s kind of a mistaken notion. What I wanted to find out … See, what happened was, they went and did the movie and I had to find out about it by reading it in your publication, as a matter of fact. I got pissed off. Here’s this whole movie, it’s practically done, and nobody told me about it. Then I hear that Len and Joe are flown to South Carolina in some kind of advisory capacity and it’s like … I mean, I like free trips [laughter], I like to go somewhere on somebody’s expense account. I mean, I’m not asking to be involved with the movie. I probably would have turned it down anyway, because I don’t think it’s a good idea for a movie [laughter], I just don’t think I would have been.

GROTH: They should have used you for an advisor.

WRIGHTSON: I don’t think it can be done. Or if it can be done, do it in the dark, for God’s sake.

GROTH: Without Adrienne Barbeau … [Laughter.]

WRIGHTSON: Anyway, I got mad that this all seemed to be done. It seemed like I had been singled out to be excluded from this …

GROTH: You were only the artist.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, yeah. And I didn’t know why. I have been referred to as one-third of the creative team, I’ve been referred to as a co-creator. So, how come? Why am I being left out? I was not about to call National to ask them why I was being left out. So I went to a lawyer and told him the whole deal, and said I was pretty pissed off. What is my situation legally? Am I in any position to get any satisfaction out of this? And they said they’d look into it. I guess that’s where it still stands.

WHITE: They’re still looking into it?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. Well, they’ve called me several times. What happened was that they were looking into it back in October when this Creepshow thing came along and once I started on Creepshow, I was feeling too good about that job … going along with it, getting it done, just sailing along and having a real good time. Whenever the lawyer called and wanted to get together in the city, I kept putting him off. I didn’t want to go down there and get aggravated about all this when I was feeling so up about this job. Besides, I had a real tight deadline and didn’t want to waste a day going into town. I guess they got tired of calling me after that. And then, after Creepshow, we had to go see my parents because we had to see them for Christmas, tax time came along and I had to worry about that. And, I broke my leg. [Laughter.] So there just hasn’t been time to see what’s going on and frankly I’ve still been feeling too good about things in general that I don’t want to talk to a lawyer and be brought down.

WHITE: You seem like a happy man.

WRIGHTSON: Well, I am. I am happy, not content. I believe it’s a mistake to be content. You should always want to strive for something more. Happy? Yeah, yeah. I’m real happy.

GROTH: The lawyers will fix that.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. I have paid this guy a good sum of money to look into it for me and I figure he probably feels by now that he’s earned it. So the next step is to get together and see where the lawyer can take it from here so the lawyer can make some more money from me. At this point, I’m feeling too good about it and I think I’ve pretty much changed my mind about it. I don’t think I’m going to do it. I’d just be letting myself in for, win or lose, three to five years of aggravation with this thing. I figure maybe the worst thing I can do to National is to just never work for them again.

GROTH: Did DC pay you something for the film?

WRIGHTSON: I got $2000, which pissed me off even further. Got a check for $2000, which said “Swamp Thing Film Bonus” which was really kind of weird. Because to get a bonus, you should get something else ahead of time. I mean, you should get something first, and then the bonus comes. [Laughter.] So, here’s the “Swamp Thing Film Bonus” and a little note from Jenette thanking me for my most wonderful creation … I cashed the check. [Laughter.]

GROTH: And gave it to your lawyer …

WRIGHTSON: Well, not quite. $2000 is $2000, and I deserved it. I mean, it was partly my creation, they made a movie of it, I’m entitled to something. But $2000, gee, this is a movie, a major motion picture. This is Avco-Embassy. And I just started to think about how my $2000 stacks up to what National’s been getting, you know, of the fruit of my fucking labor.

WHITE: Or Len.

WRIGHTSON: Well, I don’t know about Len. I haven’t talked to him. I think that Len at this point is probably scared to death to talk to me. Probably thinks I’m some kind of fire-breathing ogre that is out to see that he loses his job and I just don’t care.

GROTH: Have you seen the new Swamp Thing comic?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, ran into it a couple of weeks ago.

GROTH: What do you think?

WRIGHTSON: Uh, it isn’t the same. And I’m not tooting my own horn, because I think I have a pretty good handle on the perspective of all this. I thought that the character died with #10. And I’m not being full of myself when I say that. It was just a very personal thing from my standpoint and when Redondo took it over, I mean that guy can draw circles around me. He’s a much better artist than I am. But he didn’t know Swamp Thing. He didn’t know the character, he didn’t know that little universe. It was just not the same. And this new fellow, Tom Yeates, looks like a perfectly competent artist. He seems to enjoy doing comics. I met him briefly, he showed me some original pages that he had with him. He’s a real nice guy. It’s just not the same thing. He doesn’t have any more of a handle on the character than Redondo did, visually. And the thing is … Swamp Thing is a real limited character. There’s only so much you can do with him. I even strayed away from the limits you could take the character to. For the most part I tried to keep him in this kind of grim little foreboding universe where it worked. Wasn’t such a hot idea bringing him to Gotham City, y’know. [Laughter.] But, hell, at the time I wanted to draw Batman. It was fun; I enjoyed it. They wouldn’t let me give Batman a gun. I always preferred the old Batman when he had a gun. He was more like The Shadow. I thought it would be great if he came up against Swamp Thing. Yeah, give him a gun. Fill him full of lead. Like shooting a cabbage.

GROTH: Glad you mentioned The Shadow. You did a sample page but that didn’t go through.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, at the time I was up to my ears in Swamp Thing, and foolishly thought I could handle two books at one time. Because like I said, I was really hot. I was penciling two pages and inking a page and a half a day. I thought it would be a breeze. Swamp Thing’s bi-monthly and I’ll fill in the other month with The Shadow. Only it didn’t occur to me that I was taking the whole two months to do the book. So I did the sample page and I think I was even slated to do the first issue of The Shadow. This was before it really started going through a lot of changes. I think Len was going to write it. And I came to my senses, fortunately, before ever starting on it. And just said there was no way I could handle two books. So I stuck with Swamp Thing. It’s more in my line. And they said, “Who’re we going to get for The Shadow?” and I immediately said, “Kaluta.” And they didn’t hear that. They said, “Who’re we going to get to do The Shadow?” So then they went through all that bullshit with Jim [Steranko], I don’t know who all …  

GROTH: [Alex] Toth.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. And finally settled on Kaluta, who I still maintain is the best possible choice all along. And for no other reason than he really wanted to do it. I mean, he was really intense about it.

GROTH: Now, you went to work for Warren. But you worked for Web of Horror first, didn’t you?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, that was pretty early on. That was what ’69, ’70?

GROTH: That sounded like a real anarchic situation.

WRIGHTSON: It was weird. I had this fellow, Terry Bisson, come along one day and at the time, Warren was just reprinting a lot of stuff, and the new stuff he had was just awful and the thing had really gone down the tubes. And I know the real story behind that, and I’m not going to tell you. No, Warren told me the whole thing behind that, and I’m sworn to secrecy.

GROTH: Well, he got into deep financial trouble …  

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, but that was more a symptom, not a cause. But I can’t tell you the cause. So, I’ll just titillate you and your readers with that. But the magazine’s a really bad one, and we’re all sitting around saying, “Aw, Creepy used to be so good, look at this piece of shit, this is awful.” And by we, I mean myself, Jeff, Bruce Jones and Kaluta, and into the middle of all this complaining, and pining for the good old days walks this fellow, Terry Bisson from …  Major Magazines. They published some romance things and Cracked magazine. Up until now, he’d been writing blurbs for the backs of the romance magazines, or for the covers. “I spent the night with my father-in-law,” things like that. He walks in and says, “My publisher wants to put together a horror magazine.” “You mean, like Creepy?” and he says “Yeah, exactly like Creepy. See, at our magazine company, we do nothing but rip off other magazines.” [Laughter.] He was real upfront about it. “We want to do a Creepy rip-off.” [Laughter.] “Oh, yeah, that sounds great, what are you paying?” And the money wasn’t bad. “Okay, yeah, we’ll do it.” So we get together, he had a place down around Canal Street and we’d get together, kind of have conferences and all. And he dug up some writers from somewhere, and he was writing some of the stuff himself and none of us knew any better. I didn’t know good scripts from bad scripts. We’d all just get down and do this stuff and it was like all of us there in the same building, virtually, all living together, just working for the same outfit. “Aww, this is just like the EC days, man, this is great! This is great!” And they had the monster contests. And it was just fun. We were real high on this thing. Even though the first couple of issues were really just crap. Awful stories, and the art wasn’t too much better. But there was a certain kind of enthusiasm that was coming through in this stuff. I thought so. And evidently, the magazines were doing well. People were buying this stuff. So it was looking real good. And how many issues did it go? Three?

GROTH: Yeah, three. And you did the cover for the fourth one.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, the fourth issue. Terry Bisson left. After the third issue, he just split. And just disappeared. “Say, what happened to Terry?” “Oh, he joined a commune in Colorado.” “What are we going to do? Who’s going to be our editor?” And Richard Sproul, the publisher, said, “Look, the magazine’s doing okay, I want to go on with it, why don’t you boys work it out?” “Well, shit, yeah, all right, yeah.” Bruce and I would get together with Mike and Jeff and say, “Hey, man we need an editor for this thing, and there’s nobody in control.” Mike and Jeff said, “Oh, leave us alone! We just want to work.” And so Bruce and I said we’d be co-editors. So we start handing out scripts to everybody … There was a backlog of stuff, some real bad stuff which was scheduled for the fourth issue. Bruce and I got in there, we took the whole goddamn thing apart. We took just about everything that was going to go in the fourth issue, threw it out and started from scratch. We gave Ralph Reese a script and Ralph did the best job that he had done up to that point in his career. I mean, just beautiful. He came in with this double-page splash of this galleon floating in space that you could just fall into. Just gorgeous. Bruce did this incredible space opera thing. Real EC type stuff. Terrific. Michael did a thing about a sea monster which eventually got printed somewhere else. I did a story called “The Monster Jar” which to this day I don’t know whatever happened to. And the cover for that issue. I forget who all we had in there but it was all good stuff. We were taking the best, the cream. This was going to be the best issue.

The only reason I did the cover for the fourth issue was that we had Krenkel lined up to do a cover, a headless horseman cover which would’ve just knocked your socks off, but he got sick. So he couldn’t do the finish, all he had was a little rough. And I wanted to go with the rough, but Bruce talked me out of it saying it was a little too rough to go with, and I guess he was right. But it was great. It was just this head-on shot of the headless horseman riding straight at you, the horse cut-off at the breast, charging out of the picture, just flaring nostrils, and this headless guy just whipping the horse. Trees flashing behind it. Aww, it was just terrific! It would have been such a great painting. And we tried to get Frazetta, but he wasn’t interested. He said he didn’t want to do the horror stuff. So we got Krenkel and he was all set to go with issue five with this headless horseman. Oh, and the best part of this whole thing, we were going to come up with a winner for this monster contest. The entries had been pouring in. Sproul takes us in to the back room, it’s like this closet where they store artwork, and says “Here’s the contest stuff.” The room looked like Fibber McGee’s closet, he opens the door and this stuff is just pouring out. Tubes, packages, and Bruce and I are carting this stuff out to his house. And it takes a whole day, between Sproul’s office which was in Long Island City and Bruce’s place, which was in Rushing. It involved something like two different buses and a long subway ride to get there. So we’re doing this, all day long, back and forth, carrying it by the armload, because he doesn’t have a car. Finally get it all to his apartment, we spend the whole weekend going through this stuff. Some of the stuff is just terrific. There are some talented kids out there that are never going to get anywhere because Bruce and I fucked up. We picked winners, then we had to restructure the whole prize thing for this because there was so much good stuff. Originally, it was supposed to be one winner per issue. We broke it down so that it was first, second, and third place and two honorable mentions. Just so we could fit all this stuff in. We were going to start announcing winners in the fourth issue. We get the whole thing together, do the paste-ups, came up with a new logo, all this stuff. Just restructured the whole magazine. It looked great. Got the whole thing done, and we spent our last weekend putting it together. And it’s looking great, we’re going to take it in and show it to Sproul. Go into Long Island City, to the office, Monday morning knock on the door. And the door just creaks open, y’know. And the office is empty. I mean, the desks are gone, everything is gone. Some scraps of paper blowing across the floor. It was just like the Twilight Zone, there was just nothing there. All the artwork, everything, all the contest stuff had disappeared. Not a word. We found out years later that the guy relocated in Florida. And I don’t know what the deal is. We tried to get people’s artwork back. Just couldn’t get it. Ralph Reese lost his thing, I lost my thing, Kaluta was late turning his in so he was able to hang on to his. Bruce lost his story. Frank Brunner did a real nice job for us in pencil or wash. That was gone.

GROTH: You must have been very depressed.

WRIGHTSON: Well, shocked. “Just what the hell is this?” We couldn’t believe it. And nobody had been paid, so there was all this money owed to us.

GROTH: You ever have the inclination to track this guy down?

WRIGHTSON: For a while we talked about it, but never quite got it together to do. I think something happened about that … I think Ralph Reese managed to get some money out of them somehow, by just being persistent. I think Michael did too, I don’t remember. But I know nothing ever happened for me. I got mad, and then it dissipated and I just decided I couldn’t do anything about it. I was just going to get on with the next job.

GROTH: Where did Abyss come in?

WRIGHTSON: Somewhere in there, it was around the Web of Horror time. Somebody, I think Bruce, sat down with pencil and paper and figured, “Well, you’re making $50 a page, and this book is selling for 35 cents or whatever it was and they print so many of them and look, there’s millions of dollars coming in off this book and you’re just getting $50 a page. So if we published our own magazine, we’d make a lot of money. All of that money would come to us and we wouldn’t have to pay the publishers.” Yeah, great, terrific! So we did Abyss and we got, I think $25 a page. No, not a page. $25 each.

GROTH: About $4 a page.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, only, out of this. That was our big moneymaking scheme.

WHITE: Not quite what you had in mind.

WRIGHTSON: No, no. We just didn’t know what the hell we were doing. Told the printer we wanted 2,000 books and he printed 1,000 and charged us for 2,000. Of course we go down to the printers and there’s all these boxes with books. I’d never seen 2,000 books before in boxes. “Yup, that’s a lot of boxes, looks good to me.” So we take them all back and realize we got shortchanged by a thousand. Call the printer up and said, “You owe us a thousand books.” He said, “Oh, no, the order was for a thousand books.” I said, “But you charged us for 2,000.” He said, “Oh, no, it says 1,000 on the bill.” And sure enough, it said 1,000. But the price he quoted us was what 2,000 copies were going to cost.

GROTH: So you guys really got screwed, huh?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, this guy really saw us coming. [Laughter.] So that’s Abyss.

GROTH: It’s amazing you guys weren’t more violent.

WRIGHTSON: We were a bunch of wimps. [Laughter.]

GROTH: How old were you about this time? About 20, 24, mid-20s?

WRIGHTSON: Not even that old, I think. I must have been like, 21, 22.

GROTH: Jeff’s older, of course.

WRIGHTSON: All the other guys were older. I was the baby of the bunch. Until Barry. And then he was younger than me. Mike’s a year older than me, Jeff’s five years older than me. Bruce is three or four years older.

GROTH: You are 34?

WRIGHTSON: I’ll be 34 in October [1982].

GROTH: And, Badtime Stories?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, that was pretty early on. It was a fellow named Ron Barlow that I knew from Baltimore. Well, we had been talking about doing a magazine before I came to New York. And he kind of held on to the idea through everything. I worked on these stories while I was working for National, kind of between jobs I’d do this stuff. He was paying me something like $25 or $30 a page, just to kind of keep it going, to keep the interest up and all. And I finally got it all done, and put it out. Never made much more money over the original $30 a page initially. But that’s okay.

GROTH: It was really an excellent collection of stuff.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, it really was. I enjoyed doing it. Ron never put any pressure on me. It was always, “Do it at my own pace.” And I’m just amazed that it ever got done. And I’m still pretty proud of it.

GROTH: And it was nicely written, too.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, I had fun with the stories. It was the first time I really had a chance to write my own story.

GROTH: Of course, you did each story in a different style and different approach.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. I think that was maybe a little pretentious. I should have just concentrated more on telling the story, instead of worrying about technique and all. But I was into technique at the time.

GROTH: Here’s a quote that might go nowhere … whoever wrote the text for A Look Back

WRIGHTSON: Chris Zavisa did.

GROTH: He wrote, “Comics tend to distort an artist’s ability to draw individual illustrations.” I assume you concur?

WRIGHTSON: What is the context this is in?

GROTH: Let me just dig it out and see if it makes any sense.

WRIGHTSON: Well, it’s a real provocative quote, but I think I need a little more in front and in back.

GROTH: [Still looking for the quote, Wrightson continues to talk.]

WRIGHTSON: I feel like I should babble on or something. Make some noise for the tape. [Looks at phone.] Yeah, this is great. Jim Starlin came over the other day and rewired our wall phone so I could use it as a desk phone. He said he’d have to rewire it to put it back on the wall when my leg gets better.

GROTH: Starlin?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. Starlin is an absolute genius as far as I’m concerned.

GROTH: Did you see his Captain Marvel book?

WRIGHTSON: I loved that book!

GROTH: Did you?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah! I really enjoyed that.

GROTH: Did you see his other book?

WRIGHTSON: I’ve got it but I haven’t read it. But the Captain Marvel book I was real impressed with.

GROTH: And that’s superheroes …

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, well that’s the whole thing. I just don’t follow that and …  It’s not my thing. So I’m a little surprised at myself for being that taken by a superhero story, but I really liked it.

GROTH: Well, Captain Sternn is sort of a superhero.

WRIGHTSON: In his way, yeah. But that’s a funny thing about superheroes. I’m going to be involved with superheroes sometime soon, after my leg heals. [Whispering] I wonder if I should even be talking about it.

GROTH: One thing’s for sure, you shouldn’t badmouth superheroes if you’re going to be involved with them.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, yeah. [Laughter.]

GROTH: How are you going to be involved with superheroes?

WRIGHTSON: I don’t really know that much about it. George Romero has an idea for a superhero movie, which he called me and asked me to be production designer on and also to do the storyboards for the movie in comic book form. Very much like Creepshow. Which could subsequently be published as a tie-in with the movie. So, it looks like I’m going to have to be doing a lot of thinking about superheroes in the future.

WHITE: And he discussed the character with you?

WRIGHTSON: No, all he did was call for like 10 minutes.

GROTH: And you agreed to do it?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, that was the whole reason for the call. He said he had this idea involving superheroes for a movie and he wanted to know if 1 was interested in being involved. And I said, “Of course.” [Laughter.] And also, Romero’s doing The Stand. And I’m going to be doing the movie poster. It’s one of these deals where they want the poster first. Because what happened with Creepshow, they got that Jack Kamen thing which you’ve probably seen. Kamen did that before anything had been done on the movie, and they kind of made a bunch of copies of this and put them up all over the place and said, “We want to stick to this. This is the kind of spirit we want to maintain for this.” And he said it worked so well that they had this kind of visual key to kind of go by through the whole thing. And they want to do the whole thing for The Stand.

GROTH: I was surprised that you didn’t do the poster for Creepshow.

WRIGHTSON: It turns out that Kamen is an old friend of the producer.

GROTH: Because horror was not Kamen’s forte.

WRIGHTSON: Judging from the poster and the few things I’ve seen that he did for the movie, it’s more his forte now than it was back then.

GROTH: Sort of a reverse Davis syndrome.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. I think he draws a hell of a lot better than he used to. He is a lot looser and freer.

GROTH: Well, I can’t find that damn quote so let’s let it lie.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. I really don’t know where to take that.

GROTH: The Warren stint, 1974 and 1975 you did a lot of work for him. Could you talk about how that came about? Maybe you can say some nice things about Warren to balance out …

WRIGHTSON: I have nothing but nice, things to say about Warren, strangely enough. I may be the only person in the world that does. I think Warren is a terrific person. I got tired of color comics, just got tired of seeing bad reproduction and terrible heavy color on top of fine line stuff. And just decided I wanted to try black and white comics for a while, because you pretty much get what you do as far as reproduction. By this time, Warren was once again top-of-the-heap in black-and-white horror comics.

Panel from “Black Cat.”

GROTH: About the only heap.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, I think he was the only person doing them at the time. But he had survived his own bad times. He had survived all the crummy imitators who came and went. And there he was, seemingly back on his feet doing pretty good stuff, some interesting things. I think DuBay was in charge. The magazine was looking good to me so I went down to see him. He’d been after me for years to work for him. And of course, I’d heard all the Warren stories and everything. This guy sounds like a maniac, I don’t want to work for him. [Laughter.] But at this point, I thought if the guy was crazy, I can handle that. So I went down to see him and the guy was just terrific from the word go. I mean, I’d heard all these stories about people’s first meeting with Warren and crazy things. And he did do some crazy things that I kind of expected because the man’s reputation did precede him. For one thing, he trapped me into some kind of dumb thing, got me to make some kind of statement and then said, “No, you’re wrong about that.” “No, I’m right.” “No, you’re wrong.” “I’m right.” “Wanna bet?” and I said, “Yeah, a dollar.” “Show me your money.” So I took out a dollar, put it on his desk, and he took out a dollar and put it on his desk and then he proved me wrong and he took my dollar and said, “Would you sign it?” “Yeah, sure.” I signed his dollar. He opens his desk drawer, pulls out a wad of dollar bills like this [indicates a thick wad of bills]. Vaughn Bode, Billy Graham, Ken Kelley, Frank Frazetta, Reed Crandall, anybody who ever worked for him, he trapped into this stupid thing and got them to sign a dollar bill. It was terrific. [Laughter.]

I went in and he said, “Okay, you want to work for me. That’s terrific, I’d like you to work for me. I like your work. But you work for me, you understand that I own everything. I own all the rights, you don’t have anything. You get your originals back, but I get all the rights. I can do anything I want with what you do for me. I can repackage it, restructure it, anything. I own all of it. Agreed?” I said okay. That’s no worse than I am now. And I’m getting my originals back, too. And he said, “About getting your originals back, you get your originals back you can do anything you want with them. You can wipe your ass with them, line your garbage can, hang them up, you can even sell them.” And I said I probably would. “Okay, and if you sell them and the guy you sell them to sells them again and it gets sold again and again, and again and again and the 12th person down the line that it’s sold to prints it, you’re responsible. Can you deal with that?” I said sure. “All right. And on top of this, I’m going to pay you the best money you ever got.” [Laughter.] “Have we got a deal?” I said we had a deal. It was fine, it was always completely pleasant with him. It was great.

A funny thing happened soon after I started working with him. I was going to move, I found this great place. I was going to move out of my apartment and into an old church. Didn’t have enough money for the deposit for all this, so I went into Warren and said can I have an advance on the job I’m doing for you because I want to move into this place, and explained the whole thing to him. He said, “I never give advances to people, and here’s why.” And for an hour and a half he goes into this tirade about why he will not give anybody an advance; because you can’t trust artists, not me personally, but generically, artists are irresponsible people blah, blah, blah. On top of that, what if I give you this money for an advance and you have all your good intentions and everything of paying me back and then you get hit by a truck and you never finish the job. And I’m out the money, and I’m out the work blah, blah, blah. For an hour and a half he goes through this whole thing. I’m sitting there getting depressed as hell because I’m not going to get the money and then he finally says, “So that’s why I won’t give you an advance, but I will give you a personal loan.” And it was for something like $400. He writes me a personal check. Everything is fine. I walk out of his office, go and get the place. Couple of weeks later, I finish the job, turn it in, he pays me, I deposit the check, wait for it to clear, and pay him back his $400, we’re square. Then about a month after that, I break up with the girl that I moved into the church with and I’m moving back to the city. I’m going to move to Queens. Again, I’m strapped for money. I go in to see Warren, and I say “Jim, I know this is awful close on the heels of the last time, but I really have to ask you for a personal loan.” He said, “I never give anybody personal loans.” [Laughter.] For an hour and a half he sits there and gives me the same reasons why he doesn’t give anybody personal loans, and they’re the same reasons he doesn’t give an advance. He goes through the whole thing, and at the end he says, “But I will advance you on the job you’re working on.” [Laughter.] He’s a maniac. [Laughter.]

GROTH: This is apparently the sort of thing that drives other people berserk.

WRIGHTSON: I thought it was great! I loved it! The man was just totally unpredictable. All this time I’d been dealing with Carmine Infantino who was just a sweetheart of a guy, Stan, Joe Orlando, all these folks, really good people. And then I go down there to Warren and the guy is completely off-the-wall. I loved it.

GROTH: Yeah, I’ve heard some great Warren stories. I heard that when Dave Cockrum was working for him Dave walked in and asked for a raise. Warren pulled open his drawer and pulled out this box, pushed the button and the box started laughing at Dave.

WRIGHTSON: I’ve heard stories that go back a long way. Like originally he was really courting the old EC guys to come work for him and the guy he wanted most that he just couldn’t get was Davis. He wanted to start off doing a whole book of Davis’s stuff. “It’s horror stories, Jack, I want you to do all horror stories.” And Jack said, “I don’t do horror stories.” “C’mon Jack, one story, eight pages, come on Jack.” “I don’t do horror stories.” Finally he got it down to “How about designing a character? How would you like to design Uncle Creepy? C’mon Jack,” offering him money and all this stuff. And Davis said he didn’t want to be involved in the horror stuff, “I’m a cartoonist now, leave me alone.” A few days later, in the mail, Davis gets a Sony TV, small color TV, real expensive. No letter, no card, nothing, just the TV. From somewhere in New York. A few days after that he gets a tape deck. And he’s getting all this stuff. After a couple of weeks of getting all these gifts, Warren calls up. Now, this stuff has become Jack’s possessions and Warren has what he wants just by blackmail. [Laughter.] I can’t substantiate that. It’s just something I’ve heard.

GROTH: Well even if it’s apocryphal, it’s still good. So you were always on very good terms with Warren?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, yeah. And when the business of this book [Berni Wrightson: A Look Back] came up, I was living in Florida, Chris Zavisa in Detroit. He started advertising the book, saying that there was going to be work from DC, and I think he printed some pages in the ad. He got a letter from DC’s lawyers threatening to sue him if he didn’t get permission to use this stuff. So we got real panicky, and said, before we did anything else, let’s arrange a trip to the city and talk to everybody and get some permission. So I flew up from Florida at my own expense, Chris comes in from Detroit. I had previously made arrangements and set up appointments with everybody. And I set up the appointment to see Warren first. And I told Chris, “Look, Warren and I have always gotten along fine, but you’re a stranger in this, and I don’t know what he’s going to be like because the man is unpredictable. And he might suddenly become a totally schizoid, crazy person. Let’s go see him first because this is probably going to be the worst. National we’ve got them knocked, we don’t have to worry about that. I’ve worked for National for lots of years and we’re on good terms. Let’s go see Jim first and get it out of the way.” So we went in to see Warren and there was kind of a misunderstanding at first. Chris pulls out a dummy that he has and is showing it to Warren as kind of a presentation thing, and Warren is immediately from page 1 going, “You can’t do that. You can’t spread it across two pages. You’ve got to break it down into one page. You can’t go full color, full bleed, no way. Gotta enclose that in a border or we do that in black and white.” We’re going, “What, what, what?” and this goes on for like 10 or 15 minutes, and it’s really crazy. We’ve only gotten two pages into the thing and Chris is getting pissed off and I’m more and more confused and I say something and Warren says, “You mean you don’t want me to publish this?” I told him “No, this is the publisher, he wants to publish this book on me, and we’re here to ask permission to use stuff that I’ve done for you in the book.” And he said, “Oh, yeah, use it all! I don’t care! Use everything! Anything you put in there is going to look good on me. Use it all. Fine.” And it took that long to get permission from him and then we sat there for 30 or 40 minutes and schmoozed. [Laughter.] Yeah. It was terrific. Very pleasant. He made us coffee. He told us stories about the old days. Very nice. Then we go to National for the appointment and got nothing but grief.

GROTH: Really?

WRIGHTSON: Right. One of the things we wanted to do was print all of the Swamp Thing covers, full page black-and-white. “No, you can’t do the whole run. You can do the whole run, but you have to print them in color from the comic book.” And I immediately blurted out, “Well that sounds like a goddamn perfect waste of a few pages of good color,” and it seemed like when I said that, they insisted that I do it their way. That’s why it’s in there. There are like these weird arbitrary conditions they put down. We wanted to print some representative pages from the mystery stuff and they said we couldn’t do that. But they let us print that whole Plop! story, “Gourmet” in its entirety. And everything we wanted to do they countered with some reason why we couldn’t do it. And we weren’t asking for anything unreasonable. This book would have been another 50 pages longer if we had gotten everything in the National chapter that we wanted to. As it turns out, the National chapter is real skimpy. So we spend two or three hours up there in the office, arguing with Jenette about all the stuff we can and can’t do and why we can’t do it.

GROTH: Who actually wanted you to publish things like the covers? Was that Jenette?

WRIGHTSON: I don’t know where that came from. I don’t think it was Jenette. That came from upstairs somewhere. The kicker, the punch line comes a few weeks later when Chris gets a bill from National for $1,500.

GROTH: For what?

WRIGHTSON: For the rights to publish this stuff.

GROTH: Did he have to pay it?

WRIGHTSON: He never did. I hope he never does. Fifteen hundred dollars. They really need the money to print whatever it is, the 20, 30 pages. Jesus, petty fucking people.

WHITE: Just to put a burr up your ass or something.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. And we didn’t even have to go to Marvel. Chris wrote a letter to Stan saying he was doing this book, lots of color, this many pages, blah, blah, blah, very big deal. We’d like to use selected pieces Berni Wrightson did for you. Stan wrote back and again, carte blanche. He said use anything or everything, and citing pretty much the same reasons that Warren gave, saying it’s only going to reflect well on me and the company.

GROTH: DC really is anal retentive.

WRIGHTSON: Jesus. Those people … I just couldn’t believe it. So it didn’t come as too much of a surprise when the whole Swamp Thing crap happened. Why is it like beating my head against a wall dealing with these people?

GROTH: Will you ever deal with DC or Marvel again?

WRIGHTSON: Marvel I have nothing against. Back at the time they pulled that business on King Kull, they were doing that to everybody. That was just kind of symptomatic of what Marvel was at the time and they don’t really do that any more. They’ve gotten a hell of a lot more reasonable in recent years. In fact, I don’t know if you’ve heard about the new contracts that Marvel is offering, but these things are just dreamy. And as soon as I’ve got some time, I’m definitely going to work for them. I’m going to do something. I’d love to do a horror book for Shooter. But I just don’t want to commit myself until things open up a bit. I’ve got a few other things on the fire right now. But National, never again. Those people have screwed me for the last time.

GROTH: Ever work for Warren again?

WRIGHTSON: I don’t see why not. I just haven’t really gotten around to it. As far as I’m concerned, I’m still on good terms with Warren.

GROTH: What do you think of stuff like 1994?

WRIGHTSON: I don’t even look at it. I hardly ever buy comics.

GROTH: You just read The Comics Journal to keep up.

WRIGHTSON: Only sporadically. [Laughter.] Only when your subscription department sees fit to send it to me.

GROTH: When you got out of comics, you started painting, which was another entirely new departure for you.

WRIGHTSON: I dabbled a bit before that.

GROTH: The paintings that really impressed me here were the paintings from Poe.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, they were some of my few oil paintings.

GROTH: How did you tackle painting when you really got into it seriously?

WRIGHTSON: You mean technically?

GROTH: Yeah.

WRIGHTSON: It was basically not knowing anything. I was living in Queens when I started the Poe portfolio and I had done the Telltale Heart there. Jeff [Jones] was living upstate, and I went up to visit him and I brought up a canvas and started working on that there, “Descent into the Maelstrom.” And I remember going into his studio, early in the morning and he was already there, working on something of his. And I set this thing up on a spare easel, and he said, “Oh, you’re going to start painting, huh?” And I said, “Yeah yeah, I’ll give it a shot.” And he said, “You’ve got a blank canvas.” I said, “Yeah, I know what I’m going to do.” So I squirt out some paint on the palette and just start picking up these great gobs of paint with the brush, whap, whap, whap. He was appalled. “You can’t do that! You can’t do that! You’ve got to lay some groundwork, lay some underpainting.” He was frantic that I was just laying this stuff on. And I’m starting to paint water directly on there. Waves are starting to appear. “You can’t do it, you can’t do it!” And I got real discouraged because he’s a painter, he should know. So I didn’t do any more work that weekend. Just kind of hung around, walking through the woods and all, wondering what I was doing wrong. So I don’t have any really conventional method of working. It’s whatever seems good at the time.

GROTH: You’re a real autodidact.

WRIGHTSON: I beg your pardon. [Laughter.]

GROTH: Self-taught.

WRIGHTSON: Oh yeah. Listen, care for a cookie?

GROTH: No, thanks.

WRIGHTSON: Oh, these are good. These are the kind that are never crisp. They’re always kind of soggy. [Laughter.] I like soggy stuff.

GROTH: I can’t wait to transcribe that. [Laughter.]

WRIGHTSON: I got real pissed off when as I was growing up, about 12 or 13, you couldn’t find a cereal that got soggy in milk anymore because the big selling point was that the cereal stayed crispy. I like a cereal that just sops it up. Becomes soup. Like the old corn flakes. Nowadays you can leave the corn flakes in there for a day or two and they get soggy.

GROTH: Let them soak overnight and then come back the next morning.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, right. But I like that stuff. I like granola now, because that gets soggy.

GROTH: You do have certain peculiar tastes. One of them is the painting called “Momentos,” which you characterized as not a sick picture. And you said, “Had I gone for that effect, I would have put feet on the fence instead of the heads.” I thought this was an interesting revelation. Can you talk about why the feet would have made it a sicker picture?

“Momentos.”

WRIGHTSON: It’s because when you think of things like axe murderers, most people have this kind of pigeonhole that they put someone like an axe murderer into. This kind of comic-book thing of a guy with an axe chopping off somebody’s head. Somehow it makes it easier to deal with. And you can talk about axe murderers, “Oh yeah, axe murderers, hahahaha.”

GROTH: It’s become accepted.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. In a strange kind of way because it’s a cliché, the axe murderer chopping off a person’s head. Whereas a real axe murderer might not go after a head, or any particular part of the body. Maybe just be concerned with killing you, maybe chop you in the chest or something. Nothing gets severed, really. But if you’re going to sever something, it seems a lot more horrible to me to think of a row of severed hands or, worse than that, fingers, just all lined up on a shelf or something, than heads. It’s like a head, a complete severed head—I mean, let’s get into this—sitting on a shelf, there is still that humanity about it. Gruesome as it is, it could be somebody sticking a head through the wall playing a joke. So there’s still this association with humanity attached to it. But you get to something like toes or kneecaps, elbows …

GROTH: And you know there’s a guy out there without elbows.

WRIGHTSON: Right. It’s like suddenly, “Oh my God!” The other thing is, you can cut somebody’s toes off and they can still live. Cut somebody’s head off, that’s pretty much it, except for some, um, athletes. Even like whole limbs. You can cut off a whole leg and there could be a person out there without a leg. So thereby hangs a tale.

GROTH: It’s the implication that’s so creepy.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. Whereas the head, that’s it. There are headless bodies laying somewhere and they are most certainly dead. But if you get into other parts of the body you become increasingly creepy. I have the feeling I’m not explaining things terribly well today, but we’re covering a lot of ground so, why not? [Laughter.]

GROTH: I don’t know where to go from that. [Laughter.]

WHITE: I remember there’s a quote in the book that says you like axe murderers.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, I think that was at a point in the interview where I was getting tired and just kind of running out of things to say.

GROTH: One thing I’m curious about, and this probably has no bearing on the interview. All your quotations in the book didn’t sound like you. I know how you talk and you’re very informal and casual. It sounded like you were being more formal, more careful.

WRIGHTSON: There were spots in there where I went over it and Chris cleaned it up too. Because I told him I didn’t want an interview where you put in all the “you knows” and “uhs,” stuff like that. So he kind of went through there and chopped bits and pieces.

GROTH: Why don’t you think people don’t kill other people? Neal [Adams] has a theory about this and I just wanted to get yours.

WRIGHTSON: Why people kill other people?

GROTH: No, why people don’t kill other people.

WRIGHTSON: But people do kill other people.

WHITE: End of discussion. [Laughter.]

WRIGHTSON: I mean, it’s on the news every day.

WHITE: Why do you think people do kill other people?

WRIGHTSON: Because they’re there. [Laughter.] It’s because person A has something that person B wants. And to person B the only way he’s going to get it is to kill person A.

GROTH: Why the hell didn’t I think of that when Neal was telling me? Neal gave me a theory about why people don’t kill other people and I don’t know why I didn’t sit there and say, “But Neal, people do kill other people.”

WRIGHTSON: What’s his theory, briefly?

GROTH: It’s because people won’t trust you if you go around killing a lot of people. You’ll become untrustworthy. The way Neal explained it …

WRIGHTSON: Is he talking about primitive man now?

GROTH: No, this was modern technological society. Say I killed your wife, you wouldn’t trust me any more.

WRIGHTSON: No, I probably wouldn’t. [Laughter.]

GROTH: And that’s why I don’t do it. [More laughter.]

WRIGHTSON: But, on the other hand, I’d probably kill you. [Laughter.]

GROTH: That’s probably true too. [Laughter.]

WRIGHTSON: So that kind of throws the people not killing each other theory out the window.

GROTH: Neal pontificated on this for about a page in the magazine.

WRIGHTSON: If everybody realized that then nobody would kill anybody. We wouldn’t have war …

GROTH: If we could get you and Neal together. I think we’d have a fascinating conversation.

WRIGHTSON: It wouldn’t go very far because Neal and I, and this goes back a long way, don’t argue. Invariably, we’d have a discussion and it would reach a point where I could see no point in going on, because Neal was completely wrong and I was completely right, and I would just shut up, leaving Neal with no one to argue with.

WHITE: And very sad.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. And not a little angry. And I remember he got pissed off quite a few times at that. Where I would just kind of end the thing by saying “You’re wrong.” [Laughter.] And not saying anything. He’s becoming increasingly “Space Cadetish.”

Panels from Adams’s “The House that Haunted Batman.”

GROTH: Wait until you read the interview. It’s really something.

WRIGHTSON: I’m looking forward to it.

GROTH: Neal always sounds very reasonable.

WRIGHTSON: Well, he’s always been that way. There was a time when he could have probably convinced me that the sky was pink.

GROTH: You did a book for Neal, didn’t you?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. Freak Show.

GROTH: Has that ever been published?

WRIGHTSON: It’s in the process of coming out in Spain.

GROTH: Because you did that about two years ago.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. When did I finish that? Last year? Yeah.

GROTH: We published a couple of pages from it. It looked like nice work.

WRIGHTSON: It was pretty good.

GROTH: You wrote it yourself?

WRIGHTSON: Bruce [Jones] did. I don’t know when it’s going to come out over here. Heavy Metal wants it, but they seem to have some kind of problem with Neal about it and I don’t know what that’s all about. But it’s coming out in Spain now.

GROTH: Is it going to be in color?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, it’s sort of in color. I’m not happy at all with the reproduction.

GROTH: You’ve seen it?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. I’ve seen one segment of it. And I’m not happy at all. Michelle [Berni’s wife] colored it and it looks like they didn’t photograph it right to begin with and then they had somebody retouch it, because it photographed pale, or something. She colored it very carefully with watercolor, brushwork and all, and they came and did the retouching with what looks like magic marker, solid colors, whacking away at it. Really looks bad.

MICHELLE WRIGHTSON: And it’s just in this Spanish Creepy. [Laughter.]

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. I thought it was going to be … Well, originally it was going to be Pilote, but there was some problem with that. And then I thought it was going to be some frankly, more prestigious Spanish thing. And it’s in the Spanish version of Creepy.

GROTH: I hope they don’t use the same coloring over here.

WRIGHTSON: They will.

GROTH: They will?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. That was part of the deal, that they get the separations cheap.

GROTH: That’s a real goddamn shame.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah.

GROTH: It would be almost better to print it in black-and-white. I really like your black-and-white work.

WRIGHTSON: It takes a lot more time.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah.

GROTH: I mean, you’re one of the few people, who, if you do a comic strip, adding color doesn’t mean that much to it. And I almost prefer the black-and-white in a lot of cases.

WRIGHTSON: Well, it depends. If I’m working for color …

GROTH: You did this specifically working for color?

WRIGHTSON: Oh yeah. So there are lots of open areas … Actually, this thing might hold up in black 6k white.

GROTH: The pages I saw were in black-and-white and they looked good.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. This would probably hold up more than Creepshow. Because that was really done for color. There are lots of wide-open areas. In fact, in a lot of places, no line to hold the color, and the color helped that an awful lot.

GROTH: I want to talk about your Frankenstein project. You’ve been at it for a long time now.

WRIGHTSON: It looks like it’s finally going to come out sometime soon.

GROTH: Is it completed?

Thumbnail from Frankenstein.

WRIGHTSON: Yes, it is completed. There were one or two drawings to go, and I just came to the realization recently that I’m probably never going to do them. I’ve probably burned myself out on the Frankenstein project, and if I keep holding it up to do a couple more drawings the thing will never get done. So I’ve decided that … I took a look again through the structure of the thing and I thought that I would have to do a drawing or else I’d have a chapter or something without an illustration or there would be some kind of imbalance. But it turns out that there isn’t, so …

Yeah, I was going to get on it before this happened [banging cast], so I guess sometime this summer if I can squeeze it in between everything else that’s going on.

GROTH: Are you going to publish the book yourself?

WRIGHTSON: Definitely, yeah. It’s reached a point now where I couldn’t possibly let somebody else do it and expect to make any money. I’d be losing money anyway, except by doing it myself. And even then, I’ll probably lose money, so …

GROTH: What format is the book going to be in? It can’t be small.

WRIGHTSON: No. It’s going to be hardback, about so big …

GROTH: Similar to A Look Back?

WRIGHTSON: Maybe an inch smaller all around. Maybe 8 ½” x 11” then. Or whatever the next standard size is, down from that.

GROTH: Is it going to be on 800 pound paper? [Laughter.]

WRIGHTSON: I’m not really sure, that’s something else I’ll have to check. I want something pretty opaque. But it’s going to be all black-and-white, there aren’t going to be any color illustrations.

GROTH: A color painting for the cover?

WRIGHTSON: No, no. The cover, if you go up to use the bathroom, you’ll see it. It’s hanging up in the hall. Or even if you don’t have to use the bathroom. It’s a wraparound cover, black-and-white, pen-and-ink drawing. With maybe a second color for the title.

GROTH: You probably don’t even know, but about how many copies are you going to print and where are you going to sell it?

WRIGHTSON: Well, I’m planning to print around 5,000 copies for the first printing, maybe more. I’ll probably be wholesaling it mostly to comics shops everywhere. I’ll be handling a bit of retail sales myself, but certainly not too much. Because that becomes a full time job. I’ve got the thing pretty well structured for a wholesale business.

GROTH: How do you go about selecting which scenes from the novel to illustrate?

WRIGHTSON: It isn’t easy, it really isn’t.

The final version.

GROTH: You must know that book inside and out.

WRIGHTSON: Oh, boy do I ever. I’m so sick of it. [Laughter.] It’s a ridiculous book. It really is silly. The thing just defies all logic and all good sense, but what the hell, it’s fun. As far as selecting things, I have a stack of drawings this big that aren’t going to appear in the thing. Finished, complete drawings and these things don’t get knocked out in a couple of hours. I spent a few days on them. You can put that much time into doing a drawing, and really become involved with it and everything, and then decide you’re not going to use it. Or, what’s even worse, deciding that you don’t like it. After investing all that time and energy into it and really being convinced that you’re doing a great picture, and get the whole thing done after a week’s work, and you look at it and go, “Nah.”

GROTH: I’ve never heard an artist say that after putting so much time into it he just didn’t like the drawing.

WRIGHTSON: I don’t know how many artists go through that. I certainly do. Not all the time. Most of what I’ve done, I like. I like to look at my stuff. But still, there’s an awful lot of stuff I do that I just put a lot of time and energy into before it really connects that this ain’t a good picture and I don’t like it.

GROTH: It’s surprising to me that you wouldn’t make that determination far before it’s finished.

WRIGHTSON: Surprising to me, too. I mean, sometimes I do. Sometimes it doesn’t get beyond a pencil drawing. Just look at it and say, “This ain’t working,” and put it aside. But more often than not, I just finish the thing, and then decide that it’s a piece of garbage. [Laughter.]

GROTH: How many drawings are going to be in the book?

WRIGHTSON: About 40 full-page illustrations, give or take one or two.

GROTH: I think at one point you said you had 100 possible illustrations but decided it looked like a Big Little Book or something.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. I really had to cut it down. With that, there would have literally been a drawing every other page. And that was just too much. If you’re going to go that far, do a comic book.

GROTH: This also sounds like one of the few projects where you didn’t run out of steam near the end.

WRIGHTSON: Well, actually I did kind of run out of steam. And that’s been the problem for the past couple of years. I haven’t done anything on it in at least a year, maybe more. So I really have run out of steam. I’ve just been putting it off, saying I’ll get around to it. And, like I say, I just came to the realization maybe two months ago, that I better get this sucker out soon or it’s just not going to get done.

GROTH: Do you have a problem where your technique might change over the period of doing the drawings so that you can tell the early drawings from the later drawings?

WRIGHTSON: Well, you can, actually. I can. Because the technique improved. It’s kind of strange. The technique improved, and then it got too good. Or, like I was saying earlier on, it became too easy. And I can see that. I don’t know if anybody else will. But there’s a middle period, fortunately it’s a very broad middle period, of what I consider to be the best stuff. On the early stuff, the technique isn’t quite there, and on the later stuff the technique is completely overpowering. To me, anyway.

GROTH: Can you elaborate on that, when your technique improves? How do you improve your technique? Is it the quality of line?

WRIGHTSON: It’s a question of getting to know what you’re doing.

GROTH: Control?

WRIGHTSON: No, not control. Well, control has something to do with it. But that’s not everything, because the control was there all along, but it was just knowing what to do with those lines. I’m kind of aping Franklin Booth on this thing, I’m trying to do it all with single lines varying in thickness, to kind of imitate an old steel engraving or woodcut. So there’s not a lot of cross-hatching. There’s not a lot of that kind of pen texture. So it’s … Well, let’s call it an engraving technique, with a pen. It’s just taking this engraving technique and after you’ve done 20 or 30 pictures, you really start getting the hang of what a line this thick is going to do when you narrow it down across the space of seven inches to a hairline. And then lay another line exactly like it, next to it. And the next one is a little bit thinner so you can get a gradation. And after a while it becomes remarkably easy to do it. It does for me, anyway. And I don’t think I’m going to be using this technique much after this. I’m going to find something else.

GROTH: Is there a point where you can over-embellish?

WRIGHTSON: Oh, hell, there’s always that point. Yeah. I always run that risk. There are so many things of mine that are just overdone. I could have used that fabled “second artist” standing over my shoulder to take it away when it was finished.

Illustration for Frankenstein that didn’t make it into the final book.

GROTH: Again, about the Frankenstein book, what I’m interested in finding out is what is the intent of the illustrations? Are you intent upon adding another dimension to the novel?

WRIGHTSON: Not really. I started this in 1976. All this time, and all this work, all this effort and aggravation and what not have gone into this simply to embellish this old book. Which, when I started out, I thought was a terrific book. Now, six years have gone by, and I don’t think it’s such a terrific book, anymore. Okay, we’ve got some good drawings to go in there, some of them are spectacular. And for anybody who does like the book, this is going to be a real good edition of it. My personal feelings have nothing to do with that at all. You should just buy the book because you want it, and enjoy it, and don’t worry about how I feel. When I did the drawings, I was really involved with the book and my intentions were really good when I did them. They had to be or my drawings wouldn’t be that good. I really believe that an artist can’t communicate to a viewer unless he really pours himself into it and tries to do that. And I tried to do it with that, and they work. So, I’m not apologizing for that, I’m not apologizing for anything, I’m just saying that I’m glad I’m still not doing it, because my attitude has changed completely.

GROTH: It sounds like you think a little less of the book now than when you first started.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, I guess I do.

GROTH: Who are some of your favorite authors?

WRIGHTSON: Stephen King.

GROTH: Poe, I guess? Or isn’t he one of your favorites?

WRIGHTSON: He was real good to start out with, but I don’t think I’d ever read him again. Wells, H.G. Wells, in limited doses.

GROTH: Lovecraft?

WRIGHTSON: Nah. He was always a little too ponderous. I have a hard time with the language. There are a few things that he’s done that I’ve really enjoyed, but for the most part I can’t take him.

GROTH: What do you like about King?

WRIGHTSON: What do I like about King? Damn near everything. The guy has an uncanny knack for creating characters who are people that you know, just really solid people. A storyteller par excellence. Absolutely riveting from the first page. A terrific command of the language and colloquialism and slang and bullshit and whatever. And on top of that, he can scare the fucking pants off me.

GROTH: That’s what friends tell me.

WRIGHTSON: Have you ever read him?

GROTH: No, I never have. And friends have told me that they’ve actually gotten frightened reading his books. And I can’t imagine that.

WRIGHTSON: If you’ve never experienced that, I envy you. Because I wish I could re-experience that feeling for the first time.

GROTH: I keep intending to read The Shining, but I’ve not gotten around to it.

WRIGHTSON: I think you ought to start out with Salem’s Lot.

WHITE: How about Firestarter?

WRIGHTSON: Firestarter and Salem’s Lot, I think, are the two best stories he’s written.

GROTH: Did you see the King story in the Marvel comic?

WRIGHTSON: “Lawnmower Man,” yeah.

GROTH: What did you think of that?

WRIGHTSON: I thought Walt went a little bit off the deep end on that. Hard to explain. I like Walt’s stuff. It’s hard to talk about it with King’s stuff because when I read the story I saw it completely differently. So I see Walt’s thing, and for the most part, I disagreed with it.

GROTH: Did you disagree with the caricature aspect?

WRIGHTSON: No, no. Because that’s one of the things I like about Walt. I’ll tell you the thing that really bothered me was the layout. Usually, Walt’s stuff makes perfect sense. It’s just easy, you can breeze right through it. That one for some reason, boy, it just kept getting in the way. I was constantly reminded that I was reading a comic book that was trying to force my eye in directions that it didn’t want to go.

GROTH: Did you like the story?

WRIGHTSON: I liked the story, yeah. And I like a lot of Walt’s intentions, what he was trying to do with it, and for me, he just didn’t succeed. Maybe he succeeded for everybody else and I’m just funny that way.

GROTH: Did you like his Alien?

WRIGHTSON: I loved his Alien. That was with a little trepidation, because they offered it to me first, and I turned it down, because they said, “we want it last week.” I think they had two months for 48, or 64 pages. It might have been something like 48 pages in a month or 64 pages in two months or something absolutely ridiculous like that. Full color. I reluctantly turned it down, because they were ready to fly me to England right away. And I’d never been to England.

GROTH: Did you see the movie?

WRIGHTSON: Oh yeah.

GROTH: Did you like it?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, the movie’s a classic, I love it. I’ve seen it four times.

GROTH: We just saw it again a couple of weeks ago. It’s great for midnight shows.

WRIGHTSON: I don’t like Giger’s work. I don’t like his painting.

GROTH: Why don’t you like it?

WRIGHTSON: I don’t know if I can explain. His work seems very affected to me. Phony isn’t the right word. But there seems to be too much reliance on a certain set of devices recurring, and recurring. And I don’t like to see that. Stylistically I don’t mind seeing a recurring style, because that’s what you have, but Giger doesn’t strike me as having as strong a style as he does a reliance on objects and paraphernalia.

GROTH: It’s not genuine.

WRIGHTSON: Yes and no. That’s sort of it, but not quite. It’s a real hard thing to put your finger on. This is all a prelude to saying that the stuff he did in Alien was brilliant. For that movie, it just worked so well. And I just don’t think we’ll ever see anything like it.

GROTH: And we’re all in love with Sigourney Weaver.

WRIGHTSON: Oh, yeah, yeah. What a heartthrob.

GROTH: And Moebius, of course, designed some material for the movie. Do you like Moebius’s work?

WRIGHTSON: What I’ve seen of it, yeah. Actually Kaluta pointed it out to me, it was in The Making of Alien, it had all these sketches and everything. I don’t know how, but we got into talking about Ron Cobb. Evidently Michael doesn’t have a real high opinion of Ron and said, “Look at this,” and he shows me the book and we’re flipping through it. And I get to the costume designs. And I’m flipping through and I get to the Moebius design, which is the one they used. And I said, “Boy that’s Moebius, huh.” And Michael said, “Yeah! That’s it exactly! Right! That’s it!” And I said, “What are you talking about?” “You just flipped through 15 pages of Ron Cobb’s costume designs and Moebius comes through with one picture and they pick it!” [Laughter.]

GROTH: Let’s get in to what you like in terms of art. Not necessarily specific artists, but what do you look for? What kind of thing do you pick up on?

WRIGHTSON: Mostly, I’m really fascinated with the stuff I can’t do.

GROTH: Which would be?

WRIGHTSON: Just about everything. When you come right down to it, I’m really pretty limited about what I can and can’t do. I really admire technical facility. Not really as an end to itself, but abstractly. You can have all the technical facility in the world, and still make bad pictures, I realize that. But, still, there’s something about being able to whip something out with no effort at all, or draw a perfectly straight line with a brush, or do a perfect circle. And working with airbrush … I’m just envious as hell of people who can do that. Although, strangely enough, most of the work I’ve seen done by airbrush, I can’t stand.

GROTH: Do you like [Richard] Corben?

WRIGHTSON: When he doesn’t rely too much on the airbrush, yeah.

GROTH: About 3 percent of the time.

WRIGHTSON: [Laughter.] Yeah. No, I like a lot of what Rich does. And I’m probably pretty typical. I probably like the same things about him that you do. And dislike the same things.

GROTH: What about underground artists? I’ve never heard you talk about them. Ever. Do you follow them, do you like them?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, I like most of the guys for different reasons. I always think of Corben as an underground artist. And I think as far as an artist he’s the top. And there are a lot of other guys like S. Clay Wilson, I really like. And I don’t like his drawing especially much. But I like what he does with it. That certain twist of mind that he has. Crumb, of course. Bill Griffith I think is a genius. I really like his stuff. Zippy the Pinhead.

GROTH: Have you seen Raw?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, I’ve seen an issue or two. I haven’t really had time to sit down and go through it, so I can’t really comment on it.

GROTH: There are a lot of strange things in there.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, Art [Spiegelman]’s kind of off-the-wall. He’s a character. I like Art. Did you ever get to see his lecture?

GROTH: Well, not really. He invited me over, but I haven’t gone yet.

WRIGHTSON: Actually, I kind of like early Chester Gould stuff. Again, not for the drawing but the guy was a hell of a yarn-spinner and the stuff … well, for the last 25 years, it’s been anemic as hell. But early on, it was really grim. Gangbusters stuff. No-holds-barred stories with these great characters like Flattop, Puss Face, and all these people.

GROTH: [Laughter.] How about the newspaper strips? Did you like Harold Gray?

WRIGHTSON: I haven’t seen newspaper strips in so long …  

GROTH: McCay … any of the old stuff?

WRIGHTSON: I love all the old stuff. Yeah. Little Nemo and Hal Foster, we talked about him before.

GROTH: Of course, nothing like that is being done these days.

WRIGHTSON: Well, that’s it, you know. Prince Valiant is just a joke.

GROTH: It’s really tragic.

WRIGHTSON: Well, of the funnies up here, Prince Valiant is the only straight thing. And the rest of it’s all humor stuff. And I’m not too crazy about most of the humor stuff either. Ever since Doonesbury everybody’s coming along, being laid back, in the goddamn humor things, and … Whatever happened to people being hit on the head, and pies and stuff, Sure, it’s probably just fallen out of fashion and will come back, but I really miss that stuff. Slipping on banana peels.

GROTH: Yeah, there’s nothing like McCay, Herriman, and Feininger today.

WRIGHTSON: It’s probably reflecting the mood of the country. All conservative and wimpy.

GROTH: Feiffer’s good.

WRIGHTSON: Feiffer’s always good. Feiffer has just been consistently brilliant through the years. Charles Schulz has gotten tired, I think. I think he started getting tired with the goddamn Red Baron. That wore out its welcome.

GROTH: It seems like when someone does something for 20 or 30 years, he just starts to burn out.

WRIGHTSON: I don’t see how these guys can keep up with it. The only guy I know personally that does a strip is Williamson, and he’s not even doing that one any more. He’s doing the Star Wars strip now.

GROTH: Yeah, he quit Agent X-9.

WRIGHTSON: Right. I haven’t talked to him in years but I’ve heard that he is so much happier now. I mean, he’s finally away from civilian stuff and he can do people in boots and tights and outrageous machinery and stuff.

GROTH: The pay has to be better.

WRIGHTSON: Oh, I don’t know, the money was always good. Although it’s probably better, astronomically better, with Star Wars, than it ever was with Corrigan. Because Corrigan was never carried by that many papers. But he was still making a hell of a good living at that.

GROTH: What about Captain Sternn, speaking of such things?

WRIGHTSON: I did the strip, just for the hell of it, and never really had Heavy Metal in mind and Jeff came over and wanted to know what I was going to do with it, and I said I didn’t know. You think maybe Heavy Metal? He said, sure. But it wasn’t done for anybody but me. I started it while I was living in Florida, I was working on Frankenstein down there. Got bored and felt like doing a strip, so I did Captain Sternn. Got bored with that, put it aside. We moved up here and were here for a few months and then I completely forgot about it and I was digging through some old stuff and ran across it and said, “Aw Hell, I ought to finish this up.”

GROTH: What did you think of the animation?

WRIGHTSON: I was tremendously pleased with it.

GROTH: I thought it was the best thing in the movie.

WRIGHTSON: Well, I tried to convince myself that I liked the movie. I saw it twice. And then came to the realization that I couldn’t stand the movie, but I did like my part of it. And thought there was nothing wrong with that, because that’s the way it is, isn’t it? I think mine was the truest, the truest to its original form, and stayed the closest to me stylistically. And I can’t think of the guys’ names who did it, but I never talked to them, was never in contact with them. But they put their finger on the exact quality I was going for with that. Just this kind of Warner Brothers feeling. And I’m real gratified that they picked up on that immediately.

GROTH: Are you much of a film buff?

WRIGHTSON: More or less, I guess. But I don’t get out to the movies much. Certainly not now [points to leg].

GROTH: Are you kind of isolated out here?

WRIGHTSON: Not really. Kingston is 10, 15 miles away and they’ve got five theatres over there with seven more on the way. Of course, they do a lot of Smokey and the Bandit and they’re still waiting for Chariots of Fire. So they do a lot of good old boy, redneck, kick ass, drive-in stuff up here. [Laughter.] But they still get some good stuff. If you haven’t seen it yet, see the new Richard Pryor movie. It is devastating.

GROTH: Which one?

WRIGHTSON: Live on the Sunset Strip. Well, see them both actually. Because he is so good. He’s just got to be the funniest man alive.

WHITE: In the world.

WRIGHTSON: Outside of Jerry Lewis. [Laughter.]

GROTH: What kind of movies do you like? You said you liked horror movies.

WRIGHTSON: I love comedies. Horror movies. I loved Reds and Ragtime, whatever you want to call those. Superman, Raiders of the Lost Ark, pretty much what everyone else likes. I’m fairly typical in that respect, except that I like a lot of really bad horror movies that most other people don’t. [Laughter.]

GROTH: You have to love Tod Browning’s Freaks.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. Well I think you had to have grown up in the ’50s. That’s a big part of it. You had to have grown up during the days when you had a double-feature, bad science fiction movie every week. Always involving giant bugs or some kind of thing.

GROTH: And then you get addicted.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. And those things were so bad. Of course, they only cost a quarter, for two movies. No, it was 50 cents.

GROTH: Yeah, you aren’t that old.

WRIGHTSON: Maybe that was a matinee or something, because I remember standing in line half way around the block when Rhodan was playing. Which was one of your all time bad Japanese movies. But I just loved it. He’d flap his wings and the buses would go flying off into the air. [Laughter.]

GROTH: All the toy buses went flying into the toy buildings. [Laughter.] You didn’t like The Shining much.

WRIGHTSON: I was real disappointed in The Shining. I saw it twice, once in the theatre and once on HBO at a friend’s house. I had great hopes for that. I thought, “Stephen King, Stanley Kubrick, Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Scatman Crothers, Wow! It’s got to be great!”

GROTH: Nicholson gave a really effective portrait of a loony.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, but the thing that really disappointed me was that he was acting too crazy too early. I mean, he’s supposed to be a little bit troubled at the beginning, but he doesn’t become a raving lunatic until later on. But you don’t trust this man from the very beginning. And Shelley Duvall was even a little on the weird side. And it wasn’t their fault. It was Kubrick, the direction.

GROTH: Duvall twitching and smoking cigarettes constantly. She looked a little off.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah.

GROTH: So, what are you doing now?

WRIGHTSON: Well, I’m just kind of laying around. Just starting to read The Stand for about the fifth time.

GROTH: You mean you haven’t started it five times, you’ve actually read it?

WRIGHTSON: I’ve read it four times and I’m starting in on my fifth.

GROTH: Holy hell.

WRIGHTSON: I’ve read just about everything he’s ever written at least twice. And it takes a really good writer to get me to read something more than once. I mean, he’s good even when you know what’s coming. You can go through it a second time and just marvel at how well he manipulates you. And you have to marvel at it because you can’t figure out how he does it. It just works. It gets you all fired up and interested the second time around. Not many people can do that.

GROTH: Well we certainly should ridicule your volleyball feat here [pointing to Berni’s broken leg].

WRIGHTSON: I figure I have a slot reserved for me in the Volleyball Hall of Fame. There aren’t many people who can fall on themselves and break their leg.

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (3/22/17 – Welcome to the “real” world.) http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-32216-welcome-to-the-real-world/ http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-32216-welcome-to-the-real-world/#comments Tue, 21 Mar 2017 12:00:36 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99543 Continue reading ]]> This past weekend I had the great fortune to pick up the Spring 2017 issue of Shogakukan’s quarterly Golgo 13 magazine – a nearly 300-page compendium of complete storylines featuring Duke Togo, aka Golgo 13, the Perfect Machine of Snipe, a hyper-competent assassin created by gekiga founding father Takao Saitō way back in 1968. Next year it’ll be half a century of people getting shot directly between the eyes from a faraway perch, but don’t fool yourself into thinking the franchise is irrelevant; later this year, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan will be hosting an online manual in which G13 will dispense valuable (and presumably non-murderous) safety tips for business travelers abroad. Canny move for a comic aimed squarely at aging men, but as I was soon to find out, the feature is not without a lingering energy.

If you’re as familiar with Golgo 13 as I am, the above sequence will seem almost pornographic. Why is Duke suffering like this in a random hotel room? It’s like seeing the Shadow slam his hand in a car door; Saitō and his large crew of assistants at Saitō-Pro — which put out another 40-or-so pages of this stuff every two weeks, without fail — are well aware of the iconographic power of seeing their unbeatable champion marksman writhing from physical illness, his drippy skin a putrid salmon in the opening color sequence. Per a 2015 NHK television documentary (unofficial subtitles), the now-octogenarian Saitō still draws images of Golgo 13 himself in the comic, though I wonder if he pushed himself here to present the character in so agonized a state, or if Duke’s infirmity rendered him a conceptually lesser being, passed off to supplemental hands.

The story is titled “Messenger from the Canopy” – it’s dated to January of 2011, clocking in at Episode 508 per the franchise’s terrifying storyline wiki. Immediately after the dramatic open, we’re thrust into a flashback detailing G13’s typically amoral attitude; he’s been contracted by a Big Pharma fat cat to eliminate a pesky biologist whose research in the Costa Rica rainforest is threatening profits. Ever the professional, Duke makes it look like an accident.

But alas, Duke’s identity is discovered by the biologist’s subordinates, who plan a most awful retaliation – smearing a special toxin on the doorknob of his hotel, to infect him through contact with the skin.

I can’t say I’ve had the chance to look at every one of the preceding 507 adventures in paid murder, but my sense is that it’s somewhat unusual to depict Golgo 13 physically suffering from the fallout of his deeds. Indeed, the client — the aforementioned Big Pharma fat cat — is soon depicted succumbing to his own sudden bout of mystery flu.

Do not make the mistake, however, of assuming that we’re seeing a newly ‘moral’ Golgo 13. From what I have read — including the thousands of pages translated to English — the series endeavors to maintain a very even tone, never aggressively cruel, but unwilling to allow too much in the way of empathetic concern to trouble its holy mission: presenting Duke Togo as the most marvelous man who ever lived. In this way, it makes perfect sense to kill the fat cat: he’s a gratuitously greedy, mean villain, and it would be sad if he got away. And, moreover, the sight of his mashed potato physiology succumbing to death’s embrace in 2.8 seconds contrasts nicely with the sweat-drenched survival of the impossibly manly title character.

Still, he’s gonna need a little help.

LOOK AT THAT FIRST PANEL. It takes a comic more-or-less explicitly aimed at middle-aged men to really nail the business supremely normcore business casual shit going on in here, and I don’t think any American comic can compare. Also of note is the local specialist brought in to aid Duke’s condition; Golgo 13 storylines tend to spend a great deal of time explicating the problematic international situations into which the title character fires bullets, but the studiousness generally stands apart from the ‘thrill’ portion of the comic: the exotica, on which G13’s international travels depend for their escapist kick. Thus:

Hot enough for ya? It was hot enough for Golgo 13 magazine that one of the panels was reproduced in color on the back cover, highlighting the cadaverous tone of Duke’s skin, and perhaps the mystic foreignness of the darker-hued men surrounding him.

Meanwhile, word has spread about G13’s condition, and vengeful motherfuckers from a totally different assassination are en route to finally settle the score. One can scarcely imagine the power vacuum that would be left in place of the departed Duke Togo, given that he’s been involved in a wide variety of world events since 1968, while somehow remaining 30-ish years of age, a la Batman. Did you know Golgo 13 clinched the 2000 election for Bush? The incredible facts are in vol. 13 of VIZ’s English books. Two years ago, there was a suggestion that Saitō would soon wrap the series up, but nothing seems to have come of it; perhaps he too (or the suits at Shogakukan) understood the implications of a financial vacuum as well.

Anyway, the revenge squad sets upon Duke’s sickbed, but even on the verge of death he remains the most outstanding shootist who ever bent a finger:

Ha ha, he even did a Buffalo Bill trick shot knocking the pistol out of that guy’s hand!

As expected, everything wraps itself up by virtue of Golgo 13 being inarguably better than everyone else. The natural therapy specialist gets paid, the various aggressors and betrayers are all killed, and — duly restored to health — Duke sets off to take care of those who dared make him bend the human knee in a manner not completely dissimilar to Nancy Allen and John Travolta at the end of Carrie, although maybe I’m just imagining the frame spinning around and around.

And while I don’t know if some photo-reference specialist at Saitō-Pro had to draw the panel of the muzzle flash on pg. 81 or simply copy it from the extremely similar image of such from the jungle assassination nine JPEGs above, I would place a very modest amount of money on Takao Saitō himself drawing the final panel of Golgo 13 surveying his handiwork. That, friends, is an anti-hero shot.

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PLEASE NOTE: What follows is not a series of capsule reviews but an annotated selection of items listed by Diamond Comic Distributors for release to comic book retailers in North America on the particular Wednesday identified in the column title above. Be aware that some of these comics may be published by Fantagraphics Books, the entity which also administers the posting of this column, and that I also run a podcast with an employee of Nobrow Press. Not every listed item will necessarily arrive at every comic book retailer, in that some items may be delayed and ordered quantities will vary. I have in all likelihood not read any of the comics listed below, in that they are not yet released as of the writing of this column, nor will I necessarily read or purchase every item identified; THIS WEEK IN COMICS! reflects only what I find to be potentially interesting. You could always just buy nothing.

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SPOTLIGHT PICKS!

Sticks Angelica, Folk Hero: Being the newest Drawn and Quarterly collection of work by Michael DeForge, this time a weekly webcomic that approximated what the artist’s presence in an alternative weekly could have looked like in an era when those things were more common. A very particular melange of family drama, outdoorsy Canadian literary burlesque, overt self-parody and bleak gag work, presented as a 96-page, 10.9″ x 5.8″ two-color hardcover; $24.95.

The Interview: And here is the next Fantagraphics release from Italian-born cartoonist Manuele Fior, following quickly on last year’s translation of 5,000 km Per Second. This is a newer work, released in Europe in 2013, concerning a psychologist and his patient encountering what seems to be an interstellar message from an alien race. “[A] science fiction novel that eschews the stars in favor of the delicate, fragile, interior world of human emotion,” sez the publisher. A 6.75″ x 9.5″ duotone hardcover, 176 pages; $24.99.

PLUS!

The Torture Report: A Graphic Adaptation (&) Terms and Conditions: The Graphic Novel: Two very different, opposing strains of thought here. Torture Report is the work of Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón, a pair of longtime genre comic hands who, in 2006, achieved a new degree of visibility through their production of The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation, a comics version of findings by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States which proved novel and perhaps more readily accessible to some readers than the source text. Many nonfiction works followed, with The Torture Report, a 144-page Nation Books release, providing a presumably similar rendition of 2014 findings by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence concerning CIA practice during the George W. Bush administration. Terms and Conditions, meanwhile, is artist R. Sikoryak‘s parody of this impulse, transforming the October 21, 2015 update to the iTunes Terms & Conditions into a conceptual graphic novel, with each page finding the style of a different cartoonist or creative team seeking poignantly to dramatize the most skippable text ever drafted. A huge swathe of international styles are attempted, ranging from newspaper strips to manga to Euro masters to recent Image Comics and bookstore market hits. A Drawn and Quarterly softcover, 108 color pages; $16.99 (Report), $14.95 (Terms).

Fire!!: The Zora Neale Hurston Story (&) A Treasury of XXth Century Murder Compendium Vol. 1: More from our world of nonfiction, courtesy of two alt-comics lifers. Fire!! is the latest comics biography from Peter Bagge, whom I cannot say I predicted would be heading in this direction. Busy Drawn and Quarterly publishes 104 color pages on the author and folklorist of the title, a divisive figure in the Harlem Renaissance and beyond. A Treasury of XXth Century Murder is the most recent iteration of a longstanding passion of artist Rick Geary, detailing various historical killings from a sober perspective. The 240-page NBM “Compendium” collects three earlier volumes (The Lindbergh Child, 2010; The Terrible Axe-Man of New Orleans, 2010; Madison Square Tragedy, 2013) into a single hardcover; $21.95 (Fire!!), $27.99 (Murder).

Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe: The Movie Adaptation: If you thought writer/artist Tom Scioli was finished playing with Hasbro toys… you’re sort of right, but not entirely! This 40-page IDW special represents Scioli’s ‘adaptation’ of a (wholly imaginary) movie based on his own 2014-16 series with co-writer John Barber, which will be getting an all-in-one collection of its own next month. I really enjoy this stuff – some of the only throwback map-of-my-interests genre work to incorporate the influence of stuff like Barry Windsor-Smith’s Weapon X among the poppier cartoon standards. Preview; $4.99.

The Black Flame Archives #1 (of 7): Speaking of offbeat fantasy fare, this Devil’s Due/1First series — “1First” being the present form of the former First Comics — promises a re-colored presentation of a backup feature Tom Sutton pencilled for Starslayer in the mid-’80s with inker Don Lomax and writer Peter B. Gillis. I’ve never read this stuff, but I’ll look at Sutton’s art, sure; $5.99.

Judge Dredd: Deviations (&) Judge Dredd: Cry of the Werewolf (&) Judge Dredd: Every Empire Falls: Three distinct flavors of authoritarianism from both sides of the Atlantic, sometimes all at once. Deviations is part of the U.S.-based strain of Judge Dredd comics from IDW, albeit written and drawn by a longtime 2000 AD contributor, John McCrea (colored by Mike Spicer) – it’s a What If…? type of thing, following up on a 1983 storyline that saw the title character transformed into a werewolf. At the same time, Cry of the Werewolf is IDW’s new presentation of that very story, written by John Wagner & Alan Grant and drawn by Steve Dillon, who died last year. The 48-page special is structured, in fact, as a memorial to Dillon, with pieces of tribute art accompanying the b&w/color main story and a portion of the proceeds donated to the Hero Initiative, apparently Dillon’s preferred charity. Every Empire Falls, on the other hand, is a Rebellion collection of seven recent stories from 2000 AD, written by Michael Carroll and drawn by various artists, including Dredd co-creator Carlos Ezquerra; $4.99 (Deviations), $5.99 (Werewolf), $25.00 (Empire).

Goodnight Punpun Vol. 5 (&) Master Keaton Vol. 10 (&) BLAME! Vol. 3: All the manga of note to me this week comes from continuing series, so I’ll do this quickly. Goodnight Punpun is VIZ’s two-in-one release of brutal youth comics by Inio Asano, I believe set to be complete, therefore, in 7 books. Master Keaton is yet more episodic insurance investigation suspense/sentimentality created by Naoki Urasawa & Hokusei Katsushika. There should be 12 volumes of this in total, unless VIZ is also planning on releasing the 2012-14 revival series, which would up it to 13. BLAME! comes from Vertical, dropping another 354 pages of Tsutomu Nihei’s architectural action comics in a very flattering oversized format. There should be 6 of these; $24.99 (Punpun), $19.99 (Keaton), $34.95 (BLAME!).

Starstruck – Artist’s Edition (&) Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Pellucidar: At the Earth’s Core: Finally, we have a pair of releases representing older works by a colleague of the late Bernie Wrightson, the still-active Michael Wm. Kaluta, whose Starstruck: Old Proldiers Never Die series with writer/co-creator Elaine Lee is currently ongoing from IDW. Naturally, that same publisher is behind the Starstruck – Artist’s Edition, a 12″ x 17″, 144-page hardcover presenting the original 1980s Heavy Metal/Marvel Graphic Novel serial along with two issues of the subsequent Epic comic book series in the form of Kaluta’s original art, shot in color. Pellucidar is a 104-page Dark Horse collection of ’70s DC comics, including a 1973 issue of Weird Worlds drawn by Kaluta (written by Dennis O’Neil), along with other stories drawn by Alan Weiss and Dan Green; $150.00(-ish) (Starstruck), $12.99 (Pellucidar).

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More is More http://www.tcj.com/more-is-more/ http://www.tcj.com/more-is-more/#respond Tue, 21 Mar 2017 12:00:24 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99391 Continue reading ]]> First up — good news! I’m so happy to report that Tim Hodler and Lauren Weinstein welcomed a baby girl into the world yesterday. 

Today on the site we have an obituary for Bernie Wrightson by Steve Ringgenberg.

Born in 1948, to a working class Baltimore family, Wrightson didn’t recall receiving a great deal of encouragement for his early artistic endeavors from his parents, but as he observed in a 2015 interview in Comic Book Creator, “I’ve been drawing as long as I can remember.” Comic books and comic strips were early influences, with Wrightson citing Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant, Flash Gordon, drawn by Mac Raboy and Buz Sawyer by Roy Crane as his favorite comic strips. Wrightson was only five or six when he began reading EC Comics, the most visceral of which, as drawn by Graham Ingels or Frank Frazetta, had a profound influence on his aesthetic. Another big influence on Wrightson was horror films: He was fortunate to be in the “Monster Kids” generation, when Famous Monsters of Filmland began publishing, and Universal released its “Shock Theater” package of old horror films for syndication, spawning a host of local late night horror movie hosts like Baltimore’s own Dr. Lucifer, played by faded movie idol Richard Dix.

Popular interest in dinosaurs had a resurgence in the late 1950s, providing another piece of Wrightson’s influences. While he remembered loving Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, other, more cheaply done dinosaur films failed to impress him. As he recalled in the same Comic Book Creator interview, “I saw that Lost World remake with Claude Rains (1960), and that was a huge disappointment…you couldn’t fool me with plastic horns on a big lizard…” Another great early influence was the Ace Books editions of Edgar Rice Burroughs featuring covers and frontispiece illustrations by Frazetta, which Wrightson credits with getting him to start reading novels cover to cover.

And the great Joe McCulloch brings us his weekly dose, but with comics listing to follow later today.

Elsewhere:

A look at a mostly under-known aspect of Betty Boop.

Ben Schwartz on Michael Tisserand’s George Herriman biography.

Bringing Wilson from page to screen over at The New Yorker.

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Bernie Wrightson, 1948-2017 http://www.tcj.com/bernie-wrightson-1948-2017/ http://www.tcj.com/bernie-wrightson-1948-2017/#comments Tue, 21 Mar 2017 12:00:07 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99506 Continue reading ]]> Swamp Thing co-creator, comic book artist and illustrator Bernie Wrightson died March 18th following a long battle with cancer. Wrightson was a product of the second generation of comics fandom and began contributing to fanzines in the late 1960s, before breaking into the comics industry in 1969, with work for Web of Horror and DC’s Showcase, including two issues of the dark fantasy strip “Nightmaster”. Although his early work was raw, it was powerful, with lush inks, dynamic anatomy, and a knack for telling stories, especially dark, scary ones, as you’d expect from an artist whose favorite movie was James Whale’s 1931 masterpiece, Frankenstein. Although Wrightson’s métier was horror, he was too talented and too versatile to be easily pigeonholed, and drew beloved fantasy and sword and sorcery stories and illustrations early on in his career.

Born in 1948, to a working class Baltimore family, Wrightson didn’t recall receiving a great deal of encouragement for his early artistic endeavors from his parents, but as he observed in a 2015 interview in Comic Book Creator, “I’ve been drawing as long as I can remember.” Comic books and comic strips were early influences, with Wrightson citing Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant, Flash Gordon, drawn by Mac Raboy and Buz Sawyer by Roy Crane as his favorite comic strips. Wrightson was only five or six when he began reading EC Comics, the most visceral of which, as drawn by Graham Ingels or Frank Frazetta, had a profound influence on his aesthetic. Another big influence on Wrightson was horror films: He was fortunate to be in the “Monster Kids” generation, when Famous Monsters of Filmland began publishing, and Universal released its “Shock Theater” package of old horror films for syndication, spawning a host of local late night horror movie hosts like Baltimore’s own Dr. Lucifer, played by faded movie idol Richard Dix.

Popular interest in dinosaurs had a resurgence in the late 1950s, providing another piece of Wrightson’s influences. While he remembered loving Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, other, more cheaply done dinosaur films failed to impress him. As he recalled in the same Comic Book Creator interview, “I saw that Lost World remake with Claude Rains (1960), and that was a huge disappointment…you couldn’t fool me with plastic horns on a big lizard…” Another great early influence was the Ace Books editions of Edgar Rice Burroughs featuring covers and frontispiece illustrations by Frazetta, which Wrightson credits with getting him to start reading novels cover to cover.

In addition to his influences from popular culture, Wrightson also learned about drawing by watching John Gnagy’s famous art instruction program on television, and taking the Famous Artists correspondence course. His first published drawing appeared on the letters page of Creepy #9 (June 1966), showing a man being dragged into an open grave, and a headstone bearing the inscription “Berni Wrightson, Dec. 15th, 1965”. 

Within the next few years, Wrightson made a stir in fanzine circles with his many Frazetta and Ingels- influenced illustrations. A meeting with his idol Frank Frazetta at a 1967 convention in New York further inspired Wrightson to begin creating his own stories. It was at that convention that Wrightson also met Al Williamson, Jeffrey Jones, Michael Kaluta, and Dick Giordano. He also met fanzine publishers Rich Hauser and Roger Hill and soon began contributing to both Spa Fon and Squa Tront. Years later, Michael Kaluta recalled that halcyon weekend like this: “And the next day, we four DID meet Frank Frazetta and Ellie right in their hotel room, three doors down the hall from the room we’d rented. We met Roy Krenkel in Frank’s room later that evening, after Frank and Robert Barrett had driven out to Frank’s place on Long Island and brought back a huge stack of Frank’s originals…Wrightson traded a drawing to Frank for a Johnny Comet Sunday page…that flawless original was with Bernie all the time we roomed together…from Nightmaster to Swamp Thing.

 In 1966, Wrightson secured a job at The Baltimore Sun as an illustrator, his first professional work as an artist. His first published work in comic books was “The Man Who Murdered Himself” in House of Mystery #179 (March-April 1969), a title with which he would have a long association. Wrightson is also credited with creating the illustrated splash pages that graced many issues of DC’s “mystery” comics as a way of getting a quick paycheck. Wrightson drew his first continuing character in 1969, Nightmaster for Showcase issues 82-84.

Wrightson contributed painted covers and interior stories to all three issues of Web of Horror, a Warren-esque horror mag published by owners of Cracked.  Writer Bruce Jones and Wrightson were scheduled to take over of as editors of WOH with the fourth issue only to find the offices empty after the publisher unceremoniously pulled the plug on the magazine.  Fortunately, he was getting plenty of work from DC’s mystery magazines, House of Mystery, House of Secrets, The Unexpected, Weird Mystery Tales, and The Witching Hour.

In 1971, working from a script by Len Wein, Wrightson illustrated “Swamp Thing” in House of Secrets #92 (July 1971). Reader reaction was instantaneous and overwhelmingly positive, and by fall of the following year, DC was publishing a Swamp Thing title with scripts by Wein and pencils and inks by Wrightson.

Comics fandom reacted enthusiastically to the new title and Wrightson was soon assigned the art chores on DC’s new Shadow title, based on the famous pulp character.  Despite doing a house ad featuring the character, Wrightson quickly realized he couldn’t handle doing two books simultaneously and The Shadow was assigned to his friend Michael Kaluta. Wrightson did keep his hand in, helping with the penciling and inking chores of issue three, and inking the splash page of issue four.

After ten issues of Swamp Thing, Wrightson departed for other assignments, though over the years, he did a number of Swamp Thing covers for various reprints and collections of his original stories. To this day, Swamp Thing remains one of his signature characters. During the mid-70s Wrightson also did covers and interior stories for Marvel’s slate of mystery comics, including a well-remembered adaptation of a King Kull story, “The Skull of Silence” (Creatures on the Loose #10).

One of the things Bernie Wrightson is best remembered for is being a founding member of The Studio, the loft space he shared with Michael Kaluta, Jeffrey Jones, and Barry Windsor-Smith, starting in 1975. This gathering of successful and popular artists eventually produced The Studio, a lavish art book containing sections on Wrightson’s illustrations, as well as those of his studio-mates.

It was during this period that Wrightson began work on what was widely regarded as his magnum opus, Bernie Wrightson’s Frankenstein (1983), a new volume of Mary Shelley’s horror classic with a frontispiece and 50 full-page illustrations by Wrightson. Dark Horse subsequently reprinted it in 1994. There was also a French portfolio of Wrightson’s Frankenstein illustrations.

In 1982, Wrightson illustrated the graphic novel adaptation of Stephen King’s Creepshow, itself an homage to EC horror comics.

This was the first of several collaborations between King and Wrightson, with Wrightson illustrating such King projects as The Cycle of the Werewolf and the extended publication of The Stand. He was the creator of the character Captain Sternn, who was also featured in a segment of the Heavy Metal film. From the ’80s to the present Wrightson continued to draw characters for Marvel, DC, including Batman, The Punisher and Spider-Man. More recently he enjoyed a feruitful relationship with IDW, drawing Dead She Said, the Ghoul and a new version of Frankenstein. Wrightson also had a prolific career as a concept artist for films including Ghostbusters, Galaxy Quest, George Romero’s Land of the Dead, and Frank Darabont’s The Mist.

In January of 2017, following a series of health problems that included brain surgery, Wrightson announced his retirement from drawing and public appearances.

Bernie Wrightson was a fan favorite from the very beginning of his long and prolific career. Among the many awards he received over the course of his 40-plus years working as a cartoonist and illustrator were: Shazam Awards for Best Penciller (Dramatic Division), in addition to winning the 1972 Shazam Award for Best Individual Story (Dramatic Division) for Swamp Thing #1. Because of his work with Jim Starlin on the charitable comic Heroes for Hope, Wrightson shared a Bob Clampett Humanitarian Award. In 1975, Wrightson won the San Diego Comic Con’s Inkpot Award. The National Cartoonists Society recognized his work on Frankenstein, Alive, Alive! in 2012 in the Comic Book Category. The year 2015 brought Wrightson some final recognition for Swamp Thing, his Frankenstein illustrations, and indeed, his entire body of work when he received the Inkwell Special Recognition Award.

Perhaps the finest recognition Wrightson received was the almost universal adulation he received from his fans for his kind and generous nature to many people over the years.

Bernie Wrightson is survived by his wife, Liz Wrightson, his sons John and Jeffrey from his first marriage, and a stepson, Thomas. The family plans a celebration of his life and work for later in 2017.

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Gone Masters http://www.tcj.com/gone-masters/ http://www.tcj.com/gone-masters/#respond Mon, 20 Mar 2017 12:00:57 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99479 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, we have a 1984 interview with the late Skip Williamson.

And it’s another sad day for comics, as Bernie Wrightson, a beloved artist of numerous comics and books, has passed away after suffering from brain cancer.A fine summary of his life is on his own web site. Wrightson specialized in post-EC horror, emerging in the early 1970s to co-create Swamp Thing, draw covers and stories for DC, short stories for Warren, and co-found “The Studio”, a space on Manhattan’s Upper West Side where he, Barry Windsor Smith, Michael Kaluta and Jeffrey Jones worked, and about which an influential book was published. Wrightson is perhaps most acclaimed for his illustrations for Frankenstein, which were rendered in an elaborate pen and ink manner reminiscent of one of his heroes, Franklin Booth. He also collaborated with Stephen King, illustrating books including The Stand. Wrightson created his own character, Captain Sternn, who was featured in the print Heavy Metal and the anthology’s film version. The artist went on to draw Batman, the Punisher, and in recent years returned to Frankenstein. There’s more, of course, and we will have a full obituary soon, as well as an archival interview. I will say that, personally, Bernie Wrightson was the first artist I ever really studied. Starting when I was about 10 or 11 I ordered his posters out of the Bud Plant catalog and read and re-read his 1991 monograph, A Look Back, so many times that it fell apart. It was through Wrightson, and his old friend Joel Pollack (the founder of Big Planet Comics) that I learned about 19th and 20th century adventure illustration, to which I’ve returned in the last couple of years. Wrightson was the comic book heir to the EC horror line, and I suspect that if his influence on comics waned in the last couple of decades, it flourished in film via directors like Guillermo del Toro, who, like me, grew up on the stuff. I moved on from Wrightson somewhere just south of 18, but I have a a huge amount of appreciation for the work, in all its dedication and drama. He was at his best in Frankenstein, which I can still recommend, and whenever he moved into a his brushy horror mode, often in images for posters and portfolios. 

Wrightson, Jones, Kaluta, Smith.



 

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The Skip Williamson Interview http://www.tcj.com/the-skip-williamson-interview/ http://www.tcj.com/the-skip-williamson-interview/#respond Mon, 20 Mar 2017 12:00:27 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99423 Continue reading ]]>

Photo by Harriet Hiland.

From The Comics Journal #104 (January 1986)

Of all the underground artists, few seem as simultaneously linked to their moment yet transcendently funny as “Flippy” Skip Williamson. With his flat-blacks and obsessive crosshatching, his broadly self-reflective caricatures, Williamson’s combination of Kurtzman-inspired cartoonery, hallucinogenic political analysis, and midwestem moralizing made him the ideal reporter of Life in the Hog Butcher circa ’68–’74. The most political of underground humorists (in the most thuggishly political of American cities), Williamson began as just another fanboy artist in the days of many Mad-imitation fanzines, gravitated to the Chicago alternative press (first in Jay Lynch’s short-lived magazine Chicago Mirror, later in the Seed plus sundry Yippie-edited papers), then joined forces with Lynch and R. Crumb in producing Bijou #1, one of the earliest, longest-running undergrounds.

Williamson’s underground style, steeped in Art Deco flatness and crammed with calculatedly unhip scatology (“Holy cow! Some elephant doody!”), carried the same joyful resonance―the love of doing comix that nobody would’ve dared to do 10 years earlier―that sparks Crumb’s early work. But where Crumb’s primary comics aim was introspective, concerned with the character of those living through the ’60s (himself included, of course), Williamson took a broader look, skewering both left-wing trendiness and rightwing overreaction to a time of much-publicized leftwing trendiness. Crumb’s approach may have been more personal, more artistically “legitimate,” but to those of us struggling to make sense of the sociopolitical chaos, Williamson was frequently the funnier.

Bijou #1 first introduced Snappy Sammy Smoot, Williamson’s middle-aged innocent in confrontation with the times. A compulsive and naive nice-guy, brilliantined Smoot strove to find his place in the volatile counter-culture, only to be repeatedly mauled and exploited by the folks he thought were on his side. Despite his open alignment with leftist radical politics of the day (exemplified by Conspiracy Capers, a Williamson-edited one-shot done to raise money for the Chicago Seven), Williamson maintained a satirist’s skepticism about the era’s elevation of rhetoric over humanity. In “Sammy Smoot Gets Assassinated” (Bijou #3), for instance, our hero is killed by an “over-zealous” government man, given the chance to return to life by the devil only to be stomped to death by zealous radicals rioting in protest of Smoot’s first demise. The road to hell is paved with zealotry, Williamson seems to be saying.

Sammy Smoot lived through it all―drug experimentation, Weather-styled revolutionary mayhem, hip Christianity, serial killing, intergalactic encounters―with his innocence unscathed. (Compared to Sammy, Candide was a hardnosed intellectual.) In later issues of Bijou, Williamson introduced Ragtime Billy, a rightwing foil based on the midwest radio commentator Paul (“Fellow Americans”) Harvey. Crew-cut and loudmouthed, unswerving in his dogmatism, Billy thrives where Sammy gets victimized, a comment both on the rapid-fire obsolescence of the period’s countercultural trends and our country’s unwaveringly conservative backbone. In one strip Billy wiped out most of the United States with a broadcast of his bigoted diatribe yet remained unpunished. (One can’t help but think today of our current regime’s reluctance to pursue present-day reactionary abortion clinic bombers―or to even label them “terrorists.”) If anyone really wishes to know when the promise(s) of the ’60s and early ’70s weren’t realized, all they need to do is read Skip Williamson’s Bijou strips.

In more recent years, Williamson has maintained a more mainstream (I’m tempted to say “Yuppie”) profile: appearing in Denis Kitchen’s failed attempt at reaching the Marvel audience, Comix Book; working as art director for Playboy (an experience he, typically, would satirize in one of his Comix Book strips); as well as producing a strip for Playboy’s comics section. But for those who lived through the political and cultural quagmire that was the underground era, Skip Williamson is still the quintessential underground comix artist.

―BILL SHERMAN

 

GRASS GREEN: Well, Skip, it’s nice being in your office again. I’m wondering, how many of your fans would know that you work for Playboy, and have worked for Playboy for … how long?

SKIP WILLIAMSON: It’ll be eight years in October, 1984. It depends on how close people can keep in touch with what I’m doing. Playboy’s a mass magazine, I would think that more people know about Playboy than knew about the underground comics. I mean, Playboy’s circulation’s a lot more than Bijou’s was.

GREEN: Twenty-eight, 30 million.

WILLIAMSON: Not that many. It’s a broad audience, but it’s probably a different audience. A lot of people don’t read Playboy, too. And some of the people who read the undergrounds don’t read Playboy. I constantly come across folks who say, “Oh, I didn’t know you were there, I don’t buy the magazine because it’s too expensive,” or, “I don’t like it,” or some reason or the other.

GREEN: Well, now they’ll find out. Because even―I won’t mention any names, but even a person of high rank with The Comics Journal wasn’t aware that you were an art director at Playboy.

WILLIAMSON: Even in the early days of the underground comics, I’ve always held a job working in an art studio of some kind, as a designer. I even designed the Post Raisin Bran cereal box. Started out as a keyliner, that’s where everybody starts out, I think. Then, in the meantime we did the comics, and I worked my way up through various magazines art directing, and then up here, which is fairly illustrious, really, in terms of art directing magazines. I can virtually go to any artist I want. It’s been a learning situation for conceptual thinking, which is a lot like writing cartoons.

GREEN: Yes, and 1 think that the idea that working for Playboy, the kind of cartoons and stuff that they use, any of the old lechers like me, who come up with a really good idea regarding sex and all that kind of stuff, they still have this outlet, without being considered the old style pornographer, you know? I mean, get to draw T & A, boobs.

WILLIAMSON: Around here you can be as soft-core as you want.

GREEN: I’m not talking about the gross-out stuff like would be in certain other publications.

WILLIAMSON: You mean in Hustler? You know, I was the first art director for Hustler magazine. I worked with Larry Flynt for about two weeks, and the only thing I really art directed for him was the cover of the first issue and then I left, I quit. But, historically, I was his first art director. So I’ve been in the tits-‘n’-ass business for years. [Laughter.] It’s true, I worked as art director for Gallery magazine when it was in Chicago, for the last six months it was before it moved to New York City. I’ve also worked in massage parlors. So you know, I’ve worked the seamy side of the street.

GREEN: All right. Need an assistant? I was going to ask you if you still do Snappy Sammy Smoot.

WILLIAMSON: I’ve just started a new Snappy Sammy strip. The only problem is that there’s no real outlet for it, but I’ve started one anyway. It’ll probably end up being 10 or 15 pages long. Snappy Sammy being tax audited―

GREEN: I’ve been through that.

WILLIAMSON: Me too. Every year, they come and get me. In the strip Smoot is audited and then he goes home. Ragtime Billy’s there, and Snappy Sammy’s three nephews live with him now. They look just like Snappy Sammy Smoot, except they got punk haircuts, and their names are Huey, Dewey, and Newton. And one of them’s black. I’m doing this strip just because it struck me that I wanted to. I don’t know where or if it’ll be published, but I’m writing. In it Ragtime Billy suggests that Smoot go to a survivalist camp to get away from this tax problem duty.

GREEN: Do you think that the underground market will ever return? Even on a limited, less hostile, less super-duper unedited basis?

WILLIAMSON: It’s still around in some form or the other. I don’t think it’ll have the vigor it had initially. When you come up with a new form like that, there’s a lot of creative energy, and a lot of excitement. There were a cluster of good artists, of course, like Crumb, and Shelton, and Jay Lynch, and all the other people who were involved in the first wave of underground comics. I don’t think you’ll find that kind of vitality in the second wave or in the new wave of comics. There just isn’t the intensity of energy that there was in the early days, in the late ’60s and early ’70s. It’s a progression, it evolves, it continues, there are other ways for people to vent their work, through places like Playboy. There’s Playboy Funnies, you know. There’s the Lampoon, there’s Heavy Metal, there’s RAW, there’s Weirdo. There are a lot of different directions to go. But few of these markets have anywhere near the creative freedom of the original movement.

GREEN: But, there are so many artists nowadays. Clay Geerdes has this little mini-comics thing, and that’s a nice outlet for people who can’t draw but have this need to express themselves to somebody, if it’s 10, 15, 20 people.

WILLIAMSON: And there’s Weirdo. Weirdo’s publishing some artists that I haven’t seen. And then of course, there’s RAW Magazine.

GREEN: I’ve heard a lot about RAW, but I don’t think―

WILLIAMSON: RAW is Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly. Art was one of the original Bijou boys. RAW has more of an art with a capital “A” feel to it, it’s a little more serious than some of the goofy stuff that I do. But it’s well done, and it utilizes new artists, a lot of innovative art, and an experimental, large-page format. That’s real nice. A class magazine.

Bijou #5 cover.

GREEN: You mentioned Jay Lynch among others. You’ve known him for a while, haven’t you?

WILLIAMSON: Jay’s an old friend. We started out in the fanzines together, corresponding with each other. This was when I was 15, 16 years old, and the only reason I moved to Chicago was to come up and be with Jay, and start a magazine of some sort. He originally had the idea, and this was before the advent of underground newspapers, around 1963 or so, of publishing something called the Old Town Underground Newspaper. We never did. When I did finally move to Chicago in 1967, we started the Chicago Mirror together, which was kind of a magazine somewhere between the Realist and Mad. It had a lot of psychedelia in it, too. After we did that for three issues, we said, “Hey, we should be doing comic books.” Robert [Crumb] had come out with Zap and Gilbert [Shelton] was about to publish Feds ‘n’ Heds, so we converted the Mirror to a comic book, named it Bijou, and that’s how the whole thing began. Anyway Jay’s always been a strong influence, and a partner. We see each other less now, but we talk on the phone all the time.

I might also say that the concept of Bijou Funnies is not over with. I’ve been talking to Jay for some time now, and suggesting “Let’s do a Bijou that would be like a humor magazine.” I’ve got another Snappy Sammy Smoot strip. Maybe we’ll come out with another issue. We probably will. It’s an open-ended project. It’s been a long rime between issues, but so what? It’s a flexible format and you can do that.

GREEN: When people read this, that should give them something to look forward to.

WILLIAMSON: Hope so.

GREEN: I’m certain that you have gobs and gobs and gobs and gobs and gobs of fans out there, wondering, “Hey, whatever happened to Skip Williamson? I’m dying to see something new by Skip Williamson.”

WILLIAMSON: I’m still around. I’m doing new things all the time. There were some strips in Playboy Funnies, although I tell you, I’m disillusioned with Playboy Funnies. I find them consistently unfunny, and the project stale. I’ve drawn back from it. I was doing a series called Neon Vincent’s Massage Parlor, which is the perfect Skip Williamson vehicle, because the protagonist looks like an insect. He’s a real sleazy kind of operator.

GREEN: He’s got that long mouth and that cigarette sticking out.

WILLIAMSON: Kind of like an anteater look.

GREEN: Yeah! yeah, exactly.

WILLIAMSON: He never takes that cigarette out of his mouth. Then I was doing a series called Nell ‘n’ Void that I liked a lot. Nell ‘n’ Void were a new wave couple, but Playboy decided not to use it any more. They said, “This whole new wave thing is over.” That was three years ago, and I think it just permeated the culture. I’m upset by their lack of humor. I helped initiate the Funnies. Playboy brought me in because I knew comic strips, and said, “Would you put together a funnies section?” So I went to New York, and assembled a group of artists, with Michelle Urry and the cartoon office. We came out with Playboy Funnies, which has been in the magazine ever since, every month. But then, when I stick with a project for a while, I tend to get bored with it. I don’t want to be stuck in a rut, especially under the rule of the bund.

GREEN: It’s true, the Playboy Funnies, like a lot of the daily strips, they’re supposed to be funny, and they’re not. Every now and then Playboy has something in it that really cracks you up, though.

WILLIAMSON: I find that’s seldom true of the Funnies. I find that unfortunately it does look too much like the Sunday papers. The jokes are consistently weak. There are some interesting things, but by and large, the Playboy cartoon office is an inhibiting factor. But I’ve continued to cartoon and I’ve been negotiating with Denis Kitchen, of Kitchen Sink, to publish a sketchbook collection of cartoons. I’ve written a lot of strips that have not gone into final, or a finished stage, but they’re clean and well written. I’ve also been painting on canvasses for about nine years. This was kicked into high gear by the Carl Barks duck paintings. When I first saw those I said, “Wow! That’s a really nice concept. Cartooning on canvas.” Eventually I’ll put together a show of my painting. Another thing that I’ve been working on is a cartoon history of Hugh Hefner. [Laughter.]

It involves about 32 separate cartoons, and they are mainly gag type cartoons. I can be very flexible with it, and Hefner is hot on the project. It’s called “Hefner for Beginners,” and it’s designed to be a six-page cartoon spread in the magazine. Which will be real interesting, full color, the whole shot. When I first presented the idea, the editors were a little skittish, because of my sense of humor. I tend to be a little vicious at times. They were scared to take it out to him. But when he finally got a look at it, Hefner said, “You’re letting this guy hold back too much, let him get freer, let him go after the jugular if he feels like it, that’s his style.” Hefner is very good that way, because he’s always been a frustrated cartoonist himself. He has great admiration for cartoonists. The first time I ever met Hefner, we sat down and we talked for a long while about cartoons. Talked about Jack Cole, talked about people he liked, people I like, and it was just a very nice casual thing.

I’ve been writing a lot. I’m working on producing, directing―as well as having co-scripted―a feature film called TV Dinner. It may be released through Playboy cable, if they want to pick it up. It’s funny, it’s very visual. It’s unlike a lot of the talky kind of sitcoms, or even Saturday Night Live, that sort of thing. It’s more visual. You’ll see the cartoon influence a lot. It’s very fast-paced, and we’re going after characters, exaggeration, and lots of bright colors. So, there’s been a lot going on. I’ve done quite a bit of illustration, too, over the years. Eventually, I want to put together a collection. But is there a market? Are there people out there who are willing to lay down the bucks for a collection of Skip Williamson art?

GREEN: Is this the book you have lying in wait? Wow! I am looking at a veritable stack of Skip’s work, folks. It’s black-and-white, but it’s beautiful from right here.

WILLIAMSON: There are some color things in there. It goes to when I was in college―you know, cartoons, sketches, and some commercial things … posters, caricatures. Here’s one of Slim Whitman. Slim Whitman’s great because he looks like he would have been drawn by me. He’s like a real Skip Williamson character, you know?

GREEN: When you work, do you work better days or early mornings, late nights? When is your best hour of production?

WILLIAMSON: Right after I’ve smoked a joint. [Laughter]. It really doesn’t matter. My schedule now is that of having babies, so I’m in bed early, and up early.

GREEN: And kind of watch where you smoke the joint.

WILLIAMSON: The first rule of parent-dom is don’t pass the reefer over the crib, but I digress. I don’t work at night that much any more.

GREEN: What’s the real story behind you and the Cripple Creek Colorado thing?

WILLIAMSON: That is a long story, I don’t know if there’s time in this interview. It’s a whole other project. I’m writing a book about it. I’ve been plugging on this one for some time and it’s a true story. It happened in 1965 … it’s the story about how I was kidnapped by mafia lesbians who drove Good Humor trucks in Kansas City.

GREEN: If you’re writing a book, then don’t tell us.

WILLIAMSON: I’m not going to give it away to you. All that I can really say is during that summer, I worked publicity for a transvestite review in Cripple Creek, Colorado. I was going to school, it was a summer job, and I was still living with my parents. In the process of things that happened, the FBI, the Illinois Youth Commission, and the State Police of five states were looking for me, and the FBI told my parents that I had been murdered.

GREEN: That’s enough, I want to read the book. You’ve been with Playboy eight years?

WILLIAMSON: Yeah. I’ll tell you something else about Playboy. It’s a good learning situation in terms of art direction.

GREEN: You could go almost anywhere, couldn’t you?

WILLIAMSON: This year I’ve won two awards from Communication Arts, a silver award from The Society of Illustrators and one from Print, and a gold award this year from the Art Directors Club of New York City. It’s concept-oriented work, as I mentioned earlier. It’s a lot like cartoons. For instance, I did a layout on journalism news wars, network TV news wars. And the idea I came up with was a hand grenade. Each one of the little segments on the hand grenade is a TV screen, with a different newscaster on it. And I just did a piece with Boris Vallejo.

You know, who I’d love to work with is Don Martin from Mad magazine. I’d love to do a piece with him. He sent his portfolio, and as soon as something comes along, I’m going to assign something to him because he’s always been one of my favorites. One of the original crazy cartoonists, you know.

Illustration for Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book.

GREEN: Yeah, really. Did you do stuff for Abbie Hoffman?

WILLIAMSON: Abbie? I was always more political than most of the other underground  artists. Or  anti-political. I believe honestly that if you vote for these bastards, you only encourage them. They’re all a bunch of thieves and crooks. There’s no government like no government. I’m a philosophical anarchist, a social sore on liberty’s privates―always have been. And, so, during the big upheaval of the late ’60s, I naturally became involved with a core of people. The ones who really appealed to me were the Yippies, because at least they had a sense of humor about the whole thing. I ended up editing a comic book to raise money to pay for the conspiracy trial. I did a little bit of hanging out with Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin and those guys, and published that comic book, Conspiracy Capers. That’s about the extent of it. See, I’m reticent even to admit that kind of connection, because that aligns me with a group of people in the same sense that it would align me with, say, the Republican Party.

GREEN: Yeah, some political group.

WILLIAMSON: It’s still a political group and I don’t need to be categorized or aligned with any specific group. I liked the Yippie energy but where are they now? Jerry Rubin is a stockbroker, Eldrige Cleaver is a Nazi, and Abbie Hoffman is a liberal.

GREEN: Everybody passed through that phase and went back to the establishment that they were fighting in the first place.

WILLIAMSON: Here’s what happened to the radicals, I think. In a Third World country, they’d line them all up and shoot them. In Mexico, during this period, they had student demonstrations in Mexico City, and they shot over 200 students. Now what happened here―this is your basic white Anglo-Saxon country, right? And all these young white kids from the colleges came out onto the streets and said, “Hey, we don’t like it any more, we’re going to tear it down.” All the authorities had to do was waste four of them at Kent State, and the kids changed their minds. And that’s what happened, that’s the difference.

GREEN: In all these countries where the people don’t have all that much, and they don’t have much to lose, it’s easier for them to become suicidal with their mission. But Americans have too much to live for: “You shot down my buddy … well, shit.”

WILLIAMSON: Yeah, “”I’m going to stop throwing bricks at the cops and to make some money. The Revolution is over and I won.” I think that was the attitude of a lot of people.

Panel from Snappy Sam Smoot “Ol’ Sam Has a Revelation.”

GREEN: I’m kind of jumping around here, but how did you get your job with Playboy? We know you’ve been with them for a while, but were you shaking with fear when you first came in?

WILLIAMSON: No.

GREEN: You had that kind of confidence?

WILLIAMSON: In our early days as cartoonists, both Jay and I wanted to be published in Playboy magazine. That was during the heyday of Playboy, in the early ’60s. It was the hip magazine of the era. They were publishing Ray Bradbury, Jack Kerouac, Lenny Bruce. We admired this, and wanted to be part of it. Actually I had been published in Playboy long before I’d began working for the magazine on salary. As a matter of fact in 1969 or ’70 when Playboy did an article on underground comics, I did the opening illustration for that piece. That was the first illustration I executed for the Big Bunny. So from then on, I would get illustration assignments.

GREEN: I got that issue, because I remember thinking, “Boy! Skip’s stepping up.”

WILLIAMSON: So anyway, eventually, I got a job working for Playboy Press, which was their book division. Not with the magazine. I worked as a designer, designing paperbacks and flats, that sort of thing. So at least I got to know the people. Then I was away for a considerable period of time, and at some point in my life, got fed up with the job I had and went to see an art director here, Roy Moody, and said, “Hey, listen, are there any art director’s jobs available?” It just so happened, it was really a matter of luck as well as I guess talent, but there was a job available, and I was hired by Art Paul. And I’ve been here ever since.

GREEN: What was your favorite college humor magazine?

WILLIAMSON: Texas Ranger. Well, it varies, my first influence in terms of college humor was probably the Texas Ranger, because I was born in Texas, my daddy got his doctorate at the University of Texas. This is when I was 10 or 11 years old. And, of course, I’d see the Texas Ranger all the time. There was a guy drawing in there by the name of Gilbert Shelton, who was an undergraduate student at that time. I moved out of Texas a few years later, Jay and I began  drawing cartoons for Bill Killeen and some boys in Gainesville, Florida. They had an off-campus humor magazine called Charlatan. Shelton was drawing for them, too.

GREEN: He got around.

WILLIAMSON: Later Jay became the art director of Aardvark, The Kicked-off Campus Humor Magazine for Roosevelt University in Chicago.

GREEN: Okay, my next question brings us to one of my all-time favorite publications. I don’t remember your work there so much as I do Gilbert Shelton’s. And that is, Help! magazine.

WILLIAMSON: Help! was the first magazine to accept a cartoon of mine for national publication. Harvey Kurtzman had the vision to publish the drawings of Jay Lynch, Robert Crumb, and Gilbert Shelton in Help!, and that was the basic core of underground comix. And I think that says as much about the corrupting influence of Harvey Kurtzman as does anything. We were real neophytes at the time. I look at those early drawings and they’re bad. But there was a glimmer of humor, and you’ve got to start somewhere, and that was a place to start. Help! had a section called the “Public Gallery.” They’d pay you $5 a cartoon. Nineteen sixty-one was when I had that first cartoon published. I was in high school. This was the time of the early civil rights struggle. The subject of the cartoon were two garbage cans in New Orleans. One said “Negro trash,” and the other said “white trash.” It was printed in the issue with Hugh Downs on the cover, #8. I think it was also mentioned on the old Jack Paar show. Jack Paar was the host of the Tonight Show before Johnny Carson. Dick Gregory was on. He mentioned the cartoon, and boy, what an ego boost for a high school kid in Canton, Missouri. That really gave me a shot to want to keep going. By the way, you might be interested to know that the editor who accepted that cartoon was Gloria Steinem.

GREEN: I wanted to ask you what you thought of a few artists. What do you think of Robert Crumb?

WILLIAMSON: Robert’s the best! In terms of craftsmanship and ideas, he was the progenitor of this whole movement, so you’ve got to respect the guy. I think he’s getting a bit crankier these days, but that’s part of his charm. He’s the irascible guy.

GREEN: Okay, how do you feel about Shel Silverstein?

WILLIAMSON: Shel’s become a friend of mine since I’ve been at Playboy. I’ll tell you how I met him. He was in town working on a collection of cartoons called “Different Dancers” that was going to be published in an oversize format. And he was stuck, he had a cartoonist’s block, a writer’s block. So Shel and I sequestered ourselves in his hotel room and worked it out. Shel was one of my influences, even though Shel tells me he can’t see it in my drawings. He’s been doing this stuff for eons. He’s a guy that really, I think, understands about not putting yourself in one narrow category. Take off the blinders and don’t self-incarcerate your talent. Spread the gift from plateau to tier to plateau.

GREEN: I’ve always loved his spreads in Playboy. How about Gahan Wilson?

WILLIAMSON: Gahan Wilson was at one time more of an original thinker although I have admiration for his work.

GREEN: The stuff’s still funny.

WILLIAMSON: When I was in college, and I was just trying to be a cartoonist, I sent him some of my cartoons. He took the time to write me back a three-or four-page letter, explaining what he liked about them, what he didn’t like about them. And it was considerate of him, at his peak at that time, to take the time out for some kid he didn’t even know, and do that sort of thing, I thought was very sensitive and very good. It’s important for a young talent to hear from professionals whom they admire and respect because it does give them the impetus to push on.

GREEN: What do you think of Jack Davis?

WILLIAMSON: I’ve got an original Jack Davis. A color cartoon he did for Playboy in 1963. I treasure it. Some of his recent work is commercial, but he’s making a lot of money. He’s not working with the great detail and finesse that he did when Kurtzman was his editor. He’s one of the artists who work on a tight deadline. He likes to play beat-the-clock. When I was young, I used to trace Davis all the time. I paid a lot of attention to what he was up to.

GREEN: What do you think of superheroes?

WILLIAMSON: I’m much more interested in humor. I’ve used superheroes as an influence, though. I did a strip called “Super Sammy Smoot battles to the Death With the Irrational Shithead.” So I used the form. I’m not knocked out by superheroes … Get it? I met Neal Adams when I was in New York. He reminds me of Jimmy Breslin. He sits back and smokes cigars and tells you what he thinks of you. I’m influenced by superheroes in the same sense Harvey Kurtzman was influenced by superheroes to write “Superduperman.”

Panels from “Super Sammy Smoot Battles the Irrational Shithead.”

GREEN: Satire.

WILLIAMSON: Yeah. Although I have admiration for the technical skills of a Jack Kirby or a Steranko.

GREEN: Okay, that’s what 1 was going to ask you next, about Jack Kirby. Because he’s my main man.

WILLIAMSON: I can look at it, and say, “Boy, this guy really knows how to draw musculature.” I like Rich Corben a lot. Corben sent me a couple of strips that I forwarded to the cartoon office. Shel Silverstein and Rich and I were working on the project for Playboy once that didn’t get very far. It kind of fell through the cracks. Corben felt like he was losing control over it. He was right.

GREEN: I was making the mental notations of the difference between you and Jay. Jay is more the historian, and he’s a little bit more soft-spoken while with you, you’re kind of like me, an animated talker, and you really like what you’re talking about.

WILLIAMSON: Jay has a perceptively bizarre perspective of the universe, and probably his best quality is his canny vision of the way things operate. When you talk to him, you get insight.

GREEN: Yeah. He once told me how to do the definite super-selling superhero, and he’s not even interested in the thing. If I can ever sit down and get him to talk at length on the subject, enough to grasp the idea he’s talking about, it makes sense to me. But compared to me, Jay has a photographic memory. He just tells me so much stuff, it just boggles my little weak brain, you know? He carries a lot inside his brain.

WILLIAMSON: Yes, he does. We’re two different personalities. Maybe one of the reasons we work so well together has to do with that.

GREEN: Opposites, yeah.

WILLIAMSON: I don’t know if it’s so much opposites, but it’s differences. Jay is more of an intellect than I am. I think he does a lot more intellectual reading than I do, and he absorbs details and knowledge. Everything from the arcane to the political to the frivolous, he absorbs it. If you read Phoebe and the Pigeon People, there are references that probably escape most people, but who cares? It’s great, it’s wonderful, it’s thought and cartooning. So if you only hit a small audience and make them laugh and think, who cares?

GREEN: Well, his strip is running regularly in the Chicago Reader, so that attests that somebody is digging it, or else it wouldn’t be there that long if nobody liked it.

WILLIAMSON: I don’t mean to say it doesn’t have an audience. A lot of people like it. He’s very popular with art students at the Art Institute of Chicago, I know. And, I’m sure, elsewhere too. Of course, he’s had the collections of Phoebe published, too. You know, it’s an interesting story. I was doing the strip for the old Chicago Daily News, called Halsted Street―Stories of Torment and Drama from the Hog-Butcher. At this time, the Daily News was in its final decline, and they were about to go out of business so they were trying to save it. What they did was come up with an idea for a supplement called “Sidetracks,” which was like an underground newspaper, stuck into a regular daily newspaper. It came out once a week, every Thursday, and I did this strip. Jay took the idea of Phoebe and the Pigeon People to the editors, and they just did not understand, you know? They said, “Why are you here with these people-headed pigeons? We don’t understand what you’re talking about.” I didn’t last very long with them either. Editors can be so linear. I finally offended everyone on the paper, when I suggested that hyperactive children should be stuffed, mounted on roller skates, and trucked off to Montessori parking lots. They didn’t like that one. They said, “We don’t think that was funny, and we don’t want you to do comic strips for us any more.” I thought it was a funny notion.

GREEN: It’s funny―people get their own little mental concepts of what the artist is like until they meet him in person.

WILLIAMSON: But that’s pretty much the same with any recognizable artist, don’t you think? People have a certain mind set from reading the work, and then when you meet the person he seldom meets your expectations, or he has a totally different kind of reality.

GREEN: You weren’t as far off in my perception of you, related to what I’d read by you, as Jay was. I mean, in Crumb’s stories, in his work and everything, he gets vicious, and just crawling all over women and everything. But they say that he’s really very mild-mannered.

WILLIAMSON: Although you know what he’s doing. Robert, as well as a lot of the underground cartoonists, are taking their inner selves, you know, that turmoil that’s going on inside and putting it on to the page.

GREEN: I think that’s what has made him so well-loved.

WILLIAMSON: I’m sure. He puts all the dark secrets out. Everyone’s got similar neuroses and psychoses going on, so what he’s done is said, “Look, I don’t need a psychiatrist. I can write.”

GREEN: I think psychiatry is a bunch of bull poopy, anyhow.

WILLIAMSON: Some of the most fucked-up people I’ve ever met are shrinks. And speaking of shrinks, you know who’s another artist we haven’t heard from in a while, is Justin Green. Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary, one of the great all-time comic books.

GREEN: He did a couple, didn’t he?

WILLIAMSON: He did a lot for Bijou, too, he was one of our regular artists. Justin was another one of those artists that could take his guilt, in this case Catholic guilt and neuroses, and put down on the page, and resolve it in that fashion. He was one of the best―still is, unless he’s stopped working―cartoonists of that time.

GREEN: I’m holding in my hand here a very beautifully rendered color strip, Area Code 666. And I could easily get off on a series like this.

WILLIAMSON: Area Code 666 is a mythical area that’s inhabited only by Christs and Anti-Christs. Nobody seems to want to buy it. This is the only strip I’ve taken to finish. I have two or three other ideas, but I don’t have a market. One of the problems with my art is that it tends to be so strange sometimes that there’s no place to publish it, especially if I’m working in color. It’s one thing to render something in black-and-white. There are probably a lot of places that would take a black-and-white strip, because it’s less expensive to reproduce, but I really enjoy the color, the added impact of color is important sometimes. I’ve got another series that I’m working on, called The Butcher Shop of Love. The Butcher Shop of Love is like your neighborhood meat market. They’ve got big salamis and pulsating hearts in the case. The lady patron says to the butcher, “Is that a thumb on the scale, or are you just glad to see me?” I’m writing all the time, new ideas, new strip ideas, but there’s no place to vent a lot of this material, never throw anything away. But I don’t know where to publish this stuff. Playboy Funnies isn’t interested. A lot of people think that I’m responsible for Playboy Funnies, in other words, that I put it together and edit it. That’s not true. All I do is the layouts for ’em, and then I’ll forward my own work to the cartoon office and they’ll say yes or no. The ratio of acceptance is about 50-50, for all the Neon Vincents, for all the Nell ‘n’ Voids, for everything that I’ve done for Playboy. There are at least as many other strips as there have been published, so I have a reasonable selection of unpublished strips.

GREEN: I like your style too. Anytime you have anybody in a strip with a mouth like that―wide, big, open, showing lots of teeth, and tongue―I love it.

WILLIAMSON: Well, I like the exaggeration, that’s one of the things I enjoy―the broad exaggerations, the possibilities of character.

GREEN: You also have some guys who are emulating your style.

WILLIAMSON: I would say, without being too bumptious, that I’ve rubbed-off a lot of people in terms of style. That happened fairly early on. Even advertising agencies would go out and hire people and say, “Do Skip Williamson.” But they wouldn’t come to me.

GREEN: Well, they probably thought that you’d be expensive.

WILLIAMSON: No, I don’t think that’s it. I used to do a bit of advertising work. I’ve done things for McDonald’s and United Airlines. I did pretty well one year, and then I went to meet the main art buyer for J. Walter Thompson, and he sat me down, and said, “Well, listen, political times have changed, the Nixon administrations’s in, and you’re out.” That’s essentially what he said. He said, “You are just too political.” I was blacklisted. And also, the fellow who was my rep told me the same thing. I didn’t get any advertising assignments after that. I’m beginning to pick a few things up here and there, but that doesn’t interest me so much. The bad thing about advertising, you don’t have much creative input, but it pays well. And of course, we’ve come full circle again, we’ve got Ronald Reagan in there, and he … it’s the same old shit. The same basic asshole politicians and their spooks. They’re all there.

GREEN: Well, I’ll tell you: Reagan, whether you like him or not, in a way, he’s not doing badly, and in another way, he is―like the way he’s gnashed all the money going to the needy. But to me, our system pushes a guy. If he goes in, and he’s relatively clean, our system is so corrupt that he can’t get anything done until he’s corrupt also.

WILLIAMSON: I think that’s true. To pursue politics as a vocation taints the individual. What is the megalomania that makes a man want to pursue something like the presidency, in that sense?

GREEN: Sense of Power.

WILLIAMSON: Yeah, power. Ultimate power corrupts, ultimately. It’s an old theorem but true. Ronald Reagan is sitting there wearing more makeup than Boy George with his finger on the button. He’s the most dangerous guy we’ve had around in a long time.

GREEN: But I like him.

WILLIAMSON: You like Reagan? You’re the craziest black man I ever met. I like that quality.

GREEN: But Reagan’s not like Nixon.

WILLIAMSON: Nixon was this uptight guy.

GREEN: “I am the president.”

WILLIAMSON: Right, you could see the evil.

GREEN: I’m always making the point with the family when my niece starts rattling down about Dirty Reagan. But we had a born-again Christian like Jimmy Carter in there, who was too wishy-washy and trying to do the good things―you can’t do that with these people in the world. I don’t want anybody like Jimmy Carter in there again. They wouldn’t even let the hostages go until Reagan stepped in. “Oh, this guy might push the button, we’d better let them go.” You know, just [snaps fingers]. Then they’re out.

WILLIAMSON: Ronald Reagan might push the button. Then where are we going to be? You know, french fries. Plus, what kind of trade-off is 40 hostages for 300 dead marines in Beirut? I have no respect for any politician. Especially tight-assed publicly moral Republicans who don’t give a shit for life and liberty. I really don’t.

Caricature of Reagan.

GREEN: What do you do to work off stress?

WILLIAMSON: One of the people that I worked with here at Playboy is a Senior Editor by the name of William J. Helmer, this Bill “Mad Dog” Helmer. Bill came out of Austin, Texas at the same time as Gilbert Shelton; they were both classmates together. And so there’s always been a connection between “Mad Dog” and Shelton, and that whole Texas group of wonderful craziness.

I respect Shelton’s sense of humor, more that any of the other underground cartoonists. A lot of it has to come out of Texas bravado. Wonder Warthog, the Freak Brothers all have that certain kind of bombast that you wouldn’t find had Shelton not come from that background. I’m currently collaborating with Helmer on a number of projects under the sponsorship of the Mad Dog Artists and Writers Consortium. Apparently, Shelton is involved in this too. We plan to produce a series of books and writings through the Mad Dog Artists and Writers Consortium. Now, Helmer has also introduced me to the manly art of firing automatic weapons, so we go out, up to McHenry County or up north sometimes. I tell you, there’s great joy in firing a Thompson sub-machine gun, or an Uzi, or a grease gun. It’s wonderful stimulating activity. I even told my wife, Harriett, once: “Listen, one of these days, those Fascist bastards are going to come crashing through our doors, and drag me away kicking and screaming, can we please get an Uzi, so I can pick a few of them off before they get me?”

GREEN: Can you get a what?

WILLIAMSON: An Uzi. An Uzi is a machine pistol popularized by the Israelis during the ’67 war. It’s the gun that’s favored by various elite corps, including the U.S. Secret Service. Wonderful piece of machinery. I might say also, that when we do shoot, we are with a federally licensed firearms dealer who’s licensed, and it’s all perfectly legal. Although I’m not above breaking the law, you understand, but in this case … Usually we find a kindred spirit with a farm, and we fire our rounds into a hill―I’ve fired everything from a 30-caliber on down to 9mm luger, shotguns and pistols. We make a point of either shooting into the ground or into a hill, because these can travel as far as 20 miles. And we are working with live ammunition, armor-piercing ammunition. There are guys who go out into the Arizona desert and blow radio operated model airplanes out of the sky with 50 caliber machine guns. Helmer and I are envious of this, and may put together an expedition to join these armed aficionados in their casual fun.

GREEN: How do you like knives?

WILLIAMSON: I’m not really into knives. But that’s strange, because I come from a Mexican Indian background, and you’d think I’d like a knife in my pocket.

GREEN: Would you like to see mine? [Laughter.]

WILLIAMSON: Let me see that blade, brother.

GREEN: No, well, actually, I was looking for a switchblade.

WILLIAMSON: Yeah, that’s a nice one, nice lock-back knife. You can get switchblades in Mexico, but they’re more difficult to smuggle in than pot. They’ve really cracked down on switchblades.

GREEN: Yeah, I had a beautiful one, but my wife took it.

WILLIAMSON: [Laughter.] Part of the settlement.

GREEN: You like to shoot guns, but it’s different to shoot for fun and because you like it than to aim it at somebody, knowing you might scatter their brains, like that guy we saw last year. You want to tell about that?

Panel from “Those Lovable Weirdos.”

WILLIAMSON: The last time Grass was in town, we were walking down Michigan Avenue, and  some guy jumped off the Hancock Center and―

GREEN: Seventh floor.

WILLIAMSON: No, he jumped off the 90th floor. So he was pretty much scattered all over the sidewalk. He landed on his head and splattered all over Bonwit Teller’s windows.

GREEN: You remember, the people were packed around us, so we stepped out into the street, and that dirty look that cop gave us―“You guys want to get back on the curb?”

WILLIAMSON: Surrounded by urban violence, the people were animated and excited like at a sporting event. These are the things cartoons are made of.

GREEN: That’s right. A while back, you were talking about the Playboy Funnies and the first thing that entered my mind was, “Now that people will have read this, you can probably expect a batch of mail coming your way with all kinds of weird ideas, new stuff for the ‘comics page’.”

WILLIAMSON: I would suggest that they not send it to me. I would prefer that they send their ideas directly to the cartoon office, 747 Third Ave, NYC. 10017. Send it to the attention of Michele Urry. It should go directly there, because otherwise I’ll have to forward it, and that’s an extra step. There’s no sense in me being burdened by that. There’s also no sense in the people who send it in being delayed by that much. The cartoon office claims that they’re always looking for new ideas, although I haven’t really seen anything new in that section for a while. One of the people I tried to get in this section early on was Wally Wood, and I talked to Wally. He was ready, he was willing to do it, and we submitted things, and they didn’t bite on it.

GREEN: Oh, really? The way I understand it, he was pretty bad off health-wise, wasn’t he? Alcoholic and a bad heart and cancer.

WILLIAMSON: He got some bad news, probably figured the best way out was just to snuff it. You know, there was an item in the newspaper yesterday that said that 47 percent of the population have suicidal thoughts. That’s a lot of people. Of course you can ask, “Who took the survey? And who are they surveying?” But it seems fairly rampant, those feelings of despair.

GREEN: It’s this high-pressure living system. You know, high inflation, high taxes, both husband and wife working, the kids are shunted off somewhere, you know. Make the money, make the money, and we’re geared very high for cracking up.

WILLIAMSON: Then let’s make cartoons and make people laugh! Why not? You got to do something. I tell you, when I was younger, I used to have, I don’t think you’d call them suicidal thoughts, but morose thoughts. Since I’ve been professionally involved in my art, I don’t even get bored. I don’t understand people who get bored, it’s beyond me, people who wrap themselves in their own ennui. You have to take it upon yourself to resolve your own problems. There’s so much to do and so much to say, so many creative ways to express yourself, how can anyone actually be suffering from terminal tedium? I don’t get it.

GREEN: Okay, now, see, maybe there are some people who are in a situation like me, I have so many ideas, so many things that I would like to do, and that I could do myself, except for lack of funds. 

WILLIAMSON: We’re all in the same situation, in a way. I may be a little bit better off in the sense that I’m nestled in the corporate womb of the Big Bunny, and I have enough of a name that I can go to people with a variety or projects without having the door slammed in my face. But I still have comic strips and ideas that I can’t get published. I’m working on a film project that may never even happen because someone may not want to put up the loot. How unreasonable that someone won’t part with three quarters of a million so I can make my movie. I think, honestly, just because you don’t have the funds to do it, doesn’t mean you can’t go ahead and try to do it anyway. That was one of the important lessons of underground comix: A bunch of guys got together and said, “The comic book establishment’s not going to let us publish because of the Comics Code, they’re not going to let us do the kind of fantasies we want to put on paper, so we’re just going to have to go out and do it ourselves, and sell them on the street corner.” And that’s what happened. There needs to be more of that kind of spirit of “go out and do it,” and not be defeated by the obstacles because the obstacles are always going to be there, especially if you’re on the creative edge. People are going to say, “You’re crazy, man! I’m not going to publish what you’re doing, this isn’t funny, this isn’t creative.”

I’ve run up against it time and time again. I’ve cartooned for every major newspaper in Chicago. I used to do cartoons for the old Chicago Today, editorial page cartoons, every Sunday. Chicago Today was owned by the Tribune Company. I was cartooning Spiro Agnew as the insidious buffoon he turned out to be. In the meantime, the Tribune was in Agnew’s pocket, so I didn’t last there very long. So much for freedom of the press. When you’re dealing with a certain mindset, it’s very difficult to penetrate it, but it can be done. It happens all the time. It’s just a matter of keeping in there chipping away at the superstructure.

GREEN: And also, 1 think it’s finding the right person at the right time.

WILLIAMSON: Partially. A good amount of reality, I think, has to do with where you are and who you know. Well, it’s like anything else. Whoever you are, you’re influencing people around you, and people around you are influencing you.

But the underground comix phenomenon didn’t have much to do with who we knew. It had more to do with what we had to say.

GREEN: Okay, I understand what you’re saying. I’m relating everything personally. I come from Fort Wayne. Nobody comes to Fort Wayne, and very few people leave. Paupers are left. Now Fort Wayne’s dead.

WILLIAMSON: Thanks, Ronald Reagan.

GREEN: But I love Chicago. I love walking down the street with my portfolio, whether I’ve got work or not I just love being here, because I know this place, and art is all over.

WILLIAMSON: I came out of Canton, Missouri. If you think Fort Wayne’s dead, just visit Canton. I’ll tell you something about Chicago. Chicago is a secret that shouldn’t be let out. New Yorkers equate

Chicago to Bulgaria. In L.A. the same distorted disposition reigns. I would just as soon people to continue to think that way. I wouldn’t want them to discover it and destroy a good thing as they would. Chicago’s the most livable of the big cities.

GREEN: Otherwise Frank Sinatra wouldn’t keep coming back.

WILLIAMSON: Of course, Frank’s got obligatory connections here too. The guys in the sharkskin suits.

GREEN: When I come into Chicago, talk to you, and then I go back, boom, man, I’m just swell up. I’m ready to draw, draw, draw, and I get back and start drawing, and then it poops out and I got to come back and refuel.

WILLIAMSON: One of the best things an artist can do is to talk to other artists. We have seven art directors here at Playboy. When we have our meetings, and we’re working on an idea, the sparks can fly. You can sit around all day by yourself trying to think of a concept, but if you bounce ideas off of other creative people, it flows, it builds. I think you need the input of other people, generally speaking. There are those who work very well independently and are very reclusive about it. In my own case, I knew I was going to move to Chicago so that I could be with Jay Lynch because together, the ideas came. And Bijou was born. Then when the other cartoonists Crumb and Shelton and the rest would come to town, it was good for the old creative momentum, too.

GREEN: Well, just like last year, when you, Jay, Pat Daily, Suite, and I went to lunch. Now, that was probably, just kind of average, ordinary to you. But boy, you could tell by the way Pat was going to her it was really something. I was just thrilled to death. Here’s five cartoonists walking down the street. Hey, boy, if a car came along, it couldn’t hurt us, we’d just threw it off the street, you know? 

WILLIAMSON: I’ve got a cartoon on my office door, here at Playboy. It’s got this guy walking down the street with two women on each arm, and people look at him admiringly, and there’s a cop pushing a blind man out of the way. The cop says, “Out of the way, a cartoonist is coming through!” That’s a B. Kliban cartoon.

GREEN: One of the reasons that I’m glad to be here hanging out with cartoonists is the inspiration. Because for a while, I just got so disgusted that I didn’t draw anything, for a long time, and that is horrible for a cartoonist.

“Cartune.”

WILLIAMSON: We all go through dry periods. We were talking about Shel Silverstein before and how he’s got his fingers in so many pots. I’ve noticed this through him―when you have a variety of things to do, then you can go from one to the other, and switch back and forth, and alleviate that kind of dry problem. You can go from writing a story, to drawing a comic strip, to art directing, in my case, the film project, and it really helps if you have a broad base. There are paintings, too. that’s therapeutic because if I’ve got nothing else to do, I can sit down and put 10 hours in on painting. So I’ve got a lot to keep me busy. I enjoy what I’m doing, and I continue to build my reputation. But it would be nice to really be independent, and work for myself only. In a way, I’m jealous of the guys who have done that, people like Crumb, who have been singleminded enough to say, “I’m not going to work for a corporation. I’m going to what I want to do. I’m going to determine my own destiny as much as possible.” But I’ve always been a worker in the sense that I don’t mind working for and with other people. I enjoy the interaction. I’m not such an “Artiste” that I feel like I’ve sold out because someone’s paying me a salary.

GREEN: You’re a bit different from Jay in that he keeps a lot inside.

WILLIAMSON: He does and he doesn’t. He tends to be a quiet person, but he’s got a lot more going on in there. I think a lot of people realize the intelligence and abilities of Jay Lynch, but the way he realizes it is through his work, primarily. And then if you get to know him, he also opens up, he’s got one of the great comedic minds I’ve ever met.

GREEN: Yeah. He kills me. He said that the reason that he didn’t go for superheroes is because they’re not real. Most of his collection of magazines and books deal with humor. He says he’s not interested in super-heroes.

WILLIAMSON: That echoes my feeling. There was a period when Marvel tried to introduce a certain human quality, a reality. The first couple of issues of the Hulk, and the first Fantastic Four, and when Ditko was illustrating Dr. Strange. That kind of thing was pretty interesting.

GREEN: But then they overworked it.

WILLIAMSON: I think Stan Lee runs a factory. He’s more a P.R. man than a cartoonist. I’ve watched Stan Lee and Harvey Kurtzman together on convention panels. Kurtzman is the artist and Stan Lee is the businessman and those realities show up in their work. Stan Lee is a rich man, but Kurtzman is rich in spirit. In terms of admiration, Kurtzman’s got all of mine. I mentioned the history of Hefner that I’m working on. This constitutes a new direction for me. It has occurred to me that this would be a new way for me to produce comic art in a book format. It isn’t really a comic-strip but there are as many cartoons per page as there are panels in a comic strip and the history aspect gives it chronology. It might be diverting to take it further. I could take any given situation, in this case it’s Hugh Hefner and his life, but I could take anybody and produce an unauthorized biography or history―an illustrated history, by way of satire and parody. It’s an intriguing form. It’s similar to a sketch book report, which of course is nothing new. I started out doing single-panel gag cartoons when I was a kid. I didn’t start writing and drawing comic strips until 1967 or so. Jay Lynch and I were corresponding while I was in college. He was a student at the Art Institute of Chicago and producing surrealistic, stream-of-consciousness comic strips. I was editing the literary magazine at Culver-Stockton College, and I got Jay into a couple of issues. Then we started jamming, doing the strips together. The attitude of these cartoons were kind of like early Bob Dylan lyrics, put to visuals. They didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but we were excited enough to continue using the comic strip format. Leaf and Lung and Silent Celery were the titles of a couple of Jay’s strips. He sent some copies to Salvador Dali, to get a second opinion on them, but I don’t think Sal responded. Anyway it led us into underground comix. It could be that this illustrated historical pasquinade form could lead to excitement and transition, too. Of course, it takes a lot more research than comic strip writing usually does.

GREEN: You have to take the time to get the background.

WILLIAMSON: The background, and I’ve got to take the time to come up with a solid gag for most every panel. Comic strips are more like a flow, you start at one point and the action moves until you come to the resolution. In this case, each shot is a concept in itself. I like it. I’ve got an envelope sitting over here with 100 extra Hefner drawings in it. So if I take what’ll be published and what’s stashed away in the corner, I’ve got a considerable volume. The cardinal rule of cartooning is, “Never throw anything away,” because you can always come back to it, improve it, or resubmit it. I’ve taken ideas that I’ve submitted to Playboy Funnies, rejected ideas, reworked them a little or not at all and submitted them, and they’re accepted. It happens. You never know if you’re going to get to an editor on a bad day. I keep ideas, even if I just write down a sentence.

GREEN: Hey, I wanted to ask you―your little girl Molly, she’s about two now?

WILLIAMSON: Two and a half.

Sketch of Molly.

GREEN: Note, do you want her to be an artist, a cartoonist like dad, or …?

WILLIAMSON: I want her to be a lawyer or a doctor or a C.P.A. so that she can support me in my old age. Her tendency now is to draw a lot. I’ll sit down with her and she’ll say, “Draw Daddy. Draw Mummy,” I’ll do a quick drawing. Then I’ll ask her to draw daddy and mummy. Because I draw, she does. I have another daughter, Megan, who’s 15. She doesn’t live with me, so she’s not really oriented towards drawing, but she’s creatively directed toward theater. She’s an actress, and is pursuing it with fervor. She’s got the same zeal that I had to be a cartoonist when I was her age. She’s already got on-the-boards experience in community theater stage productions and is systematically pursuing all aspects of the performing arts. I don’t know what the single-mindedness is, but there’s a definite creative streak happening there even though we haven’t lived together for a long time. My wife, Harriett Hiland, is a writer and a photographer. She is a journalist currently working for the New York Times on a regular basis, and as I said, she’s a photographer, too, with a bunch of years at the Associated Press under her belt. So there’s definitely what one could call a media atmosphere around our place. We both pursue our individual mania, and we have reached a certain level of aptitude. I’m sure that has to wear off on Molly, or definitely influence her in some manner.

GREEN: How old were you when you first started drawing?

WILLIAMSON: My earliest memories were that I wanted to draw cartoons. I would get in trouble when I was in grade school for drawing Mickey Mouse instead of doing my homework.

GREEN: But what is your earliest remembrance of drawing?

WILLIAMSON: My mother has a drawing I did when I was three or four years old. It’s a crayon drawing of a monkey, and it has the tail. It’s got a little hat on, and a little cup. It’s an organ grinder’s monkey, but I don’t remember drawing it. People are very discouraging to kids who want to be cartoonists because they regard cartooning as a low form. I think it’s an American folk art, it is the art of our times. It has been since Hearst newspapers started Publishing them and the first comic books came out, and now, of course, it’s an international phenomenon. The Europeans respect cartooning more than Americans do, and in some respects, we have bigger reputations in Europe than we do in this country.

GREEN: Europe reveres everything about America more than we do.

WILLIAMSON: Jazz had to go to Europe because the musicians couldn’t make a living here. My earliest recollection about cartoons was getting in trouble for drawing them. Then later on, when in art class I would draw, I would paint and everyone said, “That looks like a cartoon!” So I was coerced into making these things so they didn’t look like cartoons. Finally I came to the realization that the reason I was drawing cartoons was because that’s what I wanted to do. Of course, the early Mad comics were a big influence around that time. I would trace the drawings of Jack Davis, Will Elder, and Wally Wood. When I was in grade school and later in high school, there was a core of guys, there were three of us, and we were totally fanatic about Mad. We would sit around and try to out-Basil Wolverton each other. I’m the only one who became a cartoonist. One of that group is an artist, but he doesn’t make a living at it, and the other one teaches music. But it was a good thing because here were three teenage jerks who were constantly competing with each other over who could draw the most outrageous bug-eyed monster. The input of other people can give the drive to keep going. And that drive took me to a certain point. The point where I finally got a cartoon published, in Help! magazine. That gave me the impetus to go further. After that first cartoon, it was two more years before I got another one published in that or any magazine. And I was sending batches every week, 10 or 12 cartoons a week. And I’m talking really bad cartoons.

GREEN: Ah, the good days when postage was cheap.

WILLIAMSON: Yeah. But I wasn’t discouraged in this foolhardy pursuit by my parents. I grew up in a liberal family. My dad was a professor, and he never said, “Ah don’t want mah son to be an artist, he can’t make no money doing that.” I think in his heart of liberal hearts, he didn’t mind me being an artist and he figured I’d outgrow this cartooning thing.

GREEN: I think if your parents were like most parents, especially in today’s time of drug-oriented youth, they were glad to know what you were doing, instead of you being out running the streets, and they don’t know where you’re at.

WILLIAMSON: Aw, I was out running in the streets, too. I think most of us go through a certain stage where we drive our parents totally nuts. But the thing is, as I got older, I got more and more into my cartooning and so I tended to stay home more than running the streets with the guys. I wasn’t aimless. I had a focus.

I had some fun with the guys, too. My dad had to haul me out of a pool hall once, he was all upset that I was hanging out in a pool hall.

GREEN: Oh, I’m not saying that I was the perfect kid. I got beat before the word child abuse became just a national household word. My father whipped me with everything from ironing cords to leather straps, to belts.

WILLIAMSON: That was the style of the time. Now, you can’t do that and remain respectable―not that child abuse ever deserved respect. That was the disciplinarian style that came out of the depression. Everyone came back from fighting the Nazis and the Nips, and they had discipline. What this kid needs is discipline. And they would give it to him, they would give it to me, they gave it to you, they gave it to everybody. Look out! Whap! Ow! That was the style of the culture. We’re a little more understanding now, and most people don’t believe in that kind of daily violence.

GREEN: But it’s too easy. That’s why Dr. Spock said, “Don’t whip your child” and now, 20 years later, he says, “I admit I was wrong, we have raised a nation of selfish bastards.”

WILLIAMSON: The nation has always been a bunch of selfish bastards. It isn’t because we didn’t beat our kids. The people haven’t changed, the culture has. It’s the same collection of self-serving scumbags as ever. People talk about the Holocaust, and talk about the murder of six million at the hands of Hitler, but we totally eliminated the Native Americans as a race. Genocide is genocide. It’s been happening since we clawed our way out of the primordial ooze. Man did not evolve from monkeys. Monkeys are a fun-loving group of vegetarians. Man evolved from small, intelligent rodents. Our ancestors were rats. Rats bit babies and spread plague. I’m absolutely certain that we are destined to become extinct by our own hand. Throughout civilization, the fortunes of the few have been built on the bones of the many. And this is the truth. I don’t think that our generation represents the lowlife meatbag aspect of humanity any more than previous generations. Perhaps we’re even a little more enlightened because of television. It was rough during the Middle Ages. There were no rights. They could cut you down and serve you up. It wasn’t that long ago that stealing a loaf of bread was a capital offense.

GREEN: The only thing that keeps coming back to my mind is that today’s kids, although they’re more bored than any other generation, I think, they have more. Naturally, because the world is progressing, but when I was a kid, I had a little pedal car, pedaled my damn legs and feet off to get around the corner. These kids nowadays―

WILLIAMSON: They put it in overdrive, and take off. But every generation complains about the same thing. “Well, Ace, when I was a kid, life was terrible torment. And kids these days, they got everything.” But that’s the march of civilization. That’s the commercial society, the legacy of the industrial revolution.

GREEN: But that’s money.

WILLIAMSON: It’s the American way, isn’t it?

GREEN: Now, your major influence is the same as mine―the Mad group.

WILLIAMSON: Some other people, too.

GREEN: But I mean prior to that, from your early life on through.

WILLIAMSON: Walt Disney was the first major early influence that I can remember. Of course, Snow White came out before I was born, but as soon as I could see, Snow White, Pinocchio, and Fantasia, Uncle Walt ran it. Disney was probably, culturally, the most important influence on the country at a certain formative period because he caught all the baby-boomers. He caught all the little rug rats like you and me, and he twisted our minds into a never-never land mindset.

GREEN: Not only that, but even though it had Walt Disney’s name on it even as a youngster I recognized the different styles in the drawing, and certain ones appealed to me.

WILLIAMSON: One of the good things about Disney was that he put all those wonderful German and Teutonic illustrators to work. He hired the best people, which was wonderful in terms of style. Unfortunately, he chose to become homogenized and politically he was reactionary. But his early work was excellent, and I think that was kind of the hallmark for the generation. The Sunday Funnies were a big influence in those days, too. I was named after a comic strip character. My grandparents nicknamed me Skippy after the Percy Crosby comic strip character, Skippy. So, it seems almost that I would end up scratching out a living doing this. The focus came very early. It was almost out of my hands, and that’s not a negative.

GREEN: That’s most definitely a positive. Especially if you think about it in that positive manner. But, I’m confused. Fandom has given me the nickname of “Grass Green.” Now, does that mean that pretty soon I’m going to go on pot? Because I’ve never smoked pot in my life.

WILLIAMSON: Oh, you’re the one. I knew there was somebody.

GREEN: What is your favorite reading other than cartoon-related items? Jay likes humor, but he reads some deep stuff.

WILLIAMSON: I don’t read a lot of novels. I read a lot of magazines, and pay attention to media, because of the business that I’m in. I’m not one to devour a tome. I’ll seldom read a thick, heavy book. I find that I get bogged down and I never get back to it.

GREEN: Something light and breezy, hopefully.

WILLIAMSON: It’s not that so much. I pick up a lot of information. I read manuscripts all the time. They come across my desk every day, so I read the best authors and what they’re writing. It’s just that I don’t read huge volumes. I read a lot of information. I read the New York Times, I read all the newspapers. I read all kinds of periodicals. I’m not really a reader of books.

GREEN: You mean Mickey Spillane, Ernest Haycocks, stuff like that?

WILLIAMSON: Mickey Spillane I like. Mike Hammer’s wonderful. Mickey Spillane is basically a cartoonist. He’s a practitioner of the vulgar arts, like a cartoonist or filmmaker. There’s a great parallel between film and cartooning, and cartooning and film. Fellini was a cartoonist. Panel-to-panel, structuring of a scene is like a storyboard. And that’s the basis of all film work. Creating a scene, a plot, a pattern, and following it through to resolution. So there is definitely an affinity. If you look at Will Eisner, in the Spirit, you see a lot of the influence of Eisner. In Film Noir the influence is obvious down to the lighting and the angles, it’s amazing.

GREEN: When you mentioned storyboards, I’m reminded of when Jerry Lewis was popular. He was known for being able to conduct an orchestra very well. Then they showed us how he did it. He storyboarded the whole thing. He had his signals written down as to what he wanted the guys to do and they would do it.

WILLIAMSON: The best storyboarder of our time is Harvey Kurtzman. He has a real cinematic sense. I don’t know why he never went into filmmaking. It’s our loss that he didn’t. The man who’s picked up on that cinematic  flair  in  the  undergrounds  is Gilbert Shelton. He uses the same sort of systematic storyboarding. He gives a humorous time sequenced set-up, just in the visuals alone. It’s very sophisticated. I also have the suspicion that it’s not planned out so much as it occurs intuitively. Hence my interest in film. Cartooning to film is a natural transmutation. I think I’m also intrigued by video. What I like is the small screen, because the small screen is like a panel. It’s not an enormous image in a dark room that becomes your world. The video screen is the panel, and the approach to video would not be as detailed, as much as it should be color and character. Did you see the film Alien

GREEN: Yeah.

WILLIAMSON: Alien was a very dense, dark and detailed movie. I saw Alien in the theater and I liked it, but when I saw it on videotape, I couldn’t see what the hell was going on. But if you take video and use it the way it should be used, with more simplicity, I think it’s a whole other form. You’re dealing with a less dense quality. It’s more direct, almost a more cartoon style, which is, I think, the best video.

GREEN: Well, when you know that you’re dealing with a more limited medium, space-wise, you’re talking about compaction. And so, you would tend to eliminate a lot of detail that would actually detract from the message.

WILLIAMSON: Sometimes the sense of reality is lost. For instance, the Muppets work well on TV, but when they made the transition to the big screen they didn’t look real anymore. They are a small-screen item. When I was a kid, I saw The Wizard of Oz and loved it. But I saw it recently on a big screen, and I could see the wire holding up the Cowardly Lion’s tail. The reality went right out of the window. On television, it still looks wonderful, because the small screen hides imperfections.

GREEN: Yeah, one of my big disappointments about the movies when I was a kid and saw Francis the Talking Mule I thought, “My God! They’ve really got a talking mule.” But then, in a couple of scenes, they had the camera at a wrong angle and you could see there was a wire on his mouth, and they were jerking it.

WILLIAMSON: Your sense of reality was betrayed. It’s like when somebody told you there wasn’t any Santa Claus. Want to know how I found out that there was no Santa Claus? From reading a comic strip. The Blondie comic strip in the Sunday Funnies when I was a kid. Dagwood and Blondie were trying to figure out how they could convince Cookie that there was a Santa Claus. So, essentially, they were saying there wasn’t one. Comic strips and cartoons have held great weight in my life. My earliest recollection of film was having the shit scared out of me by a Bugs Bunny cartoon. In it, Bugs Bunny goes to Hell, and my mother had to take me out of the theater because I was terrified. The Warner Bros. post-war cartoons were great. Better than Disney because of their sense of insanity. We can talk for hours about animated cartoons.

GREEN: I was going to ask you―are you pretty heavily into animation? Have you done any animation projects?

WILLIAMSON: No, I haven’t. People are constantly asking if I’ve done any animation. My style would lend itself to animation because it’s so broad. The problem with animation is the cost. So if I was going to do animation, I’d need to have to have a studio of animators. Otherwise, I’d have to spend six months out of my life doing it; meanwhile, who’d pay the rent? I’m in a position now, maybe through this film or through a couple of other routes that I can eventually do a piece of animation. It would be fine with me. But I need a studio, and I need to be able to supervise it with an iron fist. I would have strict creative demands.

GREEN: The reason I asked you that was because I think that with your style, with you at the helm, you could probably turn out one of the funniest films. I saw one cartoon where there was an ugly princess. She laughed, and her mouth dropped over halfway down the screen. Man, I roared. I almost fell out of my seat, because you don’t see that. Everything is usually minimal exaggeration but cartoons are supposed to be exaggeration.

WILLIAMSON: Exaggeration is the key. You need somebody to do wonderful voices. You need a Mel Blanc. You can even work with a limited animated style like Terry Gilliam did for Monty Python. He used the limitations to his advantage and did it well. Now Gilliam’s directing film. He directed Time Bandits and he has one almost in the can called Brazil. With Bullwinkle, Jay Ward used the limitations of his budget to the best advantage. Bullwinkle was funny because they had good voices. They had wonderfully deranged scripts that appealed both to kids and adults. They had exaggeration. Hanna-Barbera uses jerky limited animation. But there’s nothing funny happening.

I think eventually animation will come to me. The circumstances have to be right. And you’ve got to have a market for it. I mean, where are you going to market these things? I’ve also been thinking in terms of puppets. One of the guys I’m working with on this film project is wonderful at doing little puppet monsters. As a matter of fact, he has a puppet show on film. It’s something like Uncle Ned’s Puppet Theatre. Uncle Ned is a janitor at Genetic Laboratories, and there are these little mutant puppets, genetic mistakes. They let them out of the cage, and they have to come out and clean up after business hours. One of them is named Gristle, and one of them is named Hook. Gristle steals Hook’s pet rat-tail, so Hook gets out a chainsaw and saws Gristle in half. It’s wonderful. Blood is spurting all over the glass. There are a lot of ways to go. You could do a show like the Muppets, make it adult humor, make it sexy or sick or whatever.

GREEN: I don’t think it’s been done.

WILLIAMSON: Everything’s been done, so I wouldn’t be surprised. But I haven’t done it yet. There are so many projects that there’s no time to do them. How could a person possibly be bored when there’s so much to be done?

GREEN: I don’t think I get depressed from boredom. I get depressed from either lack of inspiration or time. Having too much to do, I don’t know what to do. So I’ll go watch TV, get my mind off of it, and then, slowly, some priority will come up. “I don’t know, I’ll do this.” I’ll get up and leave the TV. And that’s rare because I am a TV addict. I watch commercials, cruddy commercials I’ve seen before. I’ll sit there and cuss at them, but I’ll watch them. I am a TV addict.

Comic from “Chicago Cartoon.”

WILLIAMSON: I am too. I consume large amounts of TV. Chicago doesn’t have cable TV. It’s one of the last cities in the country not to have cable. But I just moved out to Oak Park, and I got cable. And I am in heaven, man. I’m watching all the time. Even when I work, I have the TV on as a background noise. Like the Great White Hope, it’s the great white noise. I don’t have to pay attention to it, but I can still absorb it. I can draw, whereas if I’m listening to music, it diverts me. I have to listen. Television is another great vulgar art form, like jazz, like movies, like cartoons. Liberal snobs enjoy putting down television as being without worth when it’s really the liberal snobs who are without worth. The potential for TV is absolutely amazing. The form itself is innately educational, it’s informative, it’s immediate, it’s in your own home.

GREEN: But it’s run by those in power who are money-hungry.

WILLIAMSON: I have faith that those bozos will go belly up due to their own lack of vision. Because what’s happening is every year networks are losing more and more viewers to cable, where there’s more flexibility. The future is in cable, pay-TV, and public access. It’s very embryonic at this point. Cable and pay-TV are mainly showing movies, and rock videos.

Programming is beginning to happen. Actual producing is beginning to happen. The reason that’s beginning to happen is because so many viewers are switching over. And that’s part of the reason I’d like to be involved. There are similarities to the early underground comics movement. You go out and do it. There are differences. You really have the opportunity now to just go do it, to put together a script, even if you can’t sell it to like HBO or Showtime, or the Playboy Channel. There’s always public access. Public access is free time. Take your script and your friends, and stand in front of the camera, and do it.

You know, there are some very funny things on cable. Canadian broadcasting through the Canadian film board has a lot of animated shorts, and there are experimental concepts broadcast, some of which are boring, but some of which are very interesting. Experimentation is happening, at least in between the movies.

GREEN: I wager that as a cartoonist if you were to go to Europe, you could almost call your own shots. The reason I say that is because somebody like B.B. King ran around America most of his life, got the term King of the Blues, but is still recognized only by the black people. But he goes over to Europe, man, they eat him up, they keep him over there five or six years. He wants to come home, and they don’t want to let him go because they think he’s fantastic.

WILLIAMSON: In 1963, me and my friends used to go down to East St. Louis to hear B.B. King playing at the Red Top or at the Paramount Club underneath the railroad tracks in East St. Louis. Nobody knew about him except the blacks. It was a wonderful time. A couple of young white boys hanging out where they shouldn’t be. But it was fun. The times were different then, though. There wasn’t nearly as much hostility as now.

GREEN: You think there’s more hostility now!

WILLIAMSON: I think so. See, I could cruise with the people. We’d buy some wine, we’d get some reefer, we’d go over and spend all night long, until dawn listening to electric blues. You know why? Because of the early civil rights movement. There was affection for people who were trying to cross over and appreciate another’s culture. Since then, the lot of most black people, and this also goes for latinos and other minorities as well, has been improved so little, that there’s a lot more hostility toward the whites and for good reason.

GREEN: Well, I think it really kind of depends on the individual. The way I see it, most white people see Jesse Jackson up there spouting this and that, “The black people this and the black people that,” I don’t like Jesse Jackson, speaking as a black man.

WILLIAMSON: Jerry Falwell and Jesse Jackson are cast from the same mold. They both use “Reverend” in front of their names, but the only gospel they preach is the gospel of Jerry and Jesse.

GREEN: I’ve talked to a lot of black people who don’t like him. I don’t like him and I don’t want any white person―or any Jewish person or any Italian or Indian, Mexican―I don’t want anybody thinking that Jesse Jackson speaks anything at all about what I ever think or feel. Nobody speaks for me. If I were to go on nationwide TV and someone asked, “Well, Grass, what do you think of the―” I’ll let them know. Hey, I speak for myself.

WILLIAMSON: The whole point is that you speak for yourself. That should be the right of every human being. We don’t want to hear you say, “I’m a credit to my race.” That kind of statement feeds racism. If I eat babies, then I eat babies. If I eat watermelon, then I eat watermelon. It doesn’t have anything to do with my race, or my creed, or my color, or my religion, or whether my mother before me chose to eat watermelon over eating babies.

GREEN: Yeah, well, there have been some racial cartoons. I’ve done a few.

WILLIAMSON: Me too.

GREEN: But I’ve tried to keep it light. Being black, I’m kind of aware, from Supersoul comics, of the way I feel about things offending black people.

WILLIAMSON: I understand that. I did a strip in the Comix Book that was about how Snappy Sammy Smoot can’t pay the rent, so he puts some Drano in a baggie and tries to sell it as heroin in the ghetto. He gets hooked up with these guys who drive pimpmobiles, and these guys come up to him with guns. He says, “Oh, are you gentlemen collecting for the United Negro College Fund?” [Laughter.] I imagine a lot of people were offended by that.

Panel from “Snappy Sammy Smoot Meets the Black Mafia.”

GREEN: They’ll say, “Skip Williamson is a bigot.” And that’s another thing about cartoons that as cartoonists we understand. We’re trying to get an idea or point across not necessarily a deep, innate personal point of view, but we’re just saying, “This would be funny.”

WILLIAMSON: But you have to watch yourself in terms of drawing blacks with big lips, right? The women’s movement criticized the undergrounds voraciously as being sexist. I just think that we reflected the sexist society around us. We are satirists. It’s the same way with our opinion towards the blacks, like Robert Crumb’s Angelfood McSpade.

GREEN: I love her. But the average black man wouldn’t.

WILLIAMSON: Right. The same people didn’t like the Amos and Andy Show.

GREEN: I like them.

WILLIAMSON: Our role, I think, is not so much to teach, or to preach, as much as it is to mirror the foibles of society. It’s the role of the satirist. Like Jonathan Swift. Like Chaucer. Like Dickens. Like  Thomas Nast. We cast a jaundiced eye at a society as a whole, and when we talk, we talk that satire talk. We use humor as a means of observation. We are the conscience of the culture. To be true to myself, to have integrity, I can’t hold back the stereotypes and the realities of the culture. I am required by integrity to show politicians in the dark and dank light in which I see them. To show the racist in the culture, to display the sexism. It doesn’t mean that I’m a racist or a sexist. But what it does mean is that I’m doing my job as satirist. I’m fulfilling the role of social observer. I’m justifying my narrow personal vision. If people like us aren’t strident, then how’re you gonna find the truth that will set you free? I’ve had people say to me, “I don’t believe anybody should be offensive.” On the other hand, I believe that offense is the road to progress. Jesus offended, otherwise they wouldn’t have nailed him to the dogwood tree. They shot Lincoln. He must have really pissed someone off. Every time there’s been any social progress, people have been offended. You gotta be turned around every now and then.

GREEN: When I was a kid, growing up, if a white person said, “Hey, look at that guy, he’s black.” Man, you better get your fist up and be ready to fight. Then the next generation came up, Martin Luther King Jr., and James Brown, and these guys. They said, “Say it loud: I’m black and I’m proud.” Today’s kids, you don’t call them colored, you don’t call them negroes, you call them blacks, because they’re proud, see? I’ve had a number of white people say to me, “Well, 1 don’t know how to talk to you people.” So I tell them the best way that I know, going by how I feel. My father, when he came up, preferred being called “colored.” When I was coming up, the title was “negro.” Now, today’s kids, I’d say, if they’re under 25 or 30, I’d say you refer to them as “black.” If they’re between 30 and 45, “negro” or “black” is okay. But if they’re over 50, your best bet would be to use the term “colored.”

WILLIAMSON: I prefer to be called “mulatto trash.” [Laughter.] My mother came from a Mexican Indian heritage, my dad came from Virginia dirt farmers. On my mother’s side we were Mexican Indians chased out of the U.S. territories by the White Eyes. We were part of the Apache nation forced to live in the Chihuahua Desert. It’s my relatives who are down there in the border towns, making tortillas and clay pots and selling them to the turistas..

GREEN: You mentioned that you don’t get The Comics Journal regularly, but you’ll buy a certain issue.

WILLIAMSON: Well, here’s what I do. I usually hit the Chicago Comicon every year. I’ll check out all the fanzines I missed during the year, all the books I wanted, all the European books, and the Russ Cochran collections. I’ll catch up all at once. Occasionally I’ll go into a comics store and pick up The Comics Journal, if there’s something on the cover that catches my eye. There was a Harvey Kurtzman issue, probably two years ago now. Generally speaking, I am not a fan of the superheroes or of what I would call the “straight comics,” but if there’s something particularly that has to do with the underground or experimental, or something that gets my attention, then I’ll pick it up, and I’ll read it. But generally speaking, I don’t pick it up on a regular basis.

Original art for Kurtzman’s “Silver Linings.”

GREEN: What kind of music do you like-jazz, blues?

WILLIAMSON: I like all forms of good music. I enjoy country music, but good country. I like the authentic. I don’t like this bullshit Gatlin Brothers/Oak Ridge Boys/Dolly Parton pop music. I like Little Jimmy Dickens and Ferlin Husky, all that real old wonderful stuff from where the Everly Brothers came from. Currently, I listen to John Anderson, because he goes back to the old roots. I like good jazz. One of my friends is one of the foremost jazz guitarists in the country. He used to play with Louie Prima, and Keely Smith in Vegas. When Peggy Lee comes to town, he plays guitar for her. His name is Bobby Roberts. Bobby is like a real historian of jazz, too. I like less and less rock and roll these days, I tell you, the more I hear, the less I like it. When I do listen to rock ‘n’ roll, I like people like Bob Seger, I enjoy the authentic rockers, people like T-Bone Walker. I like the early rockers, like Little Richard. I like the less pop kind of stuff, the things that have been homogenized. I like the pure forms of music.

GREEN: You’ll find that despite today’s kind of music, some people are coming out with a good ’50s rock ‘n’ roll sound.

WILLIAMSON: The Stray Cats were that way. The Stray Cats did a passable rockabilly. I worked on a regular basis with a music section at Playboy. I produced the music package, what used to be called the “Jazz Poll,” now it’s the Playboy music poll. Playboy tends to focus on the real commercial acts. It seems to me that I crave the more obscure sound, less commercial.

GREEN: Well, you know who Jimmie Smith is, right?

WILLIAMSON: Sure.

GREEN: He does two different kinds of albums. He does his old, funky kind of thing― WILLIAMSON: Then he’ll super-produce a totally commercial album.

GREEN: Yeah, it doesn’t even sound like him. I by mistake bought one of his commercial tapes, and I played it once. And that was the most expensive Jimmie Smith thing I ever bought, and I threw it out. It was just shit. I didn’t like it at all, because I’m used to hearing him play that stuff, and he could make that organ talk and make me feel something. But his commercial stuff, he’s just flying over the keys, and lots of brass, and lots of strings, and lots of drums. Maybe I shouldn’t say that. Sorry, Jimmie.

WILLIAMSON: But it’s true. There’s the pure form and then there’s the adulterated form. The pure form is the most authentic and the best, the most interesting. Same way in comics. That’s why I think the undergrounds are important. They’re a pure form. They were a pure form because the artists didn’t have someone telling them what to draw, they didn’t have someone inking, they didn’t have someone pencilling. It all came from inside. It came from Robert Crumb, it came from Gilbert, it came from Jay, whatever. It was the pure light. It may not have been drawn well, but it had an authenticity. Sometimes you get happy mistakes.

GREEN: Yeah!

WILLIAMSON: It’s like a happy error. This is a wrong note, but Jesus it sounds great! That’s the creativity. When you homogenize, when you have someone telling you what to write or what to do, there’s no room for that wonderful error. That magic. In a way, it’s a shame to see. I hope that outlet isn’t shut off for people who need to be able to express themselves. There has to be someplace for some kid to go who really desperately wants to do his own cartoons without having to go to some editor who says, “Yeah, well, this isn’t funny, now get out of my office.”

GREEN: Well, I think this “Newave” thing has kind of taken care of that because now all they’ve got to do is go to someplace where there’s a photocopier. And they can make two or three copies or 50 copies, as much as they can afford.

WILLIAMSON: That’s like fanzines. I was publishing a fanzine when I was in high school. It was called Squire, and Jay Lynch used to contribute. It was mimeographed, and we had a print run of like 80 copies. At that time, fandom was mainly science-fiction boys. And if you were into satire and humor fandom, then man, you were garbage. So Jay and I, we were the garbage boys.

GREEN: When you draw, do you do a rough layout and then go over it and tight-pencil it, and then color and stuff, or do you just draw it direct, and then color it?

WILLIAMSON: What I’ll do, generally speaking, is a sketch fairly tight, fairly clean. That’s because I usually have to submit it. Editors have got to see something, but I’m not going to go to a finish and get a “NO.” So, I’ll do a sketch, and then from that, a tighter sketch. Then make a tracing onto a board, and then finally tighten it up and add color, so there’s about three or four stages. Some people don’t like that system. Shel Silverstein tells me, “How can you draw like that? I don’t understand people who tighten their drawing. You got to draw free!” He’s from that school that says the only way to draw is to just let it come out of your hand. He’s a freehand fascist.

GREEN: Yeah, well, that’s kind of neat, too.

WILLIAMSON: I can appreciate his solution, but I also can appreciate the system that I use. There’s more than one way out of here.

GREEN: A trick that one of the ad artists showed me is, you do your rough like this, then you slide it up on to this sheet of paper, and then you tighten it up, and if it’s not quite what you want, then you tear that off and slide that up like that. And I thought, “Boy, that saved me a bunch of erasers.”

WILLIAMSON: You can move things around that way if you draw with tracing paper, and then you move the actual elements around. Shel talks about free drawing, but do you know what he does? Since he mainly only draws in black-and-white, he’ll do his drawing. If he doesn’t like the position of something, he’ll cut it out with scissors, and paste it over here on the other side. [Laughter.]

Williamson sketches.

GREEN: We all have our own way of cheating.

WILLIAMSON: Right.

GREEN: An easy out.

WILLIAMSON: Well, it’s not an easy out. It’s just technique, and everybody’s got a different technique that can’t really be taught. You can go to art school but you can’t really learn technique. You can discover little tricks and devices, but people develop their own technique. You’ve got to have your own system, everyone’s got a system that works well for them individually.

GREEN: Jack Kirby is my favorite, and you can see his influence in a lot of my stuff. There’s only one Jack Kirby, and I’ll never be able to draw like him, but the time that I come close, I feel good about it.

WILLIAMSON: But there’s no reason to be Jack Kirby. It’s good to show the influence. People will notice that this guy’s influenced by someone good. But who needs to be another Jack Kirby? The thing is, there is no other Jack Kirby, there is no other Jack Davis, there is no other Kurtzman.

GREEN: That’s the sad thing. For one thing, I don’t have a Jack Kirby’s fantastic mind or his fantastic talent. The only other artist that I saw whose way of doing perspective and stuff actually fascinated me like Jack Kirby was Murphy Anderson. When he did Plastic Man for DC, he did some―

WILLIAMSON: But you can’t compare that Plastic Man to the original Plastic Man that was drawn by Jack Cole.

GREEN: No.

WILLIAMSON: I mean, the original was the best. I own a piece of Jack Cole art. I enjoy collecting comic art. I’ve got a Sunday page from Li’l Abner from 1940. I got a Nancy and Sluggo from the ’40s.

GREEN: You know what amazes me? The vastness of difference between what appeals to each individual artist for what they want to collect. I look through a comic book and I see Joe Kubert’s work, I think, “Nah.” But I’ve got an original page by him I wouldn’t part with for anything. And Jesse Marsh, who did Tarzan for Dell and Gold Key for so long, I’ve got one or two of his pages. I don’t know what it is, but I just think he’s fantastic. A lot of people say, “He can’t draw. His contrasts are too great.” But he is great. He’s like Caniff, a great user of black mood stuff.

WILLIAMSON: All right, now, one person I haven’t mentioned as an influence is Chester Gould. Very important. I’ve even done strips that are direct homages to Chester Gould. As a matter of fact, Max Collins, who now writes Dick Tracy, owns one of the pieces. I’d like to own a vintage Chester Gould.

Original art for Gould’s “Dick Tracy.”

One of the things I first did when I came to Playboy was I shot a fumetti. You know what a fumetti is? It’s a photo comic strip. Kurtzman did a couple of them for Playboy in the ’60s. I wrote two complete fumettis and we shot one. But it never went anywhere. It’s another project. There are so many projects that I’ve done that have just―

GREEN: Kind of fizzled.

WILLIAMSON: Yeah, well, they lay fallow. It’s not that they fizzled. The work is good, for one reason or another, it doesn’t get used. But like I said, never throw away an idea.

GREEN: Yeah!

WILLIAMSON: What’s happening now is that this movie project is happening, and I’m going to transpose some of the ideas that I used in the fumetti, in terms of idea and actual shots. So it all works out in the end, one way or the other.

GREEN: Kurtzman is the layout master. There are probably people who can’t stand Harvey Kurtzman’s work, but for people like me he’s been a major influence, I think the man can do no wrong.

WILLIAMSON: I agree with that. And there are people who don’t like my work. The people who come to me and say, “Boy, you stink! Where do you come up with the ideas?” And I say, “By looking deep into your eyes, sweetheart.”

I probably have the lowest opinion of my work of anyone. In a way that’s good, because it creates a climate of improvement. When you’re overconfident, your work deteriorates. That’s an old axiom, but it’s true. Once you’re totally satisfied with what you’re doing, then why bother doing it?

I find that one of the most gratifying things is taking on new knowledge and working at a new form. Like the film project. I’m excited by it because there’s something new that I can get into and, really sink my teeth into and learn, and do it. And like the fumetti. I never did a fumetti before, but I went ahead. When I started comic strips, I’d never done them before.

GREEN: I’d like to get into airbrush, but they tell me it’s a lot of work: one mistake and you’ve messed up the whole panel and all, but I want to do airbrush.

WILLIAMSON: That’s not true. You can airbrush acrylic, so you can go right back over it again. You can use any medium through an airbrush. Actually, right now would be a good time to get into airbrush, because airbrush technique was utilized by so many guys for so long. Everybody was airbrushing. Now, it’s not so popular, so now would be a good time to get into it. You wouldn’t be typecast so much.

GREEN: You’ve done airbrush, haven’t you?

WILLIAMSON: No. Never have.

GREEN: I thought I saw something by you … I would have sworn―

WILLIAMSON: A lot of people look at some of the things I do and say, “That’s airbrush.” No, it’s not. It’s just rendering, you know.

GREEN: The Master speaking. No, I think that’s fantastic when your work can look like something else. Well, to wind up this interview, Skip, are there any profound words that you would like to lay on the reading audience?

WILLIAMSON: Don’t wee-wee on your TV.

Gag for “Playboy Funnies.”

Skip To 1985

In 1970, while a designer at Playboy Press, I assembled a Coffee Table book titled Thank You, Mr. President. The cover was a photo of a lit candle sculpted into the profile of Richard Nixon. The Table of Contents had similar images of the Nixon candle beside each listing. With each particular, the candle melted further until, at the last item of the index, all’s left was a pool of wax and smoky vapor. The preface was illustrated by a full-bleed spread of the George C. Scott-as-Patton-scene in front of a vast American flag. Except it was Nixon as Patton instead of Scott.

Don Myrus, the Editorial Director of Playboy Press and my boss, was accountable for the words and concept. The direction of visual style and the selection of artists, art, and photos were mine.

The parlance consisted of direct quotes from the Nixon coterie. Agnew, Martha Mitchell, Erlichman, Haldeman, the whole delicious crew fairly crackling with oleaginous mendacity, hanging themselves with their words and demonstrating the felonious proclivities that would become public knowledge after Watergate. For months we worked tethered to our bookish scheme which, at the end of its fated course, realized itself as a visually dynamic palisade and an insurgent’s reference to some of the more detritus mossbacks of the day.

In order to actually publish we needed the nod from recluse libertarian, champion of First Amendment rights, and Chief Operating Officer, Hugh M. Hefner. Hef said “No.” Considering the growing menace of the Department of Justice, the punitive mood of the IRS, and the monopolistic nature of the Post Office, Hef opined that it would be politically unwise to publish such strident truths. Still, it pissed me off that so much time, talent, and zealotry were so misused. The luster was clouded enough that before very long I resigned that tenure and secured other means to pay the rent.

The prerogative to remain loyal to irrational biases and false vanities is scribed in the blood of our ancestors. An acre of ground, a mule, and the freedom to single-mindedly pursue lunatic doctrine and entertain politically retarded notions. It’s the American Way. And in my spare time, I was availing myself of that inalienable, God-given function by publishing comic magazines with Jay Lynch.

In those days Chicago was like downtown Titograd. A gray, cold, and oppressive working-class gloom ruled by iron-fisted police upon the orders of corpulent and unctuous cigar-chomping bureaucrats. Fear hovered the lakefront like a sinister and poisonous veil. Brutality was Law in the south and west ghettos, and parochial intimidation reigned glorious in the white ethnic precincts north and northwest. It was, as a matter of fact, a terrific climate for the novice comic-book artist. Plenty of social injustice about which the fledgling crackerjack cartoonist could endlessly harangue and, for fear of bodily harm, no reason to venture outside. Numerous hours normally wasted on simple existential despair by so many of that generation could then be utilized more efficiently to hone the old brain/eye/inkwell skills.

Suddenly it’s 1984. Fourteen years of change later. For one thing, there are no comix to speak of anymore. And the city has changed since those haunting days of alienation. The haute monde boutiques on Oak Street are just as haute in their monde as their counterparts on Champs-Elysees. The gay laughter of the gentry and the tinkle of transpicuous crystal wafts from sidewalk cafes where the well-turned bon vivant can deftly dip its croissant into its cafe au lait while unsavory elements are kept at arm’s length by iron-fisted police upon the orders of corpulent and unctuous cigar-chomping bureaucrats. And I’m working as an art director at Playboy magazine where, for eight years, project after project consumed time, talent, and zealotry. Practically nothing realizes print. Some things never change. Some things are Corporate Policy.

Consumer’s Digest March/April 1985 cover.

So, shortly after this interview was recorded in the summer of 1984, the combination of a humorless editorial reality, no possibility of vertical movement within the company, and an offer I couldn’t refuse lured me away from an environmentally sybaritic yet creatively barren employ at Playboy.

Since then I’ve been gainfully employed as Corporate Art Director of Consumer’s Digest, a company that publishes a couple of magazines and has given me the hands-on opportunity to eyewitness the iniquitous and artistically corrosive practices of the American Business community.

In the meantime, as if to bolster anarchy incarnate, my wife Harriett and I have become the parents of twin girls and my three year old, Molly, has taken to cartoon drawing as a cunning means of self-expression.

So, if nothing else, I’ve succeeded in polluting the gene pool.

―SKIP WILLIAMSON, September 1985

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Smoot http://www.tcj.com/smoot/ http://www.tcj.com/smoot/#respond Fri, 17 Mar 2017 12:00:28 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99415 Continue reading ]]> We are sad to report that another underground comic book great, Skip Williamson, has passed away. Patrick Rosenkranz has written his obituary.

Here’s the trailer for the documentary on the artist:

and here is a 2012 interview with Williamson. 

We will have an archival TCJ interview shortly.

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Skip Williamson, 1944-2017 http://www.tcj.com/skip-williamson-1944-2017/ http://www.tcj.com/skip-williamson-1944-2017/#comments Fri, 17 Mar 2017 12:00:05 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99398 Continue reading ]]> Mervyn “Skip” Williamson became a fly in the ointment at an early age; a thorn in the side of polite society throughout his whole life. He left this mortal coil unbowed and unrepentant on Thursday from complications of organ failure and the frailty of all flesh. He was a cartoonist who became a painter and a writer, and a firebrand during the countercultural revolution of the 1960 and ’70s. He never grew up, he often said.

In his memoir Spontaneous Combustion, Williamson described early skirmishes with rules and expectations, like getting busted in third grade for drawing cartoons on his textbooks, and stealing copies of Walt Disney’s Comics & Stories from the local drugstore in Lynchburg, Virginia.

In 1952, when the Democrats nominated Adlai Stevenson for their presidential candidate, 8-year-old Williamson chose to support him. “I was beaten up in the schoolyard that year for wearing a Stevenson for President button, and forced to wear an ‘I Like Ike’ button. It was my first visceral lesson regarding the unhealthy potential of unpopular ideas.” Neither incident deterred him from choosing his own path in life, though. “At the time it was just another thumping,” he wrote. “In the long run, it was a harbinger that foreshadowed my art’s unsteady relationship with Authority over the years.”

Williamson’s first published cartoon.

His comic career began in 1961 when he sold a gag cartoon to Harvey Kurtzman’s Help! magazine. He was an active participant in the network of small mimeographed comic fanzines that spewed out of garages and basement across suburban America in those years, including Wild! Blasé, and Williamson’s own amateur publication Squire. His teenage colleagues included future cartoonists Jay Lynch and Art Spiegelman.

Williamson with Jay Lynch, 1973.

He moved to Chicago in 1967 to join Jay Lynch to form the Bijou Publishing Empire and disseminate the gift of their art to the wider world. They both began contributing covers and cartoons to the Chicago Seed and the Old Town Underground Newspaper, and soon put out their own magazine, The Chicago Mirror, which morphed into Bijou Funnies after three issues. The underground comix movement was launched in 1968 with the appearance of Zap Comix #1 in San Francisco by Robert Crumb, who came to Chicago a few months later and helped them put together Bijou Funnies #1. Only half a dozen underground comic books were in existence by the end of that year, but within five years there were hundreds of titles, sold as “comix” to differentiate themselves from that dull nonsense put out by the “overground” comic publishers.

Williamson was aligned with radical politics and demonstrated in the streets during the 1968 Democratic Convention/Yippie riots and many other anti-war protests. He drew illustrations for Jerry Rubin’s Do It! and We Are Everywhere and Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book. He also covered the trial of the Chicago Seven as a courtroom artist and edited the comic book Conspiracy Capers, a fundraiser for their legal fees.

His day jobs included stints at ad agencies, and as art director for various men’s magazine publishers, including Playboy, Gallery, and Hustler. He liked to say he got all the jobs that Robert Crumb turned down during the comix era.

His work appeared in various anthologies in the post-underground years, including Blab! Zero Zero, and Mineshaft. He self-published several paperback collections of his comics, including Naked Hostility, Class War Comix, and Smoot, a paean to his notorious creation Snappy Sammy Smoot.

He relocated to Atlanta, Georgia in 1994 and started painting full time, with exhibitions at the Eyedrum Art & Music Gallery and Vinson Gallery. He moved to Vermont in 2010.

He was married four times, to Cecilia Einhaus, Francy Stanford, Harriett Hiland, and finally to Adrienne Morales. He is survived by four children: Megan Williamson, Molly Hiland Parmer, Nikki Williamson-Weiner, and Rita Williamson. His remains will be cremated and no funeral service is scheduled, according to his widow.

He and she were total soul mates from the moment they exchanged comments on a poetry website in 2012, Morales said. Their first phone conversation lasted hours. “He had heart and soul and I was wishing he could be mine. I could love him the way he deserved to be loved.” They met in person a few months later and were married on June 11, 2015, in Vermont.

He died at Albany Medical Center at 12:30 pm on Thursday, March 16th. “We were both romantics,” she said in a phone call during her ride home to Vermont. “We are fucking yin and yang. We are that thing, and nobody knows. He was the bright light in my life.” The official cause of death was renal failure and complications from heart disease and diabetes, but it was an antibiotic that killed him, according to Adrienne, who declared, “He was in perfect health before he went into the hospital.” She described how Skip recently cut a toe while trimming his nails with his antique Confederate-era jackknife. It became infected and swollen and a local doctor prescribed Bactrin, which damaged his liver and kidneys. The doctors in Albany were trying to counter the effects of the medication when he died.

Williamson left for posterity hundreds of pages of comics, and a home full of large and small canvases that speak wordlessly of his passions and personal visions. He lived for the moment, and took many chances, but lived to a ripe age. He was a genuine revolutionary, a vital force in underground comix, a player in Playboy’s hedonistic heyday, a prolific painter, and eventually a Grand Old Man of Comic History. His life story was recently documented by filmmaker John Kinhart, in his feature-length biopic Pigheaded, which traces his personal life and career. The film played in two film festivals to date, in Washington, DC, and in Newburyport, Massachusetts, which Williamson attended. A DVD has not yet been released.

“He told me he was hard to kill,” said Kinhart. “He said he would soon be recovered from his heart failure last year and back to a full life. “I’m going to miss him. He was a lot of fun. He was very intelligent. He paid attention to the whole spectrum of society. I’m going to miss him a lot.”

Williamson always counseled his readers, “An’ when yer smashin’ th’ state, kids, don’t fergit t’ keep a smile on yer lips and a song in yer heart!”

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Daunting http://www.tcj.com/daunting/ http://www.tcj.com/daunting/#respond Thu, 16 Mar 2017 12:00:45 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99371 Continue reading ]]> Rachel Davies has interviewed R. Sikoryak, primarily about his strangest and most ambitious literary adaptation yet, a comics version of the iTunes users’ agreement.

Because I try to adapt heavy, important works of literature, usually, like Crime and Punishment or Wuthering Heights, it sometimes gets daunting to struggle with a work that people are very familiar with, and that has characters that people really love. What was great about the Terms and Conditions for me was that there’s no narrative, and no one has an emotional attachment to it, at least not in the same way. I certainly don’t! It freed me up, it liberated me from having to worry about being faithful to it because there’s not a narrative to be faithful to. And it doesn’t lend itself to illustration in an overt way. I wasn’t interested in choosing a text that would be cinematic [laughs], I was interested in a text that didn’t have those concerns that I usually have when I’m doing a text. By choosing a text that had no narrative, it meant I could use the narratives of the comics that I was parodying to provide drama, or suspense, or humor. It was, in a way, a relief. I don’t know how I could do this again! [laughs] But for this project it was kind of a break from the way that I normally make comics.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. The Guardian interviewed Sikoryak too.

Sikoryak has been praised by some for making T&Cs more accessible, which he finds baffling. He just enjoys the challenge of making something dismissed as unreadable readable. In his eyes, convincing someone to read terms and conditions is just like getting someone to read “worthy” classics they feel guilty about skipping, from Camus to Beckett and beyond. “I like using texts that are perceived as important,” he says, “and that includes iTunes T&Cs. All my work is an attempt to bridge the gap between what we call high art and low art, what we think is important or serious, and what we see as frivolous and meaningless. Often, that boundary doesn’t exist.”

Raymond Briggs shares his writing day for the same paper.

Ho ho, those were the days! When one had a “writing day”. Before the advent of No 1: old age, and No 2: partner, wife, whoever, getting long-term incurable illnesses. These slightly disturb the cosy pattern of the working week. A whole day to yourself! When was that last experienced?

In 1958, I got my first 30 bob a week bedsit and was earning a living as a self-employed illustrator. This was what got me into writing. I was often amazed at how bad some of the stories I was given to illustrate were. Golly, I thought, I could do better myself! So I tried to write one and sent it to the editor for some advice. To my utter amazement, he said he would publish it. Just shows what the standard was. Me, a kid of 24.

And the most recent guest on Process Party was Eleanor Davis.

—Reviews & Commentary. It was Will Eisner’s centenary last week, and many tributes were written (some we linked to already), including a piece by R.C. Baker in the Village Voice:

Packaged in a Sunday newspaper supplement, the self-contained seven-to-eight-page Spirit stories proved a hit with readers, and by 1941 the young artist/writer/entrepreneur had a busy studio employing a staff of ten. As with Rubens before him and Warhol later, Eisner’s name was signed to artwork he never touched; many soon-to-be giants of the medium, including Batman creator Bob Kane and future Village Voice cartoonist Jules Feiffer, did apprenticeships in the Eisner studio. In a mark of his business savvy, Eisner insisted on owning the rights to his characters, and he even had the prescience, as war with Japan threatened, to buy a wholesale quantity of finely crafted Japanese ink brushes — which he preferred over domestic brands — fearing that imports might soon come to an end. Decades later he would joke that he was still using brushes from that stockpile.

And by Michael Dooley for Print:

Eisner’s graphic style was often balletic in its grace. One Contract tale opens with a full-page aerial perspective of Dropsie Avenue with its stoops, fire escapes, clotheslines strung from building to building, its elevated subway line in the distance, and many other minutely indicated details rendered with deft, casual brushstrokes. Then it’s followed spread of panels that indicates a swooping down onto tenants chatting from their windows, then a zoom through to settle in on a domestic scene. With spare use of captions and cartoon balloon dialogue, a bounty of exposition is compacted into three small pages with breathtaking fluidity.

Osvaldo Oyola echoes Barthes with an essay about the pleasures of reading serial comics.

At the time that I began regularly reading Marvel superhero serial comics, it was pretty much assumed that any series that began was meant to go on for as long as it sold well enough, regardless of changes to creative team, or even sometimes the very title of the book. When the martial arts craze that inspired the Iron Fist series started to die down, for example, it was combined with the also struggling Luke Cage, Power Man (which had already renamed from Luke Cage, Hero For Hire) to make Power Man & Iron Fist starting with issue #50. It would go on with the two characters teamed up for another 76 issues, cementing an iconic friendship that was essentially mandated by the market, but would become a defining aspect of both characters. I tried to be a regular reader of the series soon after I encountered the pair guest-starring in an issue of ROM Spaceknight, looking for the first part of the two-part story that crossed over between them—how novel such a thing seemed then!—I found other issues that drew my attention. I was taken by its premise and sense of exploring a seedier part of the Marvel Universe. Still, I was unable to read as many of the issues I would have liked, nor could I count on getting every issue each month (actually, it was bi-monthly which made finding it even harder before the days of the pull-list and the advent of the direct market). In reading the first volume of Power Man & Iron Fist (which lasted from 1978 to 1986), I was always engaging with fragments of a larger unknown (and some ways, unknowable) whole.

Ray Davis connects Cerebus to the alt-right.

Not so much Cerebus-the-character, who Jeet Heer picked as Trumpalike a year ago. More Cerebus-the-comic-book: a Shoah-slow train ride from geeky lulz to lunatic-fringe antifeminism through a series of cosmological mother-in-law jokes. Beginning with MAD parodies of teenage-boy-aimed comics, Sim took his hard-earned technique into realms in which it’s a less, let’s say, established bearer of light: the Flaming Carrot and Druckerized Lou Jacobi dropped wisdom on the moon; Druckerized Maggie Thatcher led execution-torture for the matriarchal dystopia; Druckerized Oscar Wilde and Ernest Hemingway rotated with Druckerized Marty Feldman and Mick Jagger and Batman/Wolverine/Punisher.

Jared Gardner wants people to start archiving webcomics.

It is always worth thinking about the history of earlier storage media when making predictions about the future. Film is as good an example as one could hope to find: a vastly popular medium with international reach and lots of industrial and institutional support. At only 120 years from its origins, one might imagine that the history of cinema is fully at our disposal. Sadly, this is not the case. Today, only about 20-25% of all silent films produced in the United States between the origins of cinema and the end of the silent era in 1927 still exist. In some part of the world, that proportion is considerably lower; for example, in Japan over 90% of all film made before 1945 is believed lost forever.

—Misc. Dangerous Minds has turned up an old Charles Mingus anti-bootlegging comic strip.

As one can see from the signature at the bottom left, the strip was executed by Gene Bilbrew, an African-American cartoonist whom some credit with creating the first black superhero, the Bronze Bomber. Bilbrew had once been an assistant to comics legend Will Eisner. Later on Bilbrew worked as a fetish artist at Irving Klaw’s bondage-oriented Movie Star News/Nutrix company; Klaw also discovered Bettie Page.

Finally, Clickhole gets some a-mazing quotes from Stan Lee. (I know.)

I knew I wanted to publish comics, but I was too lazy to learn how to draw, so I had to find an artist that was dumb enough to agree to make my ideas instead of their own. Jack Kirby was the perfect patsy, a dull-eyed rube with incredible artistic talent and no common sense. I paid a visit to his house while eating a big chicken parm and offered him half if he agreed to be my art slave for the rest of his life. He immediately accepted the deal and scarfed down the half-sandwich. I never paid Jack anything after that chicken parm, and he never fully understood how raw that deal was for him, though he suspected. When Jack passed, I felt some guilt, so I gave half of a Sprite Zero I had been drinking to his widow. I know that’s what he would have wanted.

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An Interview with R. Sikoryak http://www.tcj.com/an-interview-with-r-sikoryak/ http://www.tcj.com/an-interview-with-r-sikoryak/#comments Wed, 15 Mar 2017 12:00:18 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99283 Continue reading ]]> R Sikoryak’s Terms and Conditions manages to compress half a century’s worth of required comics reading into the span of 104 pages, while simultaneously tethering it to this specific moment in time by using the newly infamous iTunes Terms and Conditions. When I prepare to talk to R. I am baffled—how does someone prepare to talk to a figure who is clearly so incredibly knowledgeable in his field? Not only in its history, but in the grunt work of what really makes a comic work, visually and textually? What is there to ask other than, How does my brain become precisely like yours?

In his career, R. Sikoryak has parodied just about every significant cultural figure or reference you can think of: Beavis and Butt-Head, Regis Philbin, 12 Angry Men, the list goes on, alongside working at Raw Magazine right out of college, and now teaching at Parsons. Sikoryak’s parodies aren’t merely notable because of his ability to so flawlessly replicate the style of another, but because—through these well-executed drawings and scripts based on the works of others—he manages to leave his mark on it all. There’s something so distinctly Sikoryak-ian about Crime and Punishment as a Dick Sprang Batman comic. Or a Win Mortimer-inspired comic cover that finds Trump, in the midst of a battle with a nurse, upon finding the “cure for Obamacare.” Or even his New Yorker covers, wordless as they may be. No matter which work of his you’re reading, you’ll always see his stylistic signature there, peering from the corner.

Intrigued by Sikoryak’s Terms and Conditions, I spoke to him on the phone about making a book that is somehow like browsing the internet, how work affects one’s creative output, and thinking about the way work is consumed as you are making it.

Rachel Davies: What was the initial spur for the book?

R Sikoryak: I was trying to find a new way to make comics without the editing and deconstructing side. You’ve probably seen my earlier stuff, it take long pieces of literature and boils them down into comics. so there’s lots of editing and consideration, and then combining it with the style and figuring out a way to replicate that style, and learning how to draw that way. So I just found that I had a very time-consuming approach to making comics and I was really interested, instead of spending a year on a ten page story, I was interested in seeing if I could do a longer graphic novel-length work. In casting about for what that would be (I always work with found text to one degree or another) I thought of a text that is famous for being long, and that’s the terms and conditions from iTunes. That seemed funny and silly enough for me to get behind doing.

Reading the book, I couldn’t help but think that it must have been such a daunting task to track down all these comics that were precisely right for what you were attempting to convey with the material at hand. Were you ever hesitant about the project because of this? 

Well, in some ways it was less daunting [than my previous works]. Because I try to adapt heavy, important works of literature, usually, like Crime and Punishment or Wuthering Heights, it sometimes gets daunting to struggle with a work that people are very familiar with, and that has characters that people really love. What was great about the Terms and Conditions for me was that there’s no narrative, and no one has an emotional attachment to it, at least not in the same way. I certainly don’t! It freed me up, it liberated me from having to worry about being faithful to it because there’s not a narrative to be faithful to. And it doesn’t lend itself to illustration in an overt way. I wasn’t interested in choosing a text that would be cinematic [laughs], I was interested in a text that didn’t have those concerns that I usually have when I’m doing a text. By choosing a text that had no narrative, it meant I could use the narratives of the comics that I was parodying to provide drama, or suspense, or humor. It was, in a way, a relief. I don’t know how I could do this again! [laughs] But for this project it was kind of a break from the way that I normally make comics. The length was daunting in a certain way, especially when the terms got longer as I was going, and I had to go back and revise them, and then add twenty more pages in the end. But that just gave me an opportunity to add more different styles, so in a way, ultimately I’m happy that they strung me along like that. In terms of me being daunted by it, it was a little overwhelming but I could see the end of it, I knew the end of the text. I knew there was an end. My only concern was that they were going to update them again, and I would have to update them again, but ultimately it was finite. It wasn’t as if I was writing an inter-generational family saga that took place on multiple planets or something—Oh, I have to take care of those people I introduced! So it was very different than something like that, you know, I wasn’t doing Dune.

When you were choosing comic pages to sample, were you trying to create a visual narrative from one page to the next or were you just worried about the narrative that was contained within each page?

Yeah, I was more concerned with the narrative that was contained within each page. I wanted there to be a character present throughout the page who I could sort of use as the protagonist, and he’s dressed in Steve Jobs’s outfit. Beyond that, it was very up for grabs. I mostly chose pages for the purpose of having some sort of visual interest or narrative. as well as, Is this a famous artist that Im parodying?, or Is this a famous character that Im parodying? or Is this a famous comic strip that Im parodying? So I was trying to kind of hit the points of interest in all of comics history, but I didn’t feel I needed to worry about the narrative from page to page, although you, as a reader, could make one out of it. I will say I chose the final page with text because I like the sunset as some acknowledgment that we’ve come to an end. Other than that, there’s very little in the book that has any connection, visually, to the text. Again, as a reader I think one would make that connection, but I didn’t feel like I needed to supply one more than was already provided by the great pages that I was working from.

Yeah, I found that reading it was a lot different than any other comic book because you do have to make a lot of those connections for yourself. Obviously when you’re reading a regular narrative comic book, it’ll show what they’re talking about and it’ll relate in some way, but reading Terms and Conditions was definitely a more intensive reading process. Were you thinking about what it would be like to read it at all when you were making it?

A little bit, I think I was just responding to—in a way, I wish I could read it. [laughs] I mean, I wish I could read it with fresh eyes, is what I’m saying. But in a way I was kind of responding to a trend that you sometimes see in educational comics where the visuals and the text really tell exactly the same story. Sometimes you can get a little impatient reading something like that because if someone’s talking about a chair, and then there’s a drawing of a person with a word balloon saying, This is a chair, and he’s pointing to a drawing of a chair–it gets a little tedious. I felt like the text let me step aside from that, and I didn’t get seduced by, Oh, thats a really beautiful chair! I want to draw that chair. Since they’re talking about things on a rather abstract level I was able to avoid that. I’ve done readings of the strips as slideshows–that’s something I do with a lot of my comics–and people seemed to get caught up in the narrative that’s sort of there. But I don’t know what it’s like to see it entirely fresh. I’m trying to think of other comics that have done things like this… There was a Mad comic in the ’50s where they took a comic and they rewrote all the dialogue, so that’s kind of happened before. Jason Little took an old romance comic, and completely rewrote the story. There’s probably an example very close to this, I don’t really believe in originality. [laughs] There’s probably something a lot like it, but I just don’t remember it. I certainly was inspired by Art Spiegelman’s early experimental comics in his book Breakdowns, and Breakdowns also has a parody in here, too. I felt like he was constantly trying to break the text away from the comics in interesting ways. Maybe not over so many pages, but I felt like he was making an effort to at least make you aware of that. Certain writers do it to a certain extent. I just can’t speak to how it reads. Like I said, I’ve reread it but there is an element of surprise that is lost on me.

With regard to your ability to replicate so many different drawing styles, what is your background in drawing? Have you always been doing parody drawings?

Oh, yeah! It’s funny, my brothers and I all collected comics and we would do parody comics even as kids. I was a big fan of Mad, so I was looking at humor comics from a really young age—I grew up in the ’60s. That was always an interest to me, trying to replicate styles. I mean, I think all people start there, but I think I ended up there. I used to always worry about being derivative, unconsciously, or being like a second rate version of someone because I felt like I was inclined to pick up cliches or habits from other artists. I thought I might as well make that overt. Since I was in college, I got started on working this way and I’ve just done it so long, I’m rather methodical about it. At this point, my style is to just pick up as much as I can from other people, but do it in an overt way. That’s why there’s an index in the book, I wanted people to be conscious that it’s coming from specific places.

For sure! When you were choosing what you were drawing from, were those all comics that you had in a personal collection, or were already aware of, or did you seek out different thing that were out of your personal interest?

It started out being more artists that I either had examples of personally, or just popped in my head initially, by the middle to the end of the book, I was more interested in making sure I represented people that weren’t in my collection. Though my collection is fairly eclectic, it probably leans more toward historical comics, and contemporary comics, but I really, really wanted to include people like Kate Beaton, and Allie Brosh because I wanted to make sure I was representing a newer part of the comics universe. I mean, I have a lot of Kate Beaton in my collection, but I wanted to make sure I was covering a lot of bases. At a certain point I remember looking in the iTunes store to see what was popular in graphic novels, I just thought, What have I not gotten to? I think from that I ended up including the Transformers and My Little Pony, which is interesting because they’re both licensed comics, and licensed comics have always been a big part of comics, so that seemed like a valuable to include. The Walking Dead struck me early on—I haven’t read a lot of those comics, nothing against them I just don’t read a lot of horror comics—but I wanted to get that in there early because it’s something that is instantly recognizable, very iconic. It was a real mix. I wanted it to feel like the internet.

Yeah, I was thinking about that. I definitely noticed that, it was interesting reading it, and kind of feeling surprised by how much I knew. Like The Walking Dead, I have no connection that at all, really, and I got the reference. It makes sense, with the internet you see so many things unintentionally and then they’re part of your reference bank without any effort.

Yeah, and I like being surprised! I didn’t want to choose favorites. I tried to be very open minded about comics that are coming out. Comics that are popular are always fascinating to me — like why did this connect to people? I don’t mean to judge why it’s popular, I just think it’s interesting what things really hit people, what strikes a nerve, and what connects. My work is in some ways really theoretical, and objective. I always kinda want to analyze what makes something work, and what makes something popular, which isn’t always the same thing but sometimes is absolutely the same thing.

What do you tend to read the most of, like historical stuff, older, or do you read more contemporary comics now?

It really depends on where I’m at. When I’m working on a project, I’m just reading the comic that I’m parodying. I did a Wonder Woman parody comic a couple years ago — a retelling of the Marquis De Sade’s Justine in the style of a Wonder Woman comic so I was just reading 1940s Wonder Woman issues. So I’ll just sort of glom onto an artist or an era of a character, and I’ll just read all of the stuff I can. But I do try to keep track of what’s happening now in graphic novels, I really liked Riad Sattouf’s last book, I really liked Ulli Lust’s last book. I have to say Comixology, not to put another shoutout to an internet corporation, but Comixology has increased what I’ve been reading just because so much is available, and I don’t have room on my bookshelves anymore. [laughs] I do still have some room, I still buy some books. But I also buy a lot of digital comics because they’re so plentiful, and lighter.

You teach at Parsons, right? What do you do there? How do you think it figures into what you publish?

That’s really interesting! I teach in the illustration department, so depending on the year I may be teaching a different class. I’ve taught comics classes there, which is really interesting because I have students who aren’t necessarily comics makers but they like the idea of making comics, or they just want to try out something new. It’s fascinating to see people come from a very different angle than I would, or to find people who were reading a lot of comics… I feel like I had the same approach, where it’s like, I read a lot so I know how these work, and I can just sort of jump in and do it. I see that in students, and that’s always exciting.

Right now I teach a class called Senior Thesis: Each student gets to work on their own project, and some of them are making comics, some of them are making a series of paintings, some of them are making animated films—it’s all over the place. They all sort of get to choose the approach they take. One reason I like that class is because I can talk to them about their conceptual reasons for doing a project. If I don’t know how to make an animated stop motion film, or know how to use a specific computer program, I can still talk to them about aesthetics, or I can talk to them about approach, or I can talk to them about how [their project] works as a viewer. I’m really interested in that, and I feel like I can give them advice from that standpoint. Also, having just done this book, I feel like I can relate to them on working on a project that nobody asked them to do, but they are compelled to do. I hope I can teach them something about keeping deadlines, and I hope they can teach me about keeping deadlines, because I always feel like managing time is super-hard when you’re working on something that’s self-motivated, and that maybe you have never made before. I really love talking to the students, partially because it’s fresh for them, and partially because it’s often fresh for me, and their experience of art making is so different than mine. What they’ve seen, and what they bring to it. There’s a generational, I don’t want to say divide, but difference that is really interesting.

Did you always know you wanted to make comics? When you went to school was that always your end game?

It was always my end game, but I went to school in the ’80s, and that was actually a point at which I realized, or at least I felt, that I could make a better living doing freelance art and illustration for magazines. I went to school in New York, actually at Parsons. where I teach now, and the world of freelance editorial illustration was pretty broad. I certainly knew I wanted to make comics, but I felt like I’d have to make them in my spare time, and do other kinds of commercial art for a living. I fluctuate back and forth because I do get to do a lot of comics for commercial publishers, but it’s always sort of juggling the different parts of my career, or my different abilities for different jobs. I was always interested in making comics, and I was lucky enough to be introduced to Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly when I was in school. That helped me a lot because I was already really into Raw, and Art’s earlier experimental comics, but getting to meet them sort of got my foot into the door of a world of comics that totally changed my life. [laughs] That I was actually able to work with them was incredible, and I got so much out of that. I think I would have been making comics in any case, but getting to meet and work with them was really life-changing, and I’m sure really affected the kind of comics I make today, in a good way. I think they made me be more critical and rigorous in the way that I approach what I do.

RD: You worked at Raw right out of college, right? Were you in editorial, or were you just making comics for them?

RS: Well, it was such a small company! It was only Art, Françoise, and a few other freelance helpers in the office, and me. So it was really tiny! I was doing production work for them, I was packing boxes, shipping out books, I was doing office stuff, I would coordinate with artists to get work turned in. A lot of production work, a lot of different things in that way. They weren’t publishing that much, although they did publish a couple of my early comics, and I certainly think that I worked really hard because I wanted to make an impression in Raw. [laughs] It was a big deal for me to get in that magazine. They didn’t publish a lot of my work, but they taught me so much about production, design, and editing. I helped out wherever I could, I pitched in as was needed. It was a really interesting job because it just involved so many facets. It would have made me a great self publisher if I had had the stamina to do that. They taught me a lot about how to make work, and juggle that with freelance work, too! At that point Art Spiegelman was still at Topps designing bubble gum cards, and things like that, Wacky Packs, and all those series—some series I grew up with, even. I feel like I’ve always been working, everything I’ve been doing, has been there to help me make comics, in a way. That’s the goal, to make more comics, and there’s lots of things, peripheral or very related to that, that have kept me busy.

RD: Both of your most recent projects—Terms and Conditions, and the Unquotable Trump—were first realized online. How does your attitude toward a work change when transitioning it from the internet to something tangible?

RS: It’s funny, they were first seen online, but the iTunes project started as a mini comic. I published the first two parts of the iTunes book in April 2015, and I published the second two parts, the finale of the iTunes book, in September 2015. I had been selling them at conventions, and I’d been distributing them a little bit online through a mini comics distributor called Birdcage Bottom, I had gotten them out a little bit and I showed the mini comics to Françoise Mouly, and she said, Oh, you should put these on Tumblr!  I did that, and then I sent out an email to everyone I knew in the world, and said, Im doing this thing! The minute I sent out that email, this was like 20 or 30 days after putting it on Tumblr, the day I sent that email, Boing Boing had done a story, NPR called me to do an interview, The Guardian, all these other places came in, and started writing about it. I tip my hat to Françoise for knowing enough about the internet to tell me to use it. I kind of like to know what my work is before I release it to the world, like the iTunes book, I put out the first mini comic after I’d finished the first half of it—I wanted to stake my claim to it, but I’d already done like 35 pages.

By the time I put it on Tumblr I was done, and I was really astounded by the response. I don’t know if it would have been more paralyzing to have seen all those people be very excited about it. It was a little startling to see how fast it clicked in with people. With the Trump book, again I made a mini comic, but this time I already knew I was going to start putting it on Tumblr. But I did make all of it, 16 pages, and I published the comic—published, I photocopied it, and then I put it on Tumblr. The response to that was so great that I was encouraged to make more. In this case, for Trump now [The Unquotable Trump], I’m making images, and posting them on Tumblr, and in some ways I’m certainly open to suggestions, people have [messaged me], Oh, you should do this or that! But most people don’t have it all thoroughly worked out, so you end up just having to do what you’re doing. I’m certainly keeping my ear open if anyone has any ideas. In the Trump case, I kind of have my approach, and I’ve mapped out where I’m going, but who knows what he’ll say tomorrow! He’s a different case because the iTunes thing is a living document, they do update it, but he’s a living human, and a volatile one, so I don’t know what he’s going to do next. I’m happy if he stops giving me material! I don’t need anymore, but we’ll see what happens. I have to admit, I’m really glad that Françoise suggested Tumblr to me, it’s definitely increased my visibility. I don’t know what I’ll do next online, but I might post my next project there. It is part of what comics are now, and I hadn’t embraced it before. I feel like the iTunes thing in a lot of ways has just made me think about how comics work, and how I can make comics in a new way. I also think that’s what I’m all about is thinking about comics, so it’s definitely achieved way more than I expected it would!

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (3/15/17 – Temple of Water) http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-31517-temple-of-water/ http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-31517-temple-of-water/#comments Tue, 14 Mar 2017 12:44:29 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99353 Continue reading ]]>

Everything is closed, but we’re still open.

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PLEASE NOTE: What follows is not a series of capsule reviews but an annotated selection of items listed by Diamond Comic Distributors for release to comic book retailers in North America on the particular Wednesday identified in the column title above. Be aware that some of these comics may be published by Fantagraphics Books, the entity which also administers the posting of this column, and that I also run a podcast with an employee of Nobrow Press. Not every listed item will necessarily arrive at every comic book retailer, in that some items may be delayed and ordered quantities will vary. I have in all likelihood not read any of the comics listed below, in that they are not yet released as of the writing of this column, nor will I necessarily read or purchase every item identified; THIS WEEK IN COMICS! reflects only what I find to be potentially interesting. You could always just buy nothing.

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SPOTLIGHT PICKS!

Eartha: Being the newest graphic novel by Cathy Malkasian, a longtime operator in television and feature film animation who has since carved out a strikingly assured and personal space in allegorical humane fantasy comics. The scenario involves a mystic quest to a city from where dreams emerge: “an expansive tale of pastoral life, city corruption, greed, and addictions,” per Fantagraphics, which has published all four of the artist’s book-format works. A 256-page two-color release, 11.5″ x 9.625″ in hardcover; $29.99.

Island #15: It seems circumstances arranged themselves quickly enough that the solicitation text could not reflect it, but this is the final issue of the Image comics anthology magazine fronted by artists Brandon Graham and Emma Ríos, a forum for long-ish chunks of serial works in a primarily visually-driven SF/fantasy genre vein, with some notable delving into anthropomorphic animal drama. Or, at least *I* found it notable. I also understand that Graham himself will have some work in this one, along with Farel Dalrymple and Dilraj Mann, the latter a young artist whom I suspect found an early introduction to a wider readership through his participation in the series; $9.99.

PLUS!

The Metabaron Vol. 2: The Techno-Cardinal & The Transhuman (&) Siberia 56: Two French comics here in a familiar ‘dark’ SF vein. The Metabaron is an ongoing spinoff-of-a-spinoff sourced back to The Incal by Alejandro Jodorowsky & Moebius, now concerned with space mercenary action co-written by Jerry Frissen and drawn by various hands. The Canadian artist Niko Henrichon, recognizable from assorted DC and Marvel works, is up this time for a 112-page, 9.4″ x 12.6″ hardcover. Siberia 56 is a 2014-16 SF/horror series written by Christophe Bec, who’s done some work for Les Humanoïdes in the past, although this Glénat series has been picked up as an early all-in-one release from Insight Comics, a new subdivision of the art book publisher Insight Editions. The artist is Alexis Sentenac, and the hardcover dimensions appear to be 8.5″ x 11.2″; $29.95 (Metabaron), $24.99 (Siberia).

The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir (&) In-Between Days: A Memoir About Living With Cancer: Autobiographical comics in the bookstore-ready vein over here. The Best We Could Do is an Abrams release from Saigon-born artist Thi Bui, “[e]xploring the anguish of immigration and the lasting effects that displacement has on a child and her family,” having attracted some praise from the likes of Leela Corman and Craig Thompson. A 336-page two-color hardcover. In-Between Days is from House of Anansi Press, a Canadian outfit which I haven’t before associated with comics publishing. The artist, Teva Harrison, has worked extensively on the topic of living with cancer at The Walrus, and this 128-page work was apparently a finalist for a 2016 Governor General’s Literary Award via the Canada Council for the Arts; $24.95 (Best), $19.95 (Days).

A Contract With God & Other Tenement Stories (&) Will Eisner: The Centennial Celebration, 1917-2017: It’s a commemorative year for Eisner, as you can see, so here’s a pair of items reflecting that fact. A Contract With God is a new 224-page W.W. Norton hardcover compiling various Eisner works as sourced from high-resolution scans from the original art, the centerpiece being his titular 1978 urban drama. The Centennial Celebration is a Dark Horse release – a 10″ x 14″, 176-page hardcover catalog for exhibitions at Le Musée de la Bande Dessinée and the NYC Society of Illustrators (through June 3rd), presented in French and English; $25.95 (Contract), $49.99 (Centennial).

2000 AD’s Greatest: Celebrating 40 Years of Thrill-Power!: Meanwhile, the party continues apace for the venerable UK genre comics weekly with this 112-page themed collection, in which various contributors to the magazine from over the years select a short piece by another contributor and explain why they like it. Should be fun; $17.99.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess Vol. 1: Finally, here is VIZ with some highly-relevant video game tie-in manga. As you may know, Nintendo recently released a new title in its popular The Legend of Zelda franchise of fantasy adventures. Titled Breath of the Wild, the game draws rather extensive artistic influence from the works of animator Hayao Miyazaki — both in terms of visual texture as well as the vaguely ecological, memento mori tone of its scenario — while sewing together bits of game design from a wide range of recently-popular global sources (as well as its own extensive history). It is very much a magpie work, though certainly not the first time the people at Nintendo have looked to outside influence; recently, Dark Horse published an English edition of the franchise’s Art & Artifacts compendium of production art, and I was very interested to find one of the primary artists, one Yusuke Nakano, alluding to the influence of “an overseas comic I was a fan of at the time” over his illustration work on the 2000 title Majora’s Mask:

He’s talking about Hellboy, right? Certainly this looks like an unusual fusion of the Zelda series’ rather anime-informed design interests and the hard shadows of Mike Mignola – and imagine my surprise, then, upon reading a sidebar, to find Nakano praising the American likes of Frank Frazetta, Richard Corben(!) and Sam Kieth(!!) as artists he respects. And while Art & Artifacts does not go out of its way to clarify the identities of the people responsible for much of the art therein, further examination of the Majora’s Mask section reveals some further work in a relevant vein.

That’s some Arthur Suydam shit right there! Anyway, Nakano also headed up the designs for 2006’s Twilight Princess, a game redolent of a certain Tolkien calendar approach to ‘realism’, but this latecoming manga adaptation, begun in conjunction with a 2016 HD re-release of the game, is the work of Akira Himekawa, another longstanding figure in Zelda history – “Himekawa” is actually a pair of artists, the ‘official’ manga adaptation team for the franchise since the late 1990s, working in a much more distinctly (read: conservatively) commercial manga vein than the games’ actual production staffs. Nonetheless, if you’re hankering for more stuff, it’s stuff you’ll have; $9.99.

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Walkin’ http://www.tcj.com/walkin/ http://www.tcj.com/walkin/#respond Tue, 14 Mar 2017 12:00:45 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99331 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, it’s a snowy day and Santa Joe brings you the new comics.

Elsewhere:

Al Jaffee interviewed over at Vanity Fair. It’s nice that Jaffee has had such public appreciation these last half-dozen years. 

Passings: 

The New York Times on Jay Lynch.

Classic big foot New Zealand Cartoonist Murray Ball passed away.

 

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Libby’s Dad http://www.tcj.com/reviews/libbys-dad/ http://www.tcj.com/reviews/libbys-dad/#comments Mon, 13 Mar 2017 12:00:32 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?post_type=reviews&p=99269 Continue reading ]]> Fear of the familiar takes center stage in a new short work from Eleanor Davis, whose 2014 Fantagraphics entry How to Be Happy stunned with its juxtaposition of overwhelming, deliberate color and discordant emotional ambiguity. Libby’s Dad, a short story entry from Retrofit, brings the same overwhelming color, style, and grotesquerie that made How to Be the stunner that it was, but falls short of packing its nuclear punch.

Davis returns to her toolkit once again to explore the landscapes between language and reality, threat and violence. However, Libby’s Dad’s grasp doesn’t quite take the same hold as any of the How to Be pieces. A short story about a group of prepubescent neighborhood girlfriends, Libby’s Dad finds its tension in one of the girls spreading a rumor that Libby’s newly divorced father had threatened to shoot Libby’s mother as the result of some unknown argument. Libby’s father has also treated the girls with the utmost hospitality, ordering them KFC, allowing them to eat sweets after dark, letting them use the pool in his new midlife crisis pad. Philosophical questions rise up for the girls: how could someone be dangerous and generous at once? How could they possibly be close to someone who could also destroy all of them? And the eternal question: is it ever possible to really know someone? All of Davis’s usual pieces are in play: a child’s lack of grasp of nuance; an environment capable of enveloping its characters with its visually and psychically overwhelming elements; an ambiguous distance between truth and fiction; a paranoid whisper-down-the-alley; and an intrusion of imagined violence and mental illness — all diffused within pages of them reaching their greatest pitch. Why?

Davis shows how easily manipulated young children are: keeping the status quo means keeping all the easily-won luxuries that come with it — swimming pools, forbidden foods, an idea of camaraderie at a divisive age, and everything else a prepubescent girl could want — not to mention, getting to purge those nasty introspective thoughts and questions of responsibility. Davis is an absolute master when it comes to depicting the absurdity of modern spaces, especially the ridiculous need for products to have brand identities (Libby’s mom allegedly weeps in the grocery store while looking at a box of Fruit-by-the-Foot, which a girl notes isn’t even a sad product, like a mascot-less veal shank). She also has a tremendous timing for dropping a sudden beat of violence in safe, peaceful spaces. But there’s a subtlety missing here: while this bait and switch of safety for violation has been so effective in her previous comics (what comes to mind is one where someone nonchalantly snips off fingers with a pair of craft scissors), a gun massacre does not hold the same psychic resonance. It’s the small violences — the quiet spaces of humiliation, betrayal, and black humor — that dig deepest into the skin in her work, and without them, Libby’s Dad wilts.

The tension resolves when Libby’s father reveals himself to be compassionate in a situation where he could lose his cool, and the girls resolve that it must be that Libby’s mother is insane. So if a rumor can come and go so quickly, why address it at all? To prove that snap judgements can be made and broken in seconds due to the placating luxuries of pool parties, or a cake without occasion? Or was there maybe, somewhere in the blackest reader’s heart, the sick desire to actually see these girls decimated that Davis wants to expose? A little more length and maybe a little more complication could have gone a long way to serve Libby’s Dad; maybe we’ll see more context for it in a collection some day. I am willing to venture a guess that the personal is missing in Libby’s Dad, and Davis thrives when she is most present in her work.

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Timeless http://www.tcj.com/timeless/ http://www.tcj.com/timeless/#respond Mon, 13 Mar 2017 12:00:08 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99325 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site:

Katie Skelly reviews Eleanor Davis’s Libby’s Dad.

Davis returns to her toolkit once again to explore the landscapes between language and reality, threat and violence. However, Libby’s Dad’s grasp doesn’t quite take the same hold as any of the How to Be pieces. A short story about a group of prepubescent neighborhood girlfriends, Libby’s Dad finds its tension in one of the girls spreading a rumor that Libby’s newly divorced father had threatened to shoot Libby’s mother as the result of some unknown argument. Libby’s father has also treated the girls with the utmost hospitality, ordering them KFC, allowing them to eat sweets after dark, letting them use the pool in his new midlife crisis pad. Philosophical questions rise up for the girls: how could someone be dangerous and generous at once? How could they possibly be close to someone who could also destroy all of them? And the eternal question: is it ever possible to really know someone? All of Davis’s usual pieces are in play: a child’s lack of grasp of nuance; an environment capable of enveloping its characters with its visually and psychically overwhelming elements; an ambiguous distance between truth and fiction; a paranoid whisper-down-the-alley; and an intrusion of imagined violence and mental illness — all diffused within pages of them reaching their greatest pitch. Why?

Elsewhere: 

Joe McCulloch talks Tatsumi over here.

Not much comics news, but comics-adjacent painting: R.B. Kitaj has a great retrospective in New York at Malborough, and here’s a fine piece of writing on it.

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Person in Charge http://www.tcj.com/person-in-charge/ http://www.tcj.com/person-in-charge/#respond Fri, 10 Mar 2017 13:00:22 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99285 Continue reading ]]> Anyhow, today on the site we have two of our great cartoonists in conversation: Phoebe Gloeckner and Julia Gfrörer. The two spoke on the occasion of the release of Gfrörer’s recent book, Laid Waste. Here’s a teaser:

PG: You just said that you’re working on the drawings; you have it all written. Is that your typical process? Do you write the whole thing out? Do you script it? What do you do?

JG: I thumbnail and script it at the same time. And then pencil it and ink it, so it’s all penciled now, and I’m just inking.

You generally do it in different passes. It general, you have the whole thing worked out, and then you return to the beginning, and start inking, and so on?

Yeah. Usually I’ll kind of jump around. I won’t do it straight from beginning to end, but I’ll do whatever part I feel like doing. If I’m feeling not super into it, I’ll ink a page or draw a page that I feel like is going to be fun or easy — when there’s not a lot happening in it. In this Flesh and Bone sequel, yesterday, I was feeling unmotivated, and there’s a page where the witch is spinning with a drop spindle. And then the thread gets tangled, it does that thing where it twists in on itself and makes a tangle. That was really easy to draw, it was just several panels of thread spinning and then tangling up. It went really quick, and I was like, this is really motivational. It was like: BAM, I finished a page.

You got into the swing of things.

Another question I had is about collaboration. Amongst your collaborations — and I don’t know all of them — I’m thinking of the work you did with Sean, and they were adaptations of Poe stories. That was just something I would just expect you to do on your own. I would totally trust whatever you would come up with, your interpretation. I’m wondering: why the collaboration, and how did that change your work?

The porn adaptations of Poe, that was Sean’s idea. He sent me the script for the first one before we really had a relationship, he just knew my work.

[Laughs.] That’s very seductive.

I know. [Laughter.] I read it, and when I realized what was going to happen in it — at first I was like, “Who does this guy think he is?” To try to improve on Poe seems like a gutsy move. When I finished reading it, I was like, “This is amazing.” I was really into it. I did end up drawing it. Then, it just became a thing we do for fun. I don’t usually collaborate with people. I drew some stuff for Anne Elizabeth Moore for a magazine but she hired me to do it. With Sean, I really like his writing, I think he as a good sense of what is going to be good for me to draw: what I’m going to enjoy drawing, and what’s going to look good drawn by me. We’ve done a couple Poe/porn books. We did a comic called Hiders, which was just a 4 page one about these two young women who turn into werewolves together. But they don’t talk about it when they’re both human.

Elsewhere:

 

 

Hooo wee, look at that great Kim Deitch drawing from the 1970s in our little window.

Podcast updates: Tucker Stone (who hangs out with Tim much more than me, which makes me secretly sad but I’ll get over it) talked Punisher over here. At Comic Books Are Burning in Hell, Joe McCulloch and Katie Skelly talk Insufficient Direction and then Joe and Chris Mautner discuss Pretending Is Lying.

Reminder: The Women in Illustration Tumblr is on quite a roll lately, especially with the always amazing Margaret Brundage.

Over at the New Yorker, Paul LaFarge details the true life of one of a character in his new novel about H.P. Lovecraft. Salient line: “Who keeps track of the lives of fans.” One of my favorite things is to track certain strains of fandom… I love the fandom that seeded underground comics, the fandom that resulted in so much commerce in the 1970s and 80s and the fandom that birthed this magazine and Fantagraphics. And now the fandom that keeps a thousand zine and comics fairs in bloom. 

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The Julia Gfrörer Interview http://www.tcj.com/the-julia-gfrorer-interview/ http://www.tcj.com/the-julia-gfrorer-interview/#comments Fri, 10 Mar 2017 13:00:04 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98857 Continue reading ]]> We asked Phoebe Gloeckner (The Diary of a Teenage Girl; A Child’s Life) to interview Julia Gfrörer (Black is the Color; Laid Waste; the forthcoming Mirror Mirror II) about her life and work. The two artists spoke on November 28, 2016 and edited the transcript in the weeks since. -eds.

JULIA GFRÖRER: Hi, how are you doing?  

PHOEBE GLOECKNER: You’re in New York, right?

Yeah.

How are you doing this morning? 

I’m good, pretty good. How about you?

Pretty good. I’m really nervous about doing this, because it’s not what I’ve done before so…

Yeah, me too.

Yeah. So I guess let’s do it. And also I’m nervous about recording.

And do you have your recording stuff all set up?

Yeah.

Yay!

So hopefully it will work.

I feel weird about this FaceTime. I feel like I look funny. I’m gonna have a cigarette. 

I have my fake cigarette.

Is that an e-cigarette or is that something else? 

Yeah, it’s an e-cigarette.

Whoa. I’ve never seen one that looks like that.

It’s really good because you don’t have to deal with the juice. You just pull this thing out and replace it.

That’s cool.

Yeah. And it’s totally made me not want cigarettes. I mean, it’s better than a cigarette for me. 

Oh, cool. 

Yeah.

[Shuffling about.] I’m just looking for my lighter. Okay so you have questions… 

I’ve got lots of questions but I’m trying to figure out a way to like… uhh, God I’m so bad at this, aren’t I? Okay, I’m trying to remember like the first time we met… Do you remember? 

Yeah, I remember. It was at CAKE [Chicago Alternative Comics Expo] and, if you remember I was friends with Sean [T. Collins] and he is just crazy about you and he’s like, “She’s amazing. I’m so excited for you to meet her…” And wait… I’m going to bring my whole pack of cigarettes with me…

Where are you going?

Just out in the backyard. 

Because you’re not allowed to smoke in your apartment… Okay. So you got to CAKE and saw that we were sitting next to each other and… was that Sean’s doing?

No… I don’t know how it ended up like that… I think the organizers do that.

Okay.

And then you got there, like late, and you seemed really freaked out, and you were like, “I don’t know how to display these. How much should I charge for these? Can you watch them? I have to go get something back at my hotel…” And then you left again and I was like, “Sean, what the hell, is she always so freaked out like this?”

My only excuse was that I’d never been more depressed in my life.

Really?

Yes. That year was like middle of like the four or five worst years of my life.

I’m sorry.

And I didn’t know why I was at CAKE or even why anyone had wanted me to be there. I needed to sell my work but I didn’t even fucking know how. At the time, my self-esteem was very low and I had no sense of who I was, not so much as an artist but as a living being. I felt so withdrawn that no matter what good things were said to me, they just didn’t sink in. I was so unhappy, I walked around like a ghost, wondering if and why I was alive.

You seemed kinda manic almost.

I wouldn’t have described it as manic, but I was unmoored. I was not navigating well through a terrible divorce. Life felt so tenuous. Most things that had seemed constant in my life had been taken away. I was lost. I was like a baby bird fallen from its nest and flailing on the ground, fighting for its life.

I guess that’s manic, you know, not in the sense of elevated mood but with a lot of nervous energy.

I’m sorry you had to meet me under those circumstances!

No, that was just my first impression and you weren’t around at the table much that day anyway. Later, I saw you at the party.

Right!

We were on the roof and we got caught in this rainstorm and had a really intense conversation and there was lightning all around us. It was a really big deal to me. I was thinking, “This is amazing. Phoebe’s amazing.”

I was thinking the same thing. “Julia’s amazing! Who is this creature?” That meeting in the rain gave me a chance to atone. It’s not easy meeting young cartoonists who seem like they might be interested in getting to know you when you’re at the lowest point in your life. All hopes of making a good impression are quickly dashed. Even worse, it’s even harder to inspire empathy when you present as a madwoman. But talking with you was a great distraction from my life. You were fascinating, and I hadn’t even read your work yet.    

You said, in one of your other interviews, that when a fan speaks to you about your art you sometimes find it hard to connect with them. There is something intrusive and vaguely threatening when a smiling stranger approaches you as if they know you. They do know you, in a way, through your work, and might be convinced of that whether you were dead or alive. This kind of “knowing” can be alienating. A reader understands works of literature in the context of their own experience. They see you as an extension of the work, and through the same filters, in the same contexts that they find meaning in the work. It’s overwhelming when their gaze shifts from the work to you, the author. You said that if you succeed in getting beyond this point and find that you have common interests beyond your own work, the fan-artist barrier melts and you’re able to relax and actually enjoy the interaction.

Yeah, totally. One thing that Sean said about you before I met you was that you were… I don’t know how to describe it… not open exactly, but as we’re talking now, I feel like there is the sense that there’s not much boundary, like you’re going to take the things that I say and internalize them. And I do that too when I talk to you, like everything really goes into me. Do you ever have that sense that you have just a thin skin between you and other people?

In a way, I guess. I feel so much a sense that I am everybody, but yet sometimes I feel totally alone, which I guess is an odd thing to say.  I find some comfort in recognizing connections with everything and everybody, because it does make you feel at one with the world. But paradoxically, communion with the other is not always possible. When attempted, it is not as always as satisfying as you imagine it will be, and in the end you realize that there will always be that skin, that separation between yourself and others.

Why are we talking about me, anyway? Let’s talk about you!

I don’t know, but I definitely relate to everything you’re saying.

I think we’re just finding the common ground between us. Anyway, I was reading the other, extended interviews with you, the one by Sean Collins and one by that other guy, what’s his name?

I want to say the first one is with Jason Leivian, the owner of Floating World Comics in Portland.

Yes, you’re right. After reading those interviews, which are both great, I was wondering what could I add? I guess maybe the fact that we’re both creators, we write and draw, is a difference. So how does that make the possibilities for this interview different?

I think that it can be hard for people to understand… you know, Sean writes comics so maybe it’s a little easier for him to understand. There’s like a weird magic that happens in between whatever is going on in your life that makes you make the thing, and then the finished product, which is the thing that people [your audience] interact with. The relationship between what caused it and what you did or what your process is in making it and then the final thing is obscure to people when they see the finished work. Maybe it seems kind of easy, like I don’t want to say it is overlooked, but you know, once it’s done there’s a sense that it feels like it was inevitable—of course this would be the finished product of what happened here, but you know it’s not really like that.

I can’t visualize a person that I’m talking to other than myself. I don’t know what that person would want. I don’t have a sense of what the book is going to do once it’s in the world. I make it because that’s what I do. What happens when I want to express myself, is that it comes out as stories. And then I like to draw, so I draw the stories. But I don’t have a sense of what my audience is, other than, maybe, if it’s me. If there’s something that I need to externalize — I need to get it out and put it down somewhere.

But when you think of yourself — well, when I work, I’m generally conscious that I am the sum total of every generation of human beings before me. And I’m connecting to people laterally as well. When I get to that point, I lose self-consciousness, because I’m very aware that anything that happened to me is not unique. I have no shame about it. And it isn’t me. Or it doesn’t matter.  This question of when — when people ask you about the sex scenes, and they kind of think, “Oh, my God, she must be a freak.”

[Laughs.] Right.

And that’s happened to me, too. People ask, “Did this really happen to you?” All this crap, which to me just seems like a non-question in a sense. But how do you respond to the confusion of the audience, fans? They look at you, and they look at your work, and they either make assumptions or have a picture of you that kind of smells like raw, creepy sex? [Laughter.]

Hmm. If people make assumptions about what I’m like because of my work, probably some of them are accurate. I don’t feel like it affects me. What people who don’t know me believe about me isn’t really my business, exactly. If it’s helping them to have a relationship with the work, then I feel like that’s good. That’s fine. Mostly the assumptions that people make about me are flattering, or maybe not accurate to how I see myself in other areas of my life, but good for my brand or whatever. A lot of people, when they meet me, assume that I’m a Satanist or a witch. Which, maybe, in an abstract, symbolic way, is accurate. But in a literal sense—of my beliefs and practice—is not accurate. When I was in college, I made a lot of work about — I was really interested in martyrs, and the saints. I still am, but I don’t make as much work about it now. I remember one time, being at a crit or something, and somebody saying a curse word, and then apologizing to me, and I was like, “What?” And I realized they had all assumed I was a very devout Catholic because of this work. That made me feel like the work was not interrogating the subject matter deeply enough. That it seemed like I was taking it at face value. I think that’s one of the reasons that I moved toward occult and supernatural. Stories about Christian miracles are still supernatural, but more fairy-taleish imagery that people wouldn’t take at face value so much. Or, that it would be easier to understand as something that I was trying to recontextualize, or understand, as a mythical entity.

Without the heavily charged Christian associations?

Yeah. What’s always been interesting to me about those stories is this narrative of physical suffering being redemptive. You enumerate these horrible, torturous experiences that this fictional person has had, and then that proves that they were really worthy, it proves their love for God or whatever. And in medieval romances and stuff, which are written in a similar way, where the trials that the lovers go through prove that their love is really special. And that’s such a beautiful, romantic, and seductive idea, that isn’t reflected in reality, I think. The suffering that you go through doesn’t necessarily mean much about the quality of the thing that is causing you to suffer. It’s probably not necessary. I don’t know if this is real, I’m sure that some people have the experience of — say, like marriage. You fall in love with somebody, you get married to them, and you have small disagreements, but you have a good partnership that lasts for a long time. That wouldn’t be more real if you had to be refugees together, move to other side of the world to be with this person, or if they died, and then you spent your life memorializing them. That wouldn’t make that relationship more real if suffering was a part of it.

You were quoting when you said that love is a trick on humans…

A discourse of suffering? [Laughs.]

No, you said it was something that had been intended to blind and cripple humans, so they didn’t realize how meaningless it was to attach those emotions to something else. I can’t remember the quote…

Oh, that’s in Flesh and Bone. I think that the witch talks to a demon, and the demon says something like, “Love is an illusion to distract humans from questioning God.”

Flannery O’Connor, in Wise Blood, says, “Jesus is a trick on n******s.”

[Exhales through teeth.] Yeah.

To give them this belief that, in a sense, controls them.

One of Jenny Holzer’s truisms is that romantic love was invented to manipulate women. [Gloeckner laughs.] I think those things are true. Religion is the opiate of the masses. All that stuff. But at the same time, I think something like the love you have for a romantic partner, for your children, those are the things that life meaning. I read a Carl Sagan book years and years ago, I think it was probably Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors. One of the things he talks about is how love is an adaptive trait that animals have to insure the survival of the group. If you don’t love your children, then you don’t take care of them, and then the species dies out. So, it’s a survival mechanism, like a program that you run to make sure that your hardware stays intact.

Right. And there are plenty of humans who have no children and aren’t in any relationship, but still they feel love. Maybe it’s to their friends, maybe it’s to their animals, maybe it’s to their books. Maybe it’s to their own thoughts and adventures.

And there are people who feel no tendency towards, or need for, romantic love in their lives. But it’s something that I can’t relate to. I don’t address that in my work, because I can’t understand it.

But, on the other hand, what you do write about is about what you don’t understand. But I guess you were saying that —

Things in my own experience that I don’t understand. [Laughs.] When I’m doing something, and I’m like, “Why am I doing this? Why do I feel like this is the thing I need to do?”

Yeah, that’s often when you know that you have to do it, because you have to find that answer. Okay, good.

Well, I am changing the topic entirely now. As an artist, I can see clearly, we are two totally different generations. I could be your mom. That makes me think about people who really inspired me or mentored me, so to speak, in informal ways or accidental ways, when I was your age, younger, older, whatever. It’s a funny thing, because as an artist, I always felt like I was in this little bubble. Maybe people had influenced me, but I felt, totally, like I was my own little planet. Of course, it’s an illusion. Things inspire you, and make you do what you do. I was wondering: I haven’t seen a whole lot written about your early life, but maybe I missed it. What brought you to making comics? When did you do your first comic?

I drew comics when I was little, just because I was drawing all the time. When I was in high school, my best friend and I published a zine, so I would do comics in the zine. Or one of the things that I would do was make little finger puppets of different characters, and then write a little play that you were supposed to act out with them, and put that in the zine, and you were supposed to cut them out. But I wasn’t really thinking of that as being my art form. Up until I was in high school, what I really wanted to do was, I wanted to a be an Egyptologist, or to study languages, or something like that. When I was a teenager, when I was in high school, I was taking French and Latin. You were only supposed to do one language, but I signed up for both. And then, in my spare time, I was studying Japanese. One of my best friends was an exchange student from China, so she was teaching me Mandarin Chinese. I took a class over the summer to learn American Sign Language. I was really interested in philology. When I was younger, when I wanted to be an Egyptologist, I learned to read some Egyptian hieroglyphics. All that stuff was what I was really interested in.

But when I was in high school, I got really severely depressed, and I think — I didn’t really make this connection until just recently — I began to feel like going into academia, like, I wasn’t going to be smart enough, or it was going to be somehow like showing off, or something. I wanted to do something more modest. Art was the only other thing I felt like I was good at. I was like, well, I bet I can learn to be really good at drawing. So I went to art school, and I majored in illustration, because I loved to read and I loved to draw pictures of the things that I was reading about. But the illustration program in college was really commercial based, about designing logos, and I was like, this feels crummy.

I was raised Quaker, and there are conservative Quakers, but the type of Quakerism I was raised with was very liberal, very social-justice-focused, activist. A lot of ex-hippies became Quakers, it seems. I was really uncomfortable with [the illustration program’s] level of commercialism. Being involved in any type or marketing or advertising just seemed really dirty to me. It just seems manipulative and insincere, and then my art was going then be used to trick people into giving their money to people who already had a lot of money.

Then, because I was learning about art history and stuff, that was when I really became more aware of contemporary fine art. So I switched to a fine art major, and, I guess, conceived of myself as becoming a fine artist. I think that my plan was to have a day job, and hopefully have shows in galleries, so, whatever. My work was always really narrative, and my teachers and advisers were kind of like, well… I had an art school boyfriend, who, his big senior project was he cast in plaster little letters of the alphabet — every letter and number and punctuation mark in book of Genesis. And then he had this huge pile of plaster letters that were maybe two inches high, and that was all he did all day, was just make these letters.

Every letter in the Book of Genesis? That must have been a very heavy pile.

Yeah. It was massive. He moved it with a forklift. And then he displayed them all in a pile. One time I was talking to him, and I was like, “You don’t like my work, do you? You don’t like my art.” And he said, “Well, I think of it more as illustration.” I think he thought he was being diplomatic, but it felt very disdainful.

It’s funny that the word illustration, to me — and maybe, to many artists who are also writers, and combine these things — illustration is pejorative.

Yeah.

And also, in the real world, because typically, if you illustrate a children’s book that you haven’t written — if you’re working with an author — you will often get second billing. Some authors see illustrators as hired hands rather than as collaborators or interpreters of their work.

Yeah, I think maybe the idea, the thing that people at school were taking issue with, was that it seemed to them like I was just regurgitating other people’s stories, or the imagery was already there.

Right, so your interpretation was discounted.

Like it wasn’t original enough.

Right.

Maybe it wasn’t. I don’t know.

Let’s talk about your process. When I’m writing books, it takes me forever because I never, ever outline anything. And I resent it. I just can’t do it because I don’t want to know exactly what happens next, I don’t want to know how everything’s going to fit together until the very end. How do you generally work?

So you just do one finished page at a time?

Yeah, but then I’ll often discard pages. Well, now I’ve been working on a very long novel. I’ve made progress in several different directions and then abandoned them entirely. But, then maybe I’ll go back and pull stuff in. It’s a way of working which the process is my joy. And, I’m not going to tell myself where I’m going to end up, I’m going to find it. I know that in the end when I finish it I’ll have this other type of joy, but I will have abandoned that adventure. It’s almost something that I fear. [Laughs.]

It’s scary in between projects. That’s not a good feeling.

It can be really depressing. You can feel like you have no reason to live because you’ve devoted yourself to something for so long.

My first longer project — I don’t remember which one it was, maybe it was Black Is the Color. Greg Means [who does comics under the name Clutch, or did. He runs Tugboat Press, or did. He’s a Portland guy] was like: “Let me give you some advice. Before the book comes out, you need to have started your next book. Because if you haven’t started your next book, when the book comes out, you’re going to feel this horrible decline as the excitement of the book starts to wane. And you’re going to feel lost. So you’re going to have to already have something in motion.” And I did that. That was good advice. I try to always follow it.

Right. You know, I was also raised a Quaker.

Oh, you were?!

Yeah, I was.

How did I not know that?

I don’t know. We just never talked about it. But I was raised in Philadelphia until we moved to San Francisco before I was a teenager…

So, you were in Quaker territory.

One set of grandparents were Presbyterian but the others were Quaker. My grandmother was a doctor, and she was very devout and involved in the Quaker community. We went to Quaker schools all through elementary school. I think I always liked this idea of, God doesn’t need a vehicle through which to speak to you. That we all have the inner light. That was the most beautiful thing, whether religious or not. It feels so inclusive. It loses that hierarchy, which is so oppressive in many religions and governments and organizations.

I haven’t seen you talk about your father much in print. I’m wandering, again, about the young Julia. You talk about your mom, the Jungian psychologist. Was she an academic, by the way?

She was in private practice for a while. She doesn’t probably want me to talk a lot about her real life now, in public.

Why? Is she a criminal? [Laughter.]

She’s just very private.

Whatever that means. My mother says she’s very “private,” too, and I honestly don’t know what she’s talking about.

Really?

Yeah.

But my dad — my parents split up when I was really little, but they lived a block away from each other, so I saw my dad a couple times a week. My relationship with my mom — because I’m an only child, and because it was just the two of us in the house — was always really intense, and really my primary relationship in my life. So I didn’t get really close to my dad, because I felt like it was betraying my mom. My dad is a really cool guy in a lot of ways. He makes documentaries. For the last, I guess, 20 years or so, he’s been self-employed. He has his own documentary company in New Hampshire. He was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War. He did alternative service with the National Welfare Rights Organization in Washington, D.C.

When you say, he has a documentary company, do people come to him, saying, “I want to make a documentary about this?” Or, is it self-driven projects?

He does video production for hire, but also does his own projects. And sometimes they’re about history and stuff. Mostly they’re about different towns in New England. He’ll go there and stay for a while. Get to know people and then do a piece about the town. They’ve been shown on the History Channel, and they’ll sell them in gift shops and stuff.

Can you name a topic or a title?

He did one about Concord, the town I grew up in in New Hampshire. I’m not going to be able to think of one now. He did one about the Cold War that was called Rights & Reds. He did one about William Loeb, the publisher of the Manchester Union Leader.

So when you talk about how your parents made you intellectually, what were their contributions?

From my mom, I think, one of her most significant contributions to me as an artist is that she taught me a lot about analysis and symbolism when I was little. She taught me to interpret my dreams really young, which has been really valuable to me. About archetypes, and mythology, and all that Jungian stuff. Translating the drama of universal story into understanding it as a journey of the self.

With my dad, I think a lot of what I got from him was more practical. My dad has always been a real workaholic, and seeing him get absorbed into whatever project he was working on… He taught me, because he would give me little jobs to do. I did work for him, running camera or editing, up until I moved out of New Hampshire as a teenager. Learning about composing and image, or looking for the parts in the story that you want to interrogate further. When I was really little, he was working for the local cable station doing some news and current events, too. My stepmother is also a journalist. She was a TV news reporter. With them, any conversation about current events, or — not even current events, really, anything — it’s a lot about what’s the story, what’s the angle on the story, what are the things being discussed, what are the things not being discussed, and why? Considering how a narrative is a created thing that is separate from reality. You know?

Yeah. And yet directly related to reality, and has the power to create new perceptions of reality.

Aesthetically, my dad used to take me to go see the Bread and Puppet Theater. It’s a radical puppet theater in Glover, Vermont. They do — I don’t know the history of theater very well, but I’m sure Brecht is an influence — plays about history, socialism. Aesthetically, they do a lot of woodcut and letterpress art that you can buy for very cheap from them. They have a whole philosophy. They would publish what I would call zines, too. The idea being art should be accessible. It should be relevant to the lives of normal people. It should empower and honor everyday people. They would have performances that you could be a part of. You could sign up to be in this or that performance, and then they would give you a costume and be like, “OK, you walk in here, you say this, and then we all do that.”

On my 7th birthday, actually, they came to Concord. They just happened to be there, then, and they did a performance about a rebellion of rubber tappers in Brazil that had happened not that long ago — in the ’80s, I guess — lead by a man called Chico Mendes. I got to be in that, and that was a really exciting thing for me. I got to be a red rainforest bird. I think part of what was so valuable about that to me was the sense that the art was coming from people. People were making it; other people were participating in it. It was really accessible, and it wasn’t a thing that was handed down from on high; and it wasn’t in a museum. It was a manifestation of community and of real conversations.

Right. Just in the simple fact that you, a redhead, got cast as a red forest bird. It suspect it was a response, in part, to your appearance. “OK, Red. You’re the bird.” [Gfrörer laughs.]

So, both of your parents — your dad was talking about the significance of imagery, and creating stories out of facts or material that you’ve got in front of you. But your mom was talking story in a different way, accepting your own dreams as stories that your unconscious reveals to you, encouraging you to record and interpret them.

It seems like your background was heavily influenced by the thought of narrative. Obviously, you read quite a bit, too. You’ve always just been steeped in language and story and visual things.

My mom is a writer, too. She published in magazines and stuff. When I was growing up, we always used to write stories together. We’d go on a walk, and make up a story, and when we got home, we would write it down. We used to self-publish a little newspaper about stuff that was going on with us and people that we knew. Then we would give it out to all our friends. With her, too, that was a very valuable experience. That art is something you can make yourself, you don’t need permission, and you don’t need… In my case, as a child, I didn’t have any qualifications, I just had a desire to make it.

That’s great. This might seem immaterial, but I’m going to get back to the physical now, and to your red hair. [Gfrörer laughs.] Is it still very long?

I cut it a couple months ago to just past my collarbone, I guess. I never go to the salon, because I feel like I never know what to do. I don’t have a good sense of what I look like, or what I want to look like. I don’t know how to go to the salon and be like, “Oh, give me that haircut that some celebrity has, that will look good on me.” Like, I don’t know. I just let my hair grow out until it’s down to my butt, and then it’s just such a hassle I end up cutting it off, or I have some emotional issue where I’m like, “I have to get rid of all this,” and then I cut it off myself.

I feel that way, too. I have no idea what I look like.

It’s weird, right?

Yeah. It is weird. Because, you don’t — I guess you can see yourself in the mirrors, but it’s never exactly —

But it’s not the way you see other people, when you look at other people.

Exactly. You see them three-dimensionally. And you see them move, you see them express. And a mirror is a dead expression, generally.

If you don’t mind me saying so, you’re an extremely beautiful woman. I think that can fuck with your way of being in the world because that’s a thing that people deal with that they think is you, but that’s also outside of you. I think about this in old rock songs all the time. There’s this idea of this woman who’s so in control of her beauty and her seductive powers, and she uses it to get what she wants from men or whatever. And, I’m, like, “How is that a thing, though?” I heard a song on the radio, where they were like, “She’s got legs, and she knows how to use them.” How does anybody know how to use their legs? Is there really any woman who’s like, “My legs are so incredible, I’m going to use them to get a man buy me a car.” I guess people do? I wouldn’t know how.

Right. When you said whatever you said about my appearance, it’s so weird to me. I think of myself as so deformed.

Really?

Incredibly so. I have no love for my appearance. At this age, I can maybe accept it so I don’t feel embarrassed to leave the house. [Gfrörer laughs.] Because I have to teach, so I’ve learned to not even think about how I look after a certain point. I’ll put clothes on, and brush my hair, do whatever I’m going to do. But then I stop thinking about it. Because when I start thinking about it… awareness of appearance is so oppressive to me, the inside-outside thing… 

It’s hard to conceptualize yourself as you appear to other people.

I’m sure, ever since you were a child, people focused on your red hair.

That’s true.

I don’t have red hair. So, no one’s going to say, “Oh, you have brown hair! Amazing. Your brown hair… ” [Gfrörer laughs.] No. Never heard it. Right? But with you, it’s almost something magical. People are fascinated by it because it is so rare. You’re the classic redhead with freckles and everything. Perfect! What do think that means to people? What has it come to mean to you?

I think there’s definitely a mythical quality about it. When you think about redheads in art, there’s a lot of pre-Raphaelites. Who are some famous redheads in history? Eleanor of Aquitaine, or Boudicca, or Lilith: witches and queens. It seems kind of magical, and maybe like mermaids, too. And also, because my hair is long, I think I have a body type that’s —

Sylph-like, yeah.

— associated with mermaids, probably. People have compared me to a mermaid, often. Men.

Did that have any influence on your work? [Laughs.]

I’m sure that it did. For a while, when I was a younger adult, I think I was really suspicious of that — it was like internalized misogyny. It felt really “girly” to me, and therefore not serious.

And yet, you were just talking a minute ago about that song. “She’s got legs, and she knows how to use them.” But mermaids have no legs, and yet, they know how to use them. And in your stories, as well, they seduce and use —

That was a huge concern to me in Black Is the Color. The idea of mermaids—normally, you get it filtered through the experience of sailors. Men who are being seduced by these mermaids. The mermaids sing to them, they comb their hair, and try to get them to crash on the cliffs. I was thinking, “What is it like to be these mermaids?” The same idea of, you’re being yourself in the world, and then, if a man finds that attractive, he’ll be like, “Oh, you’re doing this thing to me. You’re doing this so that I will respond.” But you’re just doing it because you’re doing it. So, that’s what I had them doing. They’re making music because that’s their art form, and they’re watching the ships sink because it’s entertaining to them, and not really thinking about how it affects these men. It’s secondary to them.

Exactly. It does become oppressive. Someone looking at them, perceiving them as beautiful, and seductive. But it really is in the eye of the beholder. They fail to see the mermaids as human. Well, not human, but — [laughs].

Like I was talking about with being beautiful, it’s The Man’s — I’m saying The Man because I think this especially an issue between men and women — that idealized perception of them is getting in the way of his understanding them and what they want and who they are when the man is not around.

It can be dangerous, too, if someone has seen you as this ideal, and then if you do anything to call that into question, they get angry at you.

Yeah, they get angry. Especially if you’re an artist and you have any kind of recognition at all, people will see you as this Artist who has a power. They’re not seeing you as a person. You don’t get to know people naturally. In a way, before you’ve even met them, they feel like they know everything about you.

I imagine that’s especially true with you, because people read your work and they think, “Oh, this is Phoebe’s autobiography, and now I know Phoebe’s entire life story.”

Right. And they’ll even go and read interviews and things, and then I’ll meet them, and I won’t know anything about them.

That’s so weird, right? Strangers come to you, and they’re like, “Oh, well you did this, and you used to live here, and now you live there. And I know your kid’s name,” and all this stuff, and I’m like, “Who are you?”

And it so alienating. It makes you feel so strange. It makes you feel alone, like there’s no chance of — well, I guess I’m talking about myself. [Gfrörer laughs.] Here I am, single, and I’ve felt this aversion to meeting people, because it’s happened so many times. Because I have an unusual name, people look it up and know everything about me. And his name will be “Joe Smith.” [Gfrörer laughs.] There’s no way I can know who he is before I meet him, and it’s miserable. [Laughs.]

You have to date somebody else who’s famous.

Right. Where am I going to find those? Who cares! Back to your red hair.

I feel like there’s cultural baggage around redheads being very sexual, or hot tempered.

Is it baggage, or is there some truth to it?

It is just an association?

Yeah.

I don’t think of myself as an aggressive person, or a person with a temper.

But you’re intense.

As like, a virago? Am I intense?

Yeah, you’re intense. You’re very focused on what you’re speaking about.

I think that’s true. I also feel like a slow-moving person. I think slowly. I react slowly, which can be good in a crisis, because I will be someone who is not freaking out when something terrible is happening, and then the next day, I’m like, “Oh, my God. Oh, my God,” after the moment has passed.

That makes me feel bad. When we first met, and I was going all over the place. [Laughter.]

That’s okay. You shouldn’t feel bad about it.

I have a student in my comics class now who has really red hair — just like you — and freckles. Her very first story was about her red hair. I think it really did shape how people look at her. She’s the only one in her family with red hair.

Me too.

She was talking about Halloween, and she didn’t know what she wanted to be. And her impulse was to be something that had nothing to do with her red hair. She could wear a Hannah Montana wig or something. Anything. But she ended up being Pippi Longstocking.

[Laughs.] Pippi Longstocking is so interesting. I read those books when I was a kid, and I didn’t really relate to Pippi at all, because I wanted to be good and follow the rules.

Did you?! That’s interesting. See, I wouldn’t have imagined that, necessarily.

Well, I don’t know if that was adults’ experiences of me, but that was how I felt. So the idea of her being such a weirdo and really not giving a shit…

Or not even understanding the rules.

The thing about Pippi is that she’s very independent. I was thinking about this, because Anne of Green Gables is the other famous redhead girl. Anne, people don’t like her, they don’t think her hair is pretty, and she’s also like a weirdo. Her hair is a symbol how she is a weirdo and an outsider. But, because Anne is poor — Pippi’s rich, because her father is a pirate, and she’s also extremely strong. When people try to make her do things, she just tosses them out of her house, literally. Policemen come to try to take her to an orphanage, and she’s like, “Okay, I’m done with you now. You have to leave.” And she picks them up by the belt and dumps them on the sidewalk.

Right. And she is basically an orphan. Father or not.

Pippi’s father is on an island in the South Pacific.

What’s the name of her house again?

Villa Villekula. I’ve read these books over and over. My son and stepdaughter love them. I know them all by heart now.

I think I was scared, too. I didn’t want grownups to think I was rebellious. So, I would read stuff like that, and be like, “Oh, maybe I shouldn’t tell people that I read this.” I was really concerned about that. You remember the show Jem and the Holograms? It was on when I was little, in the ’80s. It was about these rock stars that were really glam. I never wanted my parents to know I was watching it. I was like, they’re going to think I’m trying to be rebellious.

That’s funny. I was thinking of you when I was thinking about what I read when I was a child. One of those things was Edgar Allan Poe. I remember, I must have been 8 or 9, when I was reading “Annabel Lee.” I was memorizing it. My aunt, who was visiting, came in and saw that I was reading that, and flipped out and told me I shouldn’t be reading that, and to put it away until I was older. She took it away from me. No one had ever done that to me before. I think it did cause me to take my reading habits underground. I got far more curious about what actually was on my parents’ bookshelves.

I remember being a kid, and sneaking around, looking for the sex scenes in books — flipping through to find the sex scenes.

I remember seeing the book Naked Lunch on the shelf. “Whoa. I’ve got to read that!” Just because it said “naked.” But I remember I was disappointed, because I didn’t really get it. [Laughs.]

When I was little, I was into the Phantom of the Opera, when I was 9 or 10. I don’t remember how I first encountered it, but I read the book over and over again. Somebody wrote a sequel to it, like a pulpy book, that I think was called Phantom. I finally got my dad to buy it for me at the grocery store. I read about a third of it, and then he flipped through it, and he was like, “You can’t read this.” That’s the only book that I think was ever taken away from me.

Was it because it was trash, or because of the content?

I think at one point, one of the other circus performers —the Phantom, Erik, when he’s young, he joins the circus—he gets raped by one of the other circus performers. I think that may have been what did it. I never did finish it, so I don’t know.

That segues into the question of your own children — I’m counting them as two.

I don’t have that much influence over what [my stepdaughter] Helena does, but I have some.

Do they read your work?

No. They’ve never really expressed that much interest in it. Also, I would steer them away from it. Frank, because he’ll be around when I’m working sometimes, he’ll look over my shoulder, and be like, “What’s going on here?”

How old is he now?

He’s seven. There was this point when I was drawing a book that Sean [T. Collins] and I did, called In Pace Requiescat, which is about “The Cask of Amontillado”.

I love that story.

The guys, they have sex before he finishes the wall.

That was great.

Frank happened to come in, and I didn’t hear him come in, and he saw me working on this page where the guy is sucking the other guy’s dick. But you could really only see the dick sticking out of the wall. He was like, “What’s happening in that comic? What is that guy doing?” He was like, four or something. I just closed it. I was like, “Frank, I don’t want to talk about it right now.” [Gloeckner laughs.] He goes, “I know what he’s doing. He’s eating a hot dog.” I was like, “Yeah. Yeah, exactly.” I didn’t really discuss it. [Gloeckner laughs.]

There was one thing. In Black Is the Color, there’s a scene where the mermaid breastfeeds the sailor, and her milk is black, and he spits it out in his hand. I did show that to him, because somebody had read it, and been like, “I don’t understand what’s going on here.” So, I showed Frank that scene, and I was like, “Okay, Frank. Can you look at this, and tell me what’s going on here?” He was like, “Oh, she’s nursing him.” ’Cause he was just a baby, you know. I was like, “Okay, my baby son understood this, so adults should be able to understand it.”

Did you get to the part where he was spitting out the black milk?

Yeah.

And did he say, “What is she doing, what is he doing?”

I don’t remember what his response was to that. But I haven’t really talked about sex with him. He hasn’t interested, or he hasn’t asked me questions about it. I think he has a vague idea about it. And even if I did, I don’t think I’d show him my work and be like, “Oh, this is how people have sex.” [Gloeckner laughs.] The sex in my work is kind of pathological. That’s like a 201 class.

It is and it isn’t. The actual sex, oftentimes, seems incredibly regular. Right?

Yeah. Like in Laid Waste, I think the sex is really normal.

In a sense, yeah, you could show that to someone and say, “This is what sexual intercourse is.” It’s the psychological stuff that makes it complex and very real, in a sense.

I think the way I depict sex oftentimes is very normal, as a normal thing that people do, as an expression of emotion or because it’s fun or whatever. I think it’s better than if I were only thinking about it as porn, and what’s going to be the hottest thing.

Sex is a very powerful element in your stories. The sex feels like just as much an integral part of the story as psychological and magical elements. They all work together to give you this — I feel speechless, sometimes, at the end of reading a story by you. But it feels complete. Sometimes I don’t even remember everything that happened, but I’m remembering this feeling of both despair and elevation. It’s kind of addictive. You’re able to make me feel that again and again. I’m not a very articulate critic of “literacha,” comic or otherwise, but my response to it, is, I just feel like, “Wow,” after I read your work.

That’s good. [Laughter.] Sometimes when people write reviews, they say it’s like getting punched in the face or something. So, that’s good.

More the stomach. You don’t particularly exaggerate penis size. Just as your female characters are always very thin, and don’t have big boobs, the men also are very normal proportioned. Kind of on the wimpy side. But their parts are all functioning —

A big penis is not part of what’s interesting to me in sex. I’m interested in penises, for sure. Looking at penises is sexy to me. But, if I’m trying to visualize a scenario that’s sexy to me, a huge dick is not necessarily part of it. That just seems boring.

Why is a big dick more boring than a small dick?

I don’t think I made them abnormally small, either. The body is just the body. What’s interesting to me isn’t the physical qualities of the particular person, but the meta-narrative, emotionally, what’s happening. What do these acts mean as opposed to what does it mean to have this body shape? I’m interested in, what does it mean to behave this way, more than, what does it mean to look this way?

I think more about body variation with women than with men, because it’s important for women who don’t have whatever is the idealized type of body to be represented.

But you’re not drawing fat women.

I know. But I wish that I would.

And you’re not drawing fat men, which is something that both men and women have to deal with.

I should and I just don’t. It never comes out that way. I feel bad about it.

The bodies seem almost as neutral, sexually, as you can make them. [Gfrörer laughs.] The sex scenes are so graphic. I’m just wondering how those two things fit together. Well, it’s clear how they fit together [Gfrörer laughs], when they fit together.

Well, the thing goes in the thing, and —

That’s very clear. I think that maybe one day, you can show your illustrations, your comics, to your son.

[Laughs.] When he’s older.

The general neutrality of their appearance makes it seem all the more normal. You could project anything onto those people.

This gets back to what to what we were talking about earlier, about how you don’t have a perception of yourself as a unique individual. To you, you’re the default, and everyone else is some weird variation on that.

Right, and interesting, therefore.

The idea that the neutral body is a thin, white body. That’s very political.

It is.

There is no neutral default body.

There is none.

That’s culturally constructed as the default.

But it feels like, in your work, like you’re neutralizing those bodies, somehow.

Yeah. Because that’s my relationship to it. That’s the body that I have. It feels neutral to me. It’s not something that I have moved outside of, because I feel so consumed by the puzzle of my own body.

If it feels neutral to you because you’re housed in the same sort of casing as your characters, then does that subtract the political meaning from it? That’s what artists do. They project themselves —

I think the political action in my work is that I want to show women as actors, rather than a receptive or decorative object.

You do it in such a way that it’s not like that song you mentioned—“She’s got legs, and she knows how to use them.” You’re not saying, like, “Yeah! Some women have spunk, and they can do this, and we should all be like that.” You’re not saying that at all. Women do typically climb on top of men and have sex. All of those things. And it’s not because they’re sexual demons or succubi. It’s because that’s human nature.

What’s on your shirt?

This is the CAB [Comic Arts Brooklyn] T-shirt that Dame Darcy drew.

What do you think of Dame Darcy? Is she an inspiration at all?

I really like her work a lot. I was talking about this with my friend Hazel [Newlevant] this weekend. I’m glad that I don’t — I worry about setting myself up by having some kind of a persona. It seems like it’s really hard work to be Dame Darcy. Do you know what I mean?

You talked the other day about developing your brand, and how difficult that was. I’ve never thought too much of “branding” myself, honestly, but I can see that it is becoming more and more important… (Oh, you look lovely. I’m going to have to take a picture of you in good light.) Artistically, there are some stylistic similarities between you and Dame Darcy. I don’t think of you as having a persona that’s as tightly packaged as that at all.

I love her illustration style. I really love her drawings and I like — it feels like her work is very girly. Most of the men that I know who read comics haven’t read her work because there’s something about it that’s off-putting to them. Like there’s a lot of bows and sparkles and fancy dresses, and they’re like, “Oh, ew.” And I like that. I like that it’s really aggressively feminine.

But I’m just curious for my own purposes what you think of her stories? Are your connections to Dame Darcy’s work more than superficial? I guess I’m struggling to tie you to someone whose shirt you’re wearing…

No, I mean I haven’t really read that much of her work. I have a handful of Meat Cakes. I haven’t read everything. And I hadn’t really read it until I was older so I don’t know if I could say how much she’s an influence on my work, but probably some.

Are you saying that only works that you read at a certain time were bound to have influence on you? And what time was that?

I think that my illustration, or the aesthetics of my work, were pretty set before then, but I guess stuff still influences me.

When do you think your tastes were set? And what do you remember reading or seeing that —

I think when I was in college. I was really into German and Austrian Expressionism. I really loved Egon Schiele, Oskar Kokoschka, and Otto Dix a lot. And Kathe Kollwitz is still one of my favorites.

So, in college — that’s where you can recall all the influences bumping about, and influencing what was to become your style?

Yeah, I don’t think that my work ended up looking much like that, though.

No, but it definitely shares a spirit. When you say you’re influenced by those artists I’m not surprised at all.

I really liked pre-Raphaelite art, too. When I was younger, in high school, I did. And Victorian or Golden Age illustrators: I liked Maxfield Parrish. I loved Aubrey Beardsley. And Maurice Sendak — we always had a lot of Sendak books when I was a kid.

So there’s different stages in your life, where art of different sorts influenced you, somehow, or interested you.

Yeah. But I was never a big comics reader.

I wasn’t either, actually. That’s interesting. Do you remember: what was the first comics story that you ever published, yourself, or maybe someone else? What was that?

When I was in college, I took a comics class taught by Ellen Forney. So, for a project, I made a minicomic. It was an adaptation of a story from the Little Flowers of St. Francis. I don’t remember which one it was now. I probably still have a copy of it, but I have avoided reading it, because I think it’s really bad. The drawings look really bad and stupid to me. There’s something really earnest about it that’s embarrassing to me now. [Gloeckner laughs.] I still really value earnestness, but it’s un-self-aware.

That’s kind of sweet, actually. I would love to see it, the way you describe it.

Oh, God. It’s so embarrassing.

Julia’s young earnestness.

I made a bunch of copies of it, and I wanted to sell them, the way I had used to sell my zines when I was in high school. So, I went to this coffee shop called Joe Bar that everybody used to go to, that was right up the block from the school. They said they would consign it. I gave them all my copies to consign. The next time I went there, they were gone, and they were like, “We don’t know what you’re talking about.” [Laughs.]

[Sympathetically]: Oh, you’re kidding.

No.

So, you don’t know if they actually sold them, or just stuck them somewhere.

No. Maybe they lost them? I have no idea what happened to them.

That’s disappointing.

In retrospect, I can’t imagine why a coffee shop would want to consign thirty copies of my stupid St. Francis comic [laughs].

Hopefully they sold them, and they exist somewhere.

No. I think they’re bad. I think nobody should see them.

I think you should send me a copy.

If I find one, you can have it.

I know you know where it is. You must.

I’m pretty sure I have one in a box with my old stuff at my mother’s house. I might have a couple.

I really would like to see it. Whether for this or not.

Let’s just talk about the future, then. I actually wrote out these questions, where I didn’t before.

All right!

Your stories stand on their own, solidly. But collected, the effect is overwhelmingly dark, visceral, haunting. Collected, they’re amplified. They read together really well, but they can also stand on their own. I’m just trying to imagine what kind of longer work you might do? You’ve become kind of a master of the short form. I was wondering if you’ve entertained the idea of doing a long, novel-length book?

I really would like to. When I was younger, I did this book Flesh and Bone, in 2010. Dylan Williams, who published it, was like, “Okay. I need you to make it at least forty pages long.” I was like, “Oh, my God. That’s so long.” It was really a struggle for me. Since then, I’ve done a few things that are that long. It seems easy to me now, and my two longer books are about eighty pages long. I would like to be able to make still-longer work as I get older and more comfortable with my writing. I don’t want to push it or force it. I know my publisher would like to have something longer from me. [Gloeckner laughs.] I know that it can feel like a longer, more substantial book is taken more seriously.

Not necessarily. I think some authors have built bodies of work on shorter pieces — like Edgar Allan Poe, for example.

I agree with that. I guess I’m thinking more from a marketing perspective.

Even Robert Crumb — Genesis can be considered —

But that just came out.

His whole life, it’s a string of short things.

Yeah. But after finishing a story, I think about the story I could have done; different parts of the story I could have continued with. In Laid Waste, one of the last things that I wrote was the scene — the main male character, his name is Giles. He has a bunch of daughters and they’re hanging out together. Their mother has just died, and one of them is milking the cows. That was the last scene that I wrote. Afterward, I felt like I could have done a lot more with them. I would have been interested to write more about what they ended up doing.

I remember wondering about them at the end of that story.

That’s the only time you see them. You see the little one, Mariette, at the beginning, with her father — later, her father’s off doing some shit, and her sisters are looking after her. I would have liked to see more of them.

I don’t think the way you finished the book would prevent you from continuing it.

I could really add more and more minute scenes into the edges of the story. Right now, I’m working on a sequel to Flesh and Bone that’s already written. I’m in the process of inking it now. Originally, I hadn’t planned to make it a series, but I got to thinking about it, and more stuff that could happen with those characters.

How long is this book going to be?

It’s the same length as the first one. I’ll publish it in Island, probably — Brandon Graham’s magazine that he publishes through Image.

You’ll publish it as a book, not in the magazine?

I’m going to publish it in the magazine first.

Serialized, or all at once?

I’m not sure. I think he would let me do it either way. But I want to publish it in the magazine first, because I’ll get paid for it.

Oh, great. You just said that you’re working on the drawings; you have it all written. Is that your typical process? Do you write the whole thing out? Do you script it? What do you do?

I thumbnail and script it at the same time. And then pencil it and ink it, so it’s all penciled now, and I’m just inking.

You generally do it in different passes. It general, you have the whole thing worked out, and then you return to the beginning, and start inking, and so on?

Yeah. Usually I’ll kind of jump around. I won’t do it straight from beginning to end, but I’ll do whatever part I feel like doing. If I’m feeling not super into it, I’ll ink a page or draw a page that I feel like is going to be fun or easy — when there’s not a lot happening in it. In this Flesh and Bone sequel, yesterday, I was feeling unmotivated, and there’s a page where the witch is spinning with a drop spindle. And then the thread gets tangled, it does that thing where it twists in on itself and makes a tangle. That was really easy to draw, it was just several panels of thread spinning and then tangling up. It went really quick, and I was like, this is really motivational. It was like: BAM, I finished a page.

You got into the swing of things.

Another question I had is about collaboration. Amongst your collaborations — and I don’t know all of them — I’m thinking of the work you did with Sean, and they were adaptations of Poe stories. That was just something I would just expect you to do on your own. I would totally trust whatever you would come up with, your interpretation. I’m wondering: why the collaboration, and how did that change your work?

The porn adaptations of Poe, that was Sean’s idea. He sent me the script for the first one [In Pace Requiescat] before we really had a relationship. He just knew my work.

[Laughs.] That’s very seductive.

I know. [Laughter.] I read it, and when I realized what was going to happen in it — at first I was like, “Who does this guy think he is?” To try to improve on Poe seems like a gutsy move. When I finished reading it, I was like, “This is amazing.” I was really into it. I did end up drawing it. Then, it just became a thing we do for fun. I don’t usually collaborate with people. I drew some stuff for Anne Elizabeth Moore for a magazine but she hired me to do it. With Sean, I really like his writing, I think he has a good sense of what is going to be good for me to draw: what I’m going to enjoy drawing, and what’s going to look good drawn by me. We’ve done a couple Poe/porn books. We did a comic called Hiders, which was just a four-page one about these two young women who turn into werewolves together. But they don’t talk about it when they’re both human.

It’s almost like they don’t acknowledge it to each other?

Yeah. They just pretend like they don’t know what’s going on. They just see that some people got killed, and they’re like, “Huh. That’s weird.”

We did one called The Deep Ones that was about why water is scary, or why the ocean is scary. Why are there sea monsters? Is that trope —

I think I have that one as well.

That came out of some conversations we had had. The Deep Ones and Hiders, both of those, we ended up doing because I wanted to do a comic for a certain anthology, or something, but I didn’t have an idea. And I was like, “Do you have an idea? Can you write a script for me?” And so he did.

How much do you have to pay him?

He wouldn’t take any money for it. He was like, “No, no.”

It’s funny that you describe those stories as “porn.”

Yeah. They’re not exactly —

It never even occurred to me to classify them that way. Can you explain?

They are stories about fucking. I think they’re sexy. I get turned on when I read them. Maybe I’m used to them now, but, at some point, I did.

I’m asking this because the definition of porn is kind of mushy. Those stories seem so psychological and the sex seems like a natural expression of something. I felt such an empathy for the character [in The Hideous Dropping Off of the Veil, based on “The Fall of the House of Usher”], the dead girl who comes back and fucks a guy.

Madeline Usher is a very relatable character for a character that never speaks.

It never even occurred to me to call it “porn.” It seemed to be all of a piece. There was a reason for it, and it was all tied into the mind and everything else. It seemed quite complete and not sex for sex’s sake.

I think that we looked at the original story, and what the psychological and emotional state of the characters are. In both of those stories, and in a lot of horror stories, when the people are doing something awful, it’s because there’s some other, unaddressed thing that they’re trying to …

Resolve?

Get rid of. That was what we were working with. Where’s the tension in the story? What if that tension was addressed through sex? What if sex was part of the conversation that they have in the story? In the original story, “The Fall of the House of Usher”, Roderick Usher, his sister dies, and he gets his friend to help him bury her under the house. He admits to his friend — they hear her breaking out of the tomb — that she was alive when they buried her. Then she breaks into the room and pounces on him, and he dies of fright. She dies from the exertion. The friend runs out of the house as it spontaneously collapses. She’s furious about having been buried.

She comes back, in your version, as the angry virgin. The adolescent, or young woman, who was on the precipice of being able to express any libidinous feelings, but… And her brother, whatever relationship they had — that whole sexual energy and regret, and fear — it all comes and out is expressed sexually, but death is always just around the corner. It’s death and sex. It’s fantastic.When you said porn, it just startled me because it just didn’t occur to me. And, yeah, it is kind of sexy, but I don’t think that’s the definition of porn. If it turns you on, is it porn? I don’t know. That’s like saying, “Oh, she’s wearing a sexy outfit. She must want it.” You can react sexually to anything. If your cat is warm in your lap and you’re like, “Oooh, I feel warm down there…”

I don’t know if regular porn is that interesting to me. Sometimes it is. For me, if I’m making something to be turned on by, I want to create some kind of emotional stakes.

Yeah, tension.

In this case, it’s essentially fanfic. It’s the same thing people do when they write a story about what if these two characters from Game of Thrones had had sex in this scene.

That’s an interesting thought. I guess so. I think you only have about ten minutes, right? You have to leave soon. Two quick questions to wrap up.

Okay.

What do you think happens to us after we die? [Gfrörer laughs.] Seriously. Can you tell me please. So I know.

Yeah. What happens to us after we die? 

Our house falls down.

Yes. I don’t know what happens to us after we die. I don’t think about it. I think about the moment of death. I think that it must be a relief. I think that once you know that you’re doing to die, it probably feels good to just let go.

If you have a chance. If your head is squashed by a one-ton…

[Laughs.] If you don’t have a moment to think about it, I guess not. If you suddenly get blown up by an atom bomb, then probably that’s frightening. But maybe you don’t even notice.

But if you’re going down in a plane and have advance notice. That must be…

I think probably first you feel panic, but at some point you feel calm. Maybe? I don’t know.

After you’ve struggled with your phone, and turn it on to text “I love you” to your son, or whatever.

Oh, God. Yeah, I suppose so. I did a comic where I was killed by some malevolent spirit that I offended by accident. I become kind of a ghost or a wraith-like creature. One of the things that I say in the comic is, “This is great. I feel really good about myself right now.” I talk about all the things that I can do now that I’m dead and one of them is that I never have to pay my student loans back. Do you ever have that thing when someone cancels plans with you — like you’re supposed to go out, but then they can’t — and you’re like, “Yes!”

Yes! Yes! But you’re afraid to decline in the first place or cancel it yourself.

Yeah. Maybe there’s a part of you that’s like, “Now I don’t have to do that job interview on Monday,” or whatever.

Right. [Laughs.]

I think after you die — nothing. Your consciousness disappears into the whirling void. Or maybe becomes part of a larger consciousness.

Maybe.

I think that you forget your identity. I think you no longer have the identity that you had in your life. 

Okay. Good answer. [Laughter.] I guess on a lighter note, perhaps, I’m wondering about your relationship with your son. He’s 7?

Uh-huh.

Your parents were a psychologist and a filmmaker. How do you see him? Do you have any notions of what he might be good at or ideas of where you see him the future? And if you see him as someone creative, how do you encourage that?

He loves to draw. He draws constantly. He’s really smart and funny. He makes up a lot of stories and I can tell he makes up more stories that he doesn’t want to talk about that are private to him, that maybe have a lot of power that he doesn’t want to ruin by sharing. I’ll tell you a story about Frank. I hope he doesn’t find out later that I told you and get mad. A couple years ago — I guess he was in kindergarten — he had a crush on a little girl. She had red hair like me. Somehow he found out that she liked him too, so she was his “girlfriend” for a day or two. Then she broke up with him because she also liked this famous hockey player and she was going to marry this hockey player.

[Gloeckner laughs.] He was really devastated by this. And, of course, it was so awful to see his tiny heartbreak. Anyway, he drew a picture that day of a monster — kind of a terrible monster — and he told me he was going to bring it to her as a present. I was like, “Oh Frank, that’s really nice.” But then I was like, “Wait. Are you giving this to her because you want to make her happy by giving her a gift, or do you want to give it to her because you want to frighten her or upset her with this monster?” He was like, “I need to give her this so that she can understand how she made me feel.”

Mmm. The monster itself — did it have an emotion?

It looked angry.

So that’s how he felt? Angry. Or at least he wanted to express that to her.

I told him, you can’t give her a drawing because you want to upset her. That’s not okay. When he told me that, I was like, all right, he has the cartoonist’s instincts. The thing where I can’t talk about this, but I’m going to draw a picture that will make you feel like I feel.

That’s absolutely true and that’s oftentimes the power you feel in comics. It does give you a feeling that you have control over your life and your history. It’s amazing. And sometimes you do use it in that magical way … I’ve drawn characters that are reprehensible and then given them the names of people who have really pissed me off. [Laughter.] No one knows it except me.

Do you like it when people tell you that your comics have upset them? If someone says that your comic made them cry, it feels good, right?

Someone I don’t know?

Yeah.

Yeah! Yeah, it does. One time, this small-town politician who was running for some office in California — one of my books was banned because a kid had picked it up. A Child’s Life. In his stump speech, he held the book up and said that this book was a “handbook for pedophiles.” And he got it out of the library!

Nice. [Laughter.]

A handbook for pedophiles? I mean… [Laughter.] I was happy.

That’s great. I think that’s very cool. Fuck that guy, also.

Right, but still! It was so dramatic, that it made me feel very powerful. I pitied him for his misunderstanding of my work … and probably life in general.

Every time someone says something like, “Your book ruined my day.” I’m like, “That’s right.” 

Score! [Laughter.] 

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The Best We Could Do http://www.tcj.com/reviews/the-best-we-could-do/ http://www.tcj.com/reviews/the-best-we-could-do/#respond Thu, 09 Mar 2017 13:00:53 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?post_type=reviews&p=98403 Continue reading ]]> The Best We Could Do opens with the complicated, grueling birth of artist Thi Bui’s child in New York City in 2005. Afterward, as Bui lies exhausted in her hospital bed, she realizes the impact of the event: “Family is now something I have created—and not just something I was born into. The responsibility is immense. A wave of empathy for my mother washes over me.”

Much of the subsequent narrative centers on the history of her mother, father, and siblings living in war-torn South Vietnam, then fleeing in 1978 when Bui was three. Though her family survived calamitous events, the emotional scars and cultural confusion they carry as collateral damage are considerable, resulting in gaps in communication and misunderstandings between each generation’s parents and their children. The weight of this history informs the entire narrative, at times foregrounded but always present.

In her early twenties, Bui traveled back to Vietnam to meet her extended family. It was shortly afterward that she began to record the family’s history, hoping that “if I bridged the gap between past and present… I could fill the void between my parents and me.” Her narrative flashes back and forth in time, illustrating how larger events (war, dictatorship, immigration) shaped the family’s lives. She records her father’s traumatic, uprooted childhood in the 1950s (she calls him “Bố,” or “daddy”) and how he endured periods of living as a refugee with his abusive, philandering father in a country wracked with sociopolitical turmoil and poverty. Meanwhile, Bui’s mother (“Má”) grew up in privilege as a child of a civil engineer, shielded for many years from the dire conditions of much of the country. After marrying Bố, Má gives birth to multiple children, usually under extremely difficult conditions, including her daughter, Bích, right before the Tet Offensive in 1968; a stillborn child, Thảo, in Saigon in 1974; and her son Tâm in a UN refugee camp in Malaysia in 1978.

The sections detailing the history of Vietnam and the war are powerful and painful, offering up a crash course in the history of that long and tragic conflict, from the dark seeds of its origin to its brutal aftermath under an oppressive dictatorship. In one section, Bui describes her parent’s happiness after getting married, living large on two incomes with the future seeming bright—while forces beyond their control are pointing toward large-scale death and destruction. “By this time,” Bui writes ominously, “the chess pieces of the war had been set. It was 1965.” Bui’s narrative voice is admirably straightforward, with an air of a reporter’s detachment, even when describing the most terrible events, infusing her family’s saga with power and grace.

Bui’s family were among the “boat people” who fled oppressive Communist rule after the war ended. But their troubles didn’t stop after arriving in America; along with the general culture shock, they must contend with bitter social and economic downsizing. Bui’s parents’ educational degrees are not recognized in this strange new land, resulting in long hours of minimum wage work and night schooling to better their economic prospects. Bui vividly describes these blighted early years, stuck at home with her father in an apartment in San Diego, while Má is at work and her sisters are at school. She and her little brother Tâm are left alone to cope with Bố’s off-putting, distant demeanor, and his scary superstitions and paranoia. None of this made the family’s assimilation any easier.

With the issue of immigration currently hitting full boil stateside, the 2017 publication of The Best We Could Do couldn’t be more timely, or more welcome. Bui’s story movingly puts a human face to new arrivals to our country, illuminating the background of their lives and struggles. Contrary to the rhetoric of the most reactionary U.S. right-wing factions, immigrants are people, not statistics–more than the sum of their homelands, more than the color of their skin. Bui depicts, with unsparing candor, the multiple traumas associated with being forced out of one’s country into the unknown.

In her introduction, Bui describes the frustration she felt with her original plan of telling her family’s story—a combination of text with some photographs and art: “I didn’t feel like I had solved the storytelling problem of how to present history in a way that is human and relatable and not oversimplified. I thought turning it into a graphic novel might help.” She teams her brushy line with a burnt orange wash that lends an evocative, melancholic feel; even in the present-day scenes there is a sense of the past hovering, seeping into ordinary life. While Bui has self-deprecatingly referred to herself online as “the slowest cartoonist in America,” she is skilled at page layouts, delivering information deftly and imaginatively. As with her text, she accomplishes this without any undue fuss or “look-at-me” graphic pyrotechnics.

At the narrative’s end, Bui focuses on her now ten-year-old son, wondering if the pain she inherited from being a “product of war” will be transmitted to him: “whether I would pass along some gene for sorrow or unintentionally inflict damage I could never undo.” But she reminds us that life is, at heart, random, and that relationships are not necessarily bound by destiny but by free will and a dizzying array of events, most beyond our control. This final summation is deeply moving. Thematically rich and complex, melding together grief and hope, the personal and the political, the familial and the national, The Best We Could Do is an important, wise, and loving book.

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An Interview with Sophie Yanow http://www.tcj.com/an-interview-with-sophie-yanow/ http://www.tcj.com/an-interview-with-sophie-yanow/#comments Thu, 09 Mar 2017 13:00:40 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99259 Continue reading ]]> Over the last several years, Sophie Yanow has proven herself to be a rare top talent in nonfiction cartooning: her autobiographical comics detailing anxiety-filled minutiae are just as interesting to read as her on-the-ground reporting on things like the Dakota Access Pipeline, HIV, and our current political system, and the bold yet minimal art choices Yanow makes are just as intriguing as the subject matter. These are tough tasks to pull off. She’s also made time to translate European works, study around the globe, and now teach at the Center for Cartoon Studies. I wanted to talk with Yanow about how she found her voice in comics journalism and the directions her art has taken her.

RJ CASEY: I want to create a little bit of a timeline before we get into your travels. You’re originally from California?

SOPHIE YANOW: Yes. I’m from West Marin County, which is the rural area just north of San Francisco. People also know it for being where very rich white liberals live. The part I’m from is known for being the valley where Jerry Garcia died, and for a world-renowned meditation center. Apparently Victor Moscoso lives there too, but I didn’t know it when I lived there. Anyway, it was pretty granola.

When I was first introduced to your autobio comics sometime around 2013 with In Situ and Sleepy Details, you were a French transplant. How did you go from San Francisco to Paris? Also there was time spent in Montreal somewhere along the way too?

When I was doing In Situ, I was living in Montreal. Sleepy Details was about leaving Montreal to spend some time away from Canada so that I could re-enter on a tourist visa without being turned away. That time, I went to Paris because I had an offer of an artist residency there and a place to stay in Angouleme. It’s all a little confusing. The only time I lived in Paris for a long while was when I was in college. I studied abroad there for a semester and that’s when I started studying French.

How was living in Angouleme? I’ve never been but always naively pictured this sparkling comics nerve center.

It was really nice. I had access to the Maison des Auteurs (which is where the fabled Angouleme residencies take place), and a desk at the place I was staying. I was finishing up War of Streets and Houses while I was there, and overall it was a good place to get work done. I would hesitate to call it a “sparkling comics nerve center” though; to me it was a sleepy town with a bunch of talented cartoonists. Jeremy Sorese was doing a residency while I was there and we became buddies. The festival itself is very fun and nonstop parties, but that’s a very different vibe than the rest of the year.

Do you consider traveling part of your creative process?

I do feel like travel gets me out of my daily routine and can create a sort of meditative space where a lot of good thinking gets done. As I’m traveling a little less now due to various obligations, I’m trying to cultivate those same feelings at home as well. And I would like to be able to make work from a more fixed point, to not feel like I have to be running around all the time. But my parents raised me to hold travel above most worldly possessions, so I’m not sure I can get rid of the travel bug.

In War of Streets and Houses you dive into political and social consciousness in your study of the history of urban development. Around the Seattle area, where I live, they’re putting up a lot of cheaply made “micro” apartments with humongous monthly rent prices. I don’t know what kind of affect that will have on the city itself in the long run, but they sure are prevalent. Are you still interested in architecture? What sorts of challenges do you think urban or city planners will have in the near future?

I am interested in architecture and economics and how those things affect livability. It seems to me that the obvious short term is that more and more people will be priced out of living in “major” cities. Seattle suffers from the same tech industry influx that San Francisco does, which for residents means so much energy spent on keeping your housing or just needing to move. The crazy capitalist endgame might be what we see in London, where entire neighborhoods are empty of people because the international super-rich have bought massive apartment buildings as places to park their capital rather than to house humans. While there are many great architects and urban planners out there, they can’t solve this stuff alone. Short term, people need to band together to strengthen things like rent control and renter protections. Long term… replace capitalism?

Speaking of banding together, Streets and Houses is also about organized protest. In 2012, you participated in the Montreal Student Strike. Are there any similarities from then that you’re noticing now in the US with protests like the Women’s March?

The student strike in Montreal had so much energy behind it in large part because they had been organizing behind the scenes for years in powerful student unions. It was very much the Labor model of organizing (this time as “students” rather than “workers”). By not going to class and delaying their own graduation, they were actually creating problems for the labor market. They were on strike for about 6 months, at times there were upwards of 150,000 striking students. On top of striking, the students were marching in the streets every night. So yes, there were big protests like the ones we saw around the Women’s March, but there was also a firm underpinning of economic disruption via the act of striking. I was a participant in that I was marching with them in the streets and making myself present as witness, but I was neither a student nor a member of a student union. So I think that the Women’s March was a wonderful thing, but it didn’t have the same leverage that those students did in 2012.

Do you think that leverage is attainable right now? What would need to happen to force real change?

It would be no easy task, but a mass general strike would create a similar kind of leverage. Actually, I heard that there are some strikes planned. I’ll be very curious to see how that goes.

OK, let’s get back to your art. Your early comics are straight up autobiographical. Then when you get into work like Streets and Houses, you pulled back a little bit and play more of a narrator role. Now, as a journalist, you yourself are not really featured in your comics at all. Does that progression sound accurate? Was that something that you were mindful of?

I really think of the autobio and the journalism stuff as two different practices. The former is primarily for myself and the latter is more outwardly directed (although I learn a lot from doing research around the different journalism topics). War of Streets and Houses still feels very personal to me, but it does explore “bigger picture ideas.” I made that book primarily with my friends and strikers in Montreal in mind. While the work I’ve been publishing in the last couple years has been less-personal journalism comics, I’ve been working on a memoiresque book that has yet to be published, as well as a short comic along the lines of War of Streets and Houses but thinking about climate change and grief, and I have tons of unfinished journal comics as well. I’m still doing them, but my priorities as to what I wanted out in the world right now shifted, along with my personal life becoming a little bit complicated and heavy. And I wanted to get paid upfront to make comics!

Do you have publishing plans for those projects?

What is a Glacier? will be coming out from Retrofit soon. I’m still figuring out what will happen with the memoir.

When did you become interested in comics journalism and reporting?

Joe Sacco was the obvious inspiration who made me go, “Wow, this is a thing someone could do!” Personally though it was Susie Cagle who really encouraged me to try out some comics journalism stuff. We met in the Bay Area around 2010 when she was still making mini comics and then she gradually transitioned into full time doing comics journalism. She’s an incredibly hard-working cartoonist with a journalism degree, but she was always like, “Dude, you don’t need a degree, you can do this, go for it, get paid, I will help you.” She gave me recommendations for what to read about ethics and reporting skills and pitching, but most importantly she gave me lots of encouragement.

When you started reporting, was it difficult to get out of your comfort zone and cold call or approach strangers with questions or leads?

Yes, interviewing folks was a skill I had to develop. It’s not so hard when they’re people that you’ve made arrangements with who know what’s going on, but walking up to people and asking for an interview has been hard. I think it was most difficult for me when I went to North Dakota to report on the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock, because I needed to be respectful and I was aware of my role as a white journalist interviewing Native people, some of whom are rightfully wary of media.

Was that a difficult tightrope to walk in that instance?

Sure. The thing about journalism is that traditional ethical standards of journalism dictate that the journalist is not supposed to show the finished work to interview subjects before its publication. This is an ethical quandary for many. Harvard’s Nieman Foundation has a great book about ethical and practical dilemmas in journalism called Telling True Stories, in which some of the included journalists talk about times they have grappled with this particular ethical standard. There are more collaborative ways of creating work with a “subject,” but journalism sees itself as holding people accountable, which on the one hand I think is important. On the other hand, I think journalism is responsible for a decent amount of misrepresentation as a result of that, especially when it comes to marginalized peoples.



What are people’s reactions when you tell interview subjects or sources that you will be drawing them for your journalism comics? Do you tell them?

I do tell them. Usually I just say something like, “I draw portraits along with quotes” because it’s the quickest way to get an understanding across. Most people who object are more concerned with having a picture taken as reference than the actual drawing.

Your autobio work can get fairly abstract or minimal in terms of line work, but your comics for The Guardian and The Nib are much more representational. Is that a conscious shift in style?

Sometimes in my journal comics I want to keep things abstract enough that folks won’t be able to identify who the “characters” are, since I’m not always drawing those comics with explicit consent. They are more like a diary. When I’m doing journalism, I either have consent or the legal right to talk about someone doing something in public. The goal is totally different. I don’t make the autobio comics to inform the public about issues.

When reporting, how do you decide what you’re going to represent with drawings and what is going to be straight text?

I tend to draw the people I’m interviewing, and as much context as I can without bogging down the flow of things. I would often like to draw even more, but the turnaround time on many of the reportage pieces has been a day, two days, up to a week or so. With time as a constraint, I try to do the drawings that will situate the reader most efficiently. As far as what gets represented… well, I can’t help it; I’m a human and an artist. It’s all being processed, so of course some choices are being made with aesthetics in mind, which is sometimes subconscious and sometimes a trick to get people to read about something I think is important. That’s part of the power of images!

Many of your comics feature negative space prominently. What about negative space attracts you as an artist?

My aversion to the protestant work ethic! But, seriously… in graphic design, negative space is not something that people look sideways at, unless you’re using it in the wrong place. I feel like in comics, artists often feel insecure about negative space, or maybe they just love drawing so much they want to fill every nook. I approach comics from more of a design perspective than an illustrative one. I’m not the first person to say that… so why does negative space feature in my work? I don’t know, I just think it works.

Outside of reporting, you recently translated Pretending is Lying by Dominique Goblet for New York Review Comics. How did that opportunity come about?

Over the years of being obsessed with comics, I’ve cultivated friendships with folks who are on a similar bent. Lucas Adams of NYRC is one of those people. He went to college with a high school friend of mine and she introduced us years ago and was like, “Hey, you’re both really into comics.” We became friends and eventually he was working at NYRB and he and Gabriel Winslow-Yost decided to pitch the idea of starting a comics imprint to them. Lucas knew I was heavy into European comics and so he asked me for some ideas to include in his NYRC pitch. The Goblet book was one of them and NYRB went for it. I’d already done some translation work (I helped edit the translation of Julie Delporte’s Journal, for example) and Lucas and Gabe offered to let me have a crack at it. They had other folks doing translation tests but in the end they went with mine. In any case, I know someone would have published it eventually, but I’m proud to say that I pointed a publisher to that book and I’m honored that I got to translate it.

You were a fellow at the Center for Cartoon Studies a few years ago, but came back as a faculty member this past year. What is your position there? What classes do you teach?

My time at CCS has been all over the place! I was the Fellow for a year, sitting in on classes and doing some teaching. And then I decided to become a student, in order to get an MFA to further pursue teaching, and specifically to work more closely with Jason Lutes, whom I find to be an amazing teacher and mentor. I’m a part-time faculty member now. Last semester I taught the first portion of the second-year “thesis” class, where students begin work on their year-long thesis project, and this semester I’m teaching the second portion of the first-year “cartooning studio” class, where students develop a deeper understanding of cartooning fundamentals and skills and turn out an impressive amount of pages. I get to work with a lot of really dedicated teachers and meet blossoming cartoonists in a weird comics town. It’s pretty cool.

Has it affected your cartooning at all?

I think it’s made me more open to asking for feedback at earlier stages in my work. If I’m making my students do it, I think I’d better be willing to try it more myself.

What’s next for you in terms of reportage? Is there an issue that you’d like to tackle or a place you’d like to learn more about?

I want to let the ideas percolate for a little while. Right now, it’s easier to focus on bigger questions like the survival of humanity. I’m interested generally in climate change and how that’s going to affect communities worldwide, and what we can do to mitigate or prepare for that, but I’m not sure how I might further pursue that. It’s a politically confusing time and I think I haven’t figured out what questions I want to try to answer yet.

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Home Plate http://www.tcj.com/home-plate/ http://www.tcj.com/home-plate/#respond Thu, 09 Mar 2017 13:00:06 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99275 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, RJ Casey talks to the cartoonist Sophie Yanow about memoir, comics journalism, and translation, among many other things.

I am interested in architecture and economics and how those things affect livability. It seems to me that the obvious short term is that more and more people will be priced out of living in “major” cities. Seattle suffers from the same tech industry influx that San Francisco does, which for residents means so much energy spent on keeping your housing or just needing to move. The crazy capitalist endgame might be what we see in London, where entire neighborhoods are empty of people because the international super-rich have bought massive apartment buildings as places to park their capital rather than to house humans. While there are many great architects and urban planners out there, they can’t solve this stuff alone. Short term, people need to band together to strengthen things like rent control and renter protections. Long term… replace capitalism?

Also, Rob Kirby reviews the new book by Thi Bui, The Best We Could Do.

In her early twenties, Bui traveled back to Vietnam to meet her extended family. It was shortly afterward that she began to record the family’s history, hoping that “if I bridged the gap between past and present… I could fill the void between my parents and me.” Her narrative flashes back and forth in time, illustrating how larger events (war, dictatorship, immigration) shaped the family’s lives. She records her father’s traumatic, uprooted childhood in the 1950s (she calls him “Bố,” or “daddy”) and how he endured periods of living as a refugee with his abusive, philandering father in a country wracked with sociopolitical turmoil and poverty. Meanwhile, Bui’s mother (“Má”) grew up in privilege as a child of a civil engineer, shielded for many years from the dire conditions of much of the country. After marrying Bố, Má gives birth to multiple children, usually under extremely difficult conditions, including her daughter, Bích, right before the Tet Offensive in 1968; a stillborn child, Thảo, in Saigon in 1974; and her son Tâm in a UN refugee camp in Malaysia in 1978.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. The New York Times talks to outgoing New Yorker cartoon editor Bob Mankoff about some of his own favorite cartoons. I haven’t seen much extensive commentary on this upcoming change yet, but Mankoff was a somewhat polarizing figure in some cartooning circles, for various reasons including the setup of the Cartoon Bank, the magazine’s cartoon caption contest, and the fairly laborious submission process he oversaw.

While Mr. Mankoff, 72, may be leaving the magazine, he’s hardly retiring. He will be teaching a course about humor and communication at Fordham University. He’ll continue to consult on the Cartoon Bank, a licensing platform he founded in 1992. He’ll also be working on Botnik Studios, a company he’s creating with the comedy writer Jamie Brew that explores using artificial intelligence to augment creativity. (Mr. Mankoff, a former graduate student in experimental psychology, has already collaborated with a Microsoft researcher on an algorithm that can sort through the flood of entries to the magazine’s weekly cartoon caption contest.)

Newsarama talks to Ben Passmore.

I was reading some Frantz Fanon with a homie of mine, another black guy existing in the New Orleans punk scene, and comparing our experiences navigating various exchanges with our white friends and acquaintances. We were reading Black Skin, White Masks, which is largely about the psychological effects of colonization on black people. It wasn’t the first time we’d had that type of conversation, it’s the kind of thing black people that interact with some amount of white people on a regular basis have within five minutes of meeting each other. The only difference was that the context of the conversation was our sense of dysphoria, or how our social relationships with white people effected how we saw ourselves. Something about this particular conversation with my friend made me realize the extent we, black punks, live if a different world than our white friends.

The Beat talks to Maggie Umber.

I’m a cartoonist and the associate publisher at 2dcloud. This past year I had a 24 page comic in the anthology The Shirley Jackson Project edited by Rob Clough and published by Ninth Art Press. My first graphic novel, Time Capsule, was published by 2dcloud in 2015. My upcoming graphic novel, Sound of Snow Falling, is being kickstarted as a part of 2dcloud’s Spring 2017 collection.

—Misc. The New York Times gets R. Sikoryak to explain some of the thinking behind his pastiche-target choices in his comics adaptation of the iTunes users agreement.

Joe Cool, the Snoopy persona, is not that far from Steve Jobs. I had to use “Peanuts,” that’s why it’s in the first 10 pages or so, because that was one of the first things I knew I wanted to do. I’ve always been interested in pulling people into comics who might not even be that into comics, but are aware of them: “Oh yeah, I saw that Christmas special with the dog, right?” People might recognize the characters or the general notion of a strip and that sort of pulls them in.

Linda Medley, the creator of Castle Waiting, is in need of financial assistance.

Several years ago I was diagnosed with severe cervical spondylosis as well as carpal tunnel syndrome, and took some time off from creating artwork to rest, and adapt to new modes of working. Although my convalescence took longer than anticipated, I’m currently hard at work on Castle Waiting Volume 3 and hope to have the first 150-page installment ready for publication next year…but I’ll need your financial help to be able to continue working on it.

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Jay Lynch: The Final Interview http://www.tcj.com/jay-lynch-the-final-interview/ http://www.tcj.com/jay-lynch-the-final-interview/#comments Wed, 08 Mar 2017 13:00:59 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99155 Continue reading ]]>

Photo by Patrick Rosenkranz, Chicago 1972.

I did not know Jay Lynch well. I spoke to him a few times on the phone, mostly in regard to his early 1987 Comics Journal interview. I was happy to reconnect with him, and contacted him last year, at the suggestion of Paul Krassner, and asked him if he’d like to draw the cover to Fantagraphics’ recent The Realist Cartoons, a collection of the best cartoons from Krassner’s legendary satirical magazine. Jay excitedly agreed to do it and turned in one of his best drawings — which he drew and colored. This may be the last drawing he published.

When I heard he had cancer, I called him and asked him if he was interested in sitting down for an interview. He was. Jay was dying when he gave this interview and knew he was dying. I hadn’t talked to Jay in a long time, but I could detect that although he was articulate and lucid, his speech was also uncharacteristically halting, and often interrupted by coughing fits. Nonetheless, he seemed eager to talk. He was, throughout, stoic, funny, and utterly un-self-pitying in the face of what he knew was his impending death. On full display here is his encyclopedic knowledge of counter- or minority-culture of the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, his unsentimental description of his chaotic family life, and his fond reminiscences of his close friendships with Art Spiegelman and Skip Williamson.

My last conversation with him was on February 29, when I was fact checking the interview and filling in a few spots that were unintelligible. He was even more talkative on that occasion, albeit less lucid, and what I anticipated would be a 10-minute conversation turned into an hour-long one. My impression was that he did not want to say goodbye. Neither did I.

GARY GROTH, March 5, 2017

This interview was conducted on January 23 and February 5. It was transcribed and copyedited by Conrad Groth.

 

Growing Up

 

GARY GROTH: Can you tell me a little about your childhood and your growing up and your relationship to your parents? Can you tell me what your parents did?

JAY LYNCH: Well, we lived in a house in which lived my grandparents, their four daughters, the husbands of the daughters — for those who were married at the time — and my uncle. So my mother worked at an army base in Port Monmouth … so it’s more like … y’know, we called our grandmother “Ma.” The daughters weren’t that much older, though, actually. When I was born, Grace was 16 and all the daughters were under 25, except my mother was 26 when I was born. So I call my mother “Alice,” and I call my grandmother “Ma.”

GG: Now why did you call your mother by her first name?

JL: I don’t know. Because I guess that’s what everyone did. In the house, there were her sisters and her parents. And she had a job in the day at Port Monmouth, and the other daughters worked for the phone company.

GG: And how many siblings did you have?

JL: I had no brothers or sisters until 1957, when my mother remarried, and then I had a half brother and a half sister. But I left home in ’63. So they were like three years old or something.

GG: Well, one would’ve been about six years old, yeah.

JL: I wasn’t spending much time in my house when I was a teen.

GG: You did not.

JL: No.

“The Young Runaways” from Bijou.

GG: Is that because you found the environment unpalatable, or because you just wanted to go out and raise hell or what?

JL: I found it hard to get anything done. My stepfather was a drunk, would often get drunk, and I would go and stay in the city until it was over.

GG: You were in Florida at this time. You grew up in Florida?

JL: Well, I grew up in New Jersey and I moved to Florida when I was 12. So I was in Florida from when I was 12 to when I was 18.

GG: When you say you would stay in the city, what city?

JL: Miami.

GG: And where would you stay, with friends?

JL: We had a junior achievement company, and I just kept going there after the school year was over. It was an office. We always lived in offices. Like in Chicago I lived in the Diversey Arms Hotel, which didn’t have any air-conditioning or anything, so I had to sleep at the Aardvark magazine office.

GG: Did you not have a home of your own?

JL: When? When I moved to Chicago?

GG: Well, when you were living in offices.

JL: No. After high school, I moved to the city and I rented a little room in a hotel that was $80 a month for rent, a bed and a bathroom. And there was a room, but it wasn’t air-conditioned and it was not comfortable in the summer. It was a common practice for people to sleep in their offices, especially if they worked for small companies and had keys and stuff.

Mr. [Harlan] Ellison I believe slept at Rogue magazine for many years.

GG: [Laughs.] Did you witness this?

JL: No. By the time I arrived he’d left to write Burke’s Law. But he was writing for Joe Pilati’s fanzine at that time. We were all very excited, because Burke’s Law is very famous.

GG: Did the two of you ever cross paths?

JL: Not until the modern era. Well, I talked to him on the phone. I did stuff for a comic that he did. I did the drawing, I illustrated the thing in Dream Corridor.

GG: I’m sorry, I’m not familiar with that, was that an adaptation of a short story?

JL: Yeah, it was the thing about the genie and the can opener.

GG: How was that experience?

JL: It was good. He’d call me up and try to get me to work on “Djinn, No Chaser.” They did the script, so it’s a short story. It should’ve been three pages, but it was like six or eight. Kinda dragged out. He called up to see how I was doing. And he’s always been pleasant to me. So at the time I’d swallowed a bridgework for my teeth, I swallowed a bridge.

GG: Swallowed it?

JL: Yeah. Just two teeth. So he goes into this long thing about how to recover it [Groth laughs] by straining my shit through cheesecloth, which I did and eventually I recovered the bridge. But anyway, after he gives me the long … Oh, wait — there’s required reading for this — we should go back to the idea that I dated an actress who was on some TV show for a short time when I was in college, and once I mentioned it to Ellison, he says, “Ah, I went to the same college, and I dated Ann Margaret.” Or, I left home when I was 17, Ellison says, “Well, I left home when I was 13, and I joined the circus.” So there’s always like a one-up thing. So he gives me the instructions on how to recover the teeth and then when he finished, he says, “Oh, by the way, this happened to me and here’s what I did. And he gave me instructions. Then he says, by the way, how many teeth?” [Laughter.]

GG: As if it would be a different technique if there were more or fewer?

JL: No, it’s that when I say two, he says, “Ha! I swallowed four.” [Groth laughs.] But I don’t really remember.

GG: So the shit-straining technique was born out of experience.

JL: Well, I did it because it costs hundreds of dollars to get a new bridge.

GG: Well, it makes sense. Well now, skipping back to your teen years … Tell me about your family life in Miami. Were you in open conflict with your stepfather, or was it some other …

JL: I tried to avoid him.

GG: That’s primarily because he was an alcoholic, or were there other reasons?

JL: Well, he was kind of stupid as well.

GG: That’s a bad combination.

JL: But I think at the end, I said, “Well, look, I don’t like this and you don’t like this, so I’m going. Goodbye.”

GG: How did your mother feel about that?

JL: I don’t know. She was an enabler, she just accepted everything.

GG: What was your relationship with your mother like?

JL: I lived with her from 1956 to 1962. So it’s only six years. Before that, I lived with her in the context of my grandmother being the head of the house, so it was like … All of the girls were more like sisters than authority figures.

GG: It sounds like your grandmother was more the matriarch, and your mother’s sisters lived there. So you grew up with a lot of women. How do you think that affected your upbringing, your developing consciousness and view of the world?

JL: I dunno, what do you think? I don’t know, I never thought much about it.

“Child Martyr” from Bijou.

GG: What was your father doing when you were living in this house with your mother?

JL: I hadn’t seen him since I was three, but he eventually became a doorman in New Jersey.

GG: Why hadn’t you seen him from the age of three?

JL: Because he was kind of vilified.

GG: Did he leave?

JL: He didn’t like the idea of living in a house with all these people. And one day, he went with my mother to the movies to avoid the crowds, but her sisters were there and they were all in back of him. So this made him flip out.

GG: [Laughs.] It was just the last straw. And he left?

JL: Yeah.

GG: Do you remember that?

JL: No.

GG: So one day he was just gone?

JL: Yeah. There was a long, drawn-out legal battle where they dragged me into court and had me [testify], but it wasn’t like he did anything evil to me or anything like that.

GG: So there was litigation between your mother and he.

JL: Yeah.

GG: What did you have to testify to?

JL: She wanted to get child support.

GG: And you actually had to testify, as a child?

JL: I think so. I forget what the nature of it was, though.

GG: This was in a courtroom?

JL: Yeah. Well it was done in the Army-McCarthy hearings, I think. Or at least during some televised HUAC hearing. So I kind of thought of it as that.

GG: Sounds like you were maybe five or six, seven?

JL: I thought it was like three … Maybe the trial was a couple of years after he left, I dunno.

GG: And did he ever return? Or did he become a part of your life at some point?

JL: No.

GG: Never?

JL: Never. And he left me a dollar.

GG: [Laughs.] Did you say a dollar?

JL: Yeah.

GG: [Laughs.] Huh. And you never saw him again?

JL: No.

GG: The last time you saw your father was when you were three years old?

JL: Yeah.

GG: How old were you when your mother married your stepfather?

JL: I think that was in 1955 or 1956.

GG: You were ten.

JL: Eleven.

GG: And what did he do?

JL: What was his job? Oh, both were named Lynch.

GG: [In disbelief] What?

JL: Both had the last name of Lynch, and this has never been fully explained to me. [Groth laughs.] But I gave up caring about that. He worked for Esso, Standard Oil, he drove a truck. Yeah, a bunch of little jobs. He worked for Sears selling fences and …

GG: So what was your mother like? Obviously, not that great at picking husbands, but other than that what was she like?

JL: Kind of like … frustrating. You couldn’t ask her a question without asking her 12 times before she’d respond. Like she was paying attention to some other plane or something.

GG: Does not sound attentive.

JL: Well, I dunno. She had problems.

GG: Did you feel like you were on your own, at an early age?

JL: Yeah.

GG: And it sounds like you became independent at an early age and remained independent throughout your life. Is that accurate?

JL: Yes, I guess. Well, my parents were divorced when I was three, my mother remarried an alcoholic, and I spent a lot of time hiding. Staying in other places.

GG: Was this after you lived in a dressing room of a burlesque theater?

JL: I lived in a burlesque theater after the war [WWII]. They seized all public housing so this burlesque theater had more than one dressing room, and the extra dressing rooms became veteran’s housing. That was when I was a baby, that was with my biological father.

Illustration by “Ray Finch” in Turned on Cuties.

GG: So this was not an active burlesque theater?

JL: It was, but it had a separate entrance.

GG: I see. Unfortunately, you probably weren’t old enough to remember much of that.

JL: It was in Asbury Park. I remember those pictures of women dressed as ponies.

GG: That may have had a profound effect on your psyche.

JL: Later Jeff Rund did those Eric Stanton prints of that imagery. This was in Asbury park. Actually, there were fake guys like there was a fake Jackie Gleason, there was a fake Ray Bolger. Of course, there’s a fake Jerry Lewis. For every famous person,  there was a lower-level comedian who looked like them and did their act almost but wasn’t them.

GG: This was in the burlesque theater?

JL: Yeah.

GG: You must have only made the connection to the real comedian later in life, because you would’ve been too young to realize who they were, right?

JL: Well, I worked in a hotel in Miami Beach and there was a comedian there, and he never became famous but his brother became famous. Jackie Gayle? Marty Gayle? Yeah I think he was Marty Gayle, Jackie Gayle’s brother. So, you know, I worked in a newsstand there and I bought his record. He would work in the lounge and sell records that he made himself.

GG: Marty Gayle?

JL: Yeah Marty Gayle, Jackie Gayle’s brother.

GG: What was your job at the hotel?

JL: I sold newspapers and cigars and stuff.

GG: And you would’ve been a teenager.

JL: Yeah. Maybe sixth, seventh grade.

GG: That’s pretty young to be working.

JL: Well I needed pants.

 

Early Influences

 

GG: Well, let me skip back a little bit. When you were nine or 10 years old, you edited and published a fanzine called the Vulgarmental.

JL: Yeah. Let me explain that. That’s in [Patrick] Rosenkranz’s book [Rebel Visions]. When we were kids we’d just get newsprint paper and staple it to slick paper and make little comics. Just one-of-a-kind things. And mine were [just full of] jokes about urine and poop and shit. So this Vulgarmental thing was a parody of the TV show The Continental, which was a European … well, Mad did a parody of it, too. So, then we’d pass it around, and some kid had mine and his father found it. And his father was a cop, and his father confronted me in a lot next to their house and told me not to do such things.

GG: Such things being putting out the Vulgarmental? This little fanzine? He didn’t appreciate that.

JL: He didn’t appreciate its content.

GG: It sounds like you were doing something right then.

JL: Well, that’s what I was about. It’s not like we fronted the thing, it’s not like we did it regularly with any editorial deadline in mind or anything.

GG: But it still suggests the need to create something.

JL: There were things like eight-pagers but not eight-pagers. There was a thing called Night in the Tropics that was a little pocket-sized thing that was in color, and it was clean, like minstrel jokes or something. Then there were eight-pagers, and these were more valuable because they were rarer.

GG: These were eight-pagers that you drew?

JL: No.

GG: These were eight-pagers you bought or found.

JL: Yeah. I guess my uncle might’ve had them.

GG: I was gonna say, where would you find these.

JL: There was a trunk of old magazines and stuff in the garage. Lilliput magazine, the World War II British men’s pocked-sized magazine. And Esquire, from the ’30s.

There was my uncle Jack who was married to Gloria who also, much of the time, lived in the house with everybody else. Occasionally, he would have a job that would have him move to another city, but eventually he’d always be back. So at first he did circulation for Collier’s, and then he did circulation for Time/Life. So in the garage there were all these racks, for Life magazine racks and posters and oak tag display kiosks and stuff like that. And pencils, paperweights — y’know, promotional giveaways for Time/Life. So as a kid, half my furniture was Time/Life, almost.

GG: That seems appropriate.

JL: But he introduced me to Mad. Time was distributed by American News in New Jersey, and they did Dell and DC comics. But they didn’t do EC, and they didn’t do the smaller titles. But one day, my uncle came with a copy of Mad and showed me it and it changed my life.

GG: Do you remember what issue that was?

JL: The one with “Teddy and the Pirates” [Mad #6]. And then I mailed away for back issues.

Mad issue featuring “Teddy and the Pirates”.

GG: You were obviously attracted to satire and a satirical point of view at an incredibly early age; was there something about your upbringing that you would attribute that to? Or how do you think you gravitated to that anti-establishment point of view?

JL: I don’t know, just like Stan Freberg and Ernie Kovacs on the television, and Time for Beany — the puppet show with Stan Freberg.

GG: But not everybody did, I mean a distinct minority of people were attracted to that.

JL: We did see eight-pagers before. I did see eight-pagers before I saw Mad. So there was some kind of a forbidden thing about Mad because they were mocking comic strip characters, as were eight-pagers. But they did sell well.

GG: You also grew up in the ’50s which was really the beginning of and almost the heyday of satirical expression, starting with Mad and moving into Stan Freberg and Ernie Kovacs. And comedians like Jonathon Winters and Sid Caesar.

JL: Yes, Caesar’s show was a big thing.

GG: Did you embrace all of that?

JL: Yeah. Really though, and then there was Steve Allen, but Steve Allen was like … the main things were Sid Caesar and Ernie Kovacs, and when Freberg was on TV.

GG: Steve Allen had a kind of anarchic routine, which was very appealing.

JL: Steve Allen worked for The Independent, which was Lyle Stuart’s newspaper. And Lyle Stuart was a business manager in Mad, and kind of mentored [Paul] Krassner on The Realist. And I saw The Realist early on.

GG: You discovered The Realist in 1958, which means you would’ve been 13 years old, which is a pretty young age to discover The Realist.

JL: Well, I was in Miami beach. I worked in a newsstand and we sold publications and we sold what was called the Mercury Press, which isn’t the famous literary Mercury press but back then it was an insanely right-wing anti-immigration, anti-liberal, precursor to The National Review, only crazier. It was like a national magazine, it was like a digest-size thing. American Mercury, was it called? American Mercury, I think. And that was interesting because it was so crazy, so over-the-top.

GG: This had nothing to do with H.L. Mencken’s …

JL: Right, not Mencken. He did a magazine with the same name, but by ’59 it had devolved into this right-wing thing. And then there was the New Republic for the other side.

GG: So you were precocious.

JL: Well I don’t know. There was a comic [I did] called Unsane — “It’s Crazier than Insane.” And then I did a comic myself called Insane — “It’s Crazier than Unsane.” But no, I always do that. When Whack magazine came out I did a thing that was like Whack.

GG: Whack Magazine, what was that?

JL: Saint John’s [the publisher]. It was a 3-D imitation of Mad. It wasn’t until … Well, you know, we followed all the Mad guys and when they left Mad, some went to Cracked, and we followed the ones that went to Cracked, and then came Humbug and all this other stuff. So I was following [John] Severin which was Cracked, and [Jack] Davis was still with Mad, and [Harvey] Kurtzman had Help and before that Humbug, and Trump. But I guess I got the EC Fan-Addict Club newsletter when I was a kid, but nothing really clicked until the end of 1960. Paul Laiken was editor of Cracked, and he gave Joe Pilati a plug for his fanzine Smudge, and Smudge was news of — he would interview people who did the satire fanzines. It was a serious, interview type magazine. So I sent for Smudge, and Skip Williamson sent for Smudge, and [Art] Spiegelman sent for Smudge, Don Edwing sent for Smudge. A lot of people who then ultimately became cartoonists sent for Smudge, and many of us started drawing for Smudge. And in the back of Smudge, Pilati ran reviews of other fanzines: one was Wild and another was Jack High. We did cartoons for Wild and Jack High, me, Spiegelman, and Williamson, and Edwing.

GG: And these were all fanzines?

JL: Yeah, but they were printed. Smudge had a circulation of 80, it was dittoed. And Wild and Jack High were different than Smudge in that they were imitations of Mad. They actually attempted to do humorous stories rather than just running news of the satire business.

Jay Lynch cover.

 

GG: Did Smudge interview artists like Kurtzman?

JL: Smudge interviewed Kurtzman and [Will] Elder, and Don Martin, and Al Feldstein I think. But the ones they interviewed their photos went on the cover. Pilati was I think fourteen at the time, but his magazine was a very serious, very well done magazine. Now later, when we did underground comics, Joe Pilati wrote the introduction to Corporate Crime Comics and he worked on the Charles Stevens boycott, the thing that the Norma Ray movie, the Sally Field movie is about. And the same guy who did that — Ray Rodgers is his name — had a company called Corporate Campaign, and he would do these union things, and all of a sudden they wound up opposing Coca-Cola for their killing of union workers in Colombia. He’s been doing that for the last 20 years. But Pilati continued to work for Ray Rodgers, and I continued to do cartoons for Ray Rodgers’ organization so there’s a body of work of Coca-Cola. You know, “Don’t drink Coca-Cola” things that I did.

GG: What was Rodgers’ company? What did it actually do?

JL: Well it was like an ad agency for groups that were protesting the companies.

GG: So it sounds like an anti-ad agency.

JL: Yeah. It ran campaigns that were on the verge of being strikes. They’re still around. If you [search] “killer coke” it’ll take you to the corporate campaign pages on that topic.

GG: How old were you when you contributed to Smudge and Wild?

JL: 1960. So 15, 16, 17.

GG: During this period you were friends with Spiegelman and Williamson and can you tell me how you expanded that circle, and how that grew in the mid- to late-’60s?

JL: Well, I moved to Chicago in ’62, ’63 and I did stuff for a magazine called Aardvark, and I was in touch with Spiegelman and Williamson from the fanzines, so I sent some copies of Aardvark and they did stuff for Aardvark. In Florida, Bill Killeen, who was the guy who wrote the first Wonder Warthog for the Texas Ranger, had started a magazine called Charlatan. So I did cartoons for Charlatan and I think Williamson and Spiegelman also did Charlatan stuff. And Help reprinted Wonder Warthog from Charlatan. Their public gallery feature in the beginning was just reprints of college humor magazine cartoons. So we went from the fanzines to the college humor magazines, these beatnik-type magazines like Nexus in San Francisco, or The Idiot in San Francisco. Those were kind of like The Realist cartoons, shocking cartoons. Like I did a cover for The Idiot that’s a nativity scene except that one of the wise men says, “What do you mean it’s a girl?” Which in its day was shocking. And Skip, and I think Spiegelman did stuff for The Idiot.

Cartoons for The Idiot #4, December ’65.

GG: When you say you met Spiegelman and Skip Williamson through the fanzines, did you meet them through the mail? How did you actually meet them?

JL: I met them through the mail first, though I did meet Art in person. He came to Miami with his parents. They were on vacation and I met them in a hotel and it was the week that Little Annie Fanny came out in Playboy.

GG: The first one?

JL: Yeah, ’62 maybe. I met Skip after I moved to Chicago. I lived in the Diversey Hotel, and Skip came to town for some science fiction convention, so he stayed with me in the hotel and that’s how I met Skip. And then I would go up to Missouri and visit Skip, or I would go to New York and visit Art. I guess I was doing stuff … Topps fired Art pretty early. When I was still in school I think he did occasional things for Topps.

GG: How old were you guys? I mean you guys are roughly the same age, you might be a little younger than Art, I’m not sure.

JL: I’m 72, Art is 70. When I met Art he was 14 and I was 16.

GG: So tell me what Art was like then, at 14?

JL: Well he liked the Mad stuff, the Mad artists. We would write back and forth if we noticed an obscure crosshatching technique. We would discuss this at great length. Arnold Roth would do a line, and then do little lines inside of that line. There was a cartoon of the Trojan Horse that he did in Help and we went on and on about what that means, the line within a line.

GG: So you were both very analytical.

JL: Yeah. And wit and its relation to the unconscious — the Freud thing about writing jokes — was a big thing.

GG: You must have immediately taken to each other.

JL: Oh, yeah.

GG: How did that friendship evolve over the years?

JL: Well, I’m still friendly with Art. Art was up here a few weeks ago. Although humor is no longer his main thing, but he is a comedy genius, someday he must come back to this. Hmm, how did it evolve?

Well, one thing Spiegelman and I always wind up discussing is we did like a radio show, we just recorded for fun on tape — there was a time we’d be on the radio a lot in Chicago, but they wouldn’t play this because it wasn’t recorded by a union. And I sent it to a guy in Finland and I am told he played it, but I don’t know if he still has the tape. Whenever I ask him he never answers. But it was called “Dem Guys” — “On the Stoop with Dem Guys” — and it’s like two bums sitting on a stoop, and one wants to write a letter to his girlfriend but they don’t have a pencil, and they get a pencil but they don’t have paper, and they use a wine bottle label, and he says, “OK, take a letter: Veryl, Veryl, Veryl, my dearest of goils.” And then he writes it down and then, “What’s that?” And then he says, “Again, again. Veryl, Veryl, Verl … ” “What’s that?” And he says, “Chicken scratch?” And he says, “No they’re ditto marks, ditto marks. That means twice. Veryl, Veryl, Veryl. Twice.” I dunno. Maybe it’s bad, I dunno. I haven’t heard it for 50 years. I think it was funny. [Laughter.]

GG: Now you and Art recorded this yourselves and intended to sell it to a radio station, or try to get it aired?

JL: No, we just had a cordial relationship with the radio and TV people because I lived a block from the TV station and whenever a guest wouldn’t show up on Underground News they’d call me and I’d come over and plug the comic book. And same with the radio, we knew the radio people. So, you know, if we made something they probably would’ve played it, but in this case they didn’t.

GG: This was in Chicago?

JL: Yeah.

GG: And this was all improvisatory? It was not scripted?

JL: The “Dem Guys” show? Yeah. Right. And then Art did the leaflets.

GG: Now, explain the leaflets

JL: We wanted to meet women on the street, and we did the love leaflet, which was just the definition cut out of the dictionary of the word love and a surreal drawing. We’d give it to people and they’d say, “What’s this?” and we’d say, “A leaflet.” So that would perhaps lead to conversation … But after that, he did “Play with Yourself” and a comic on food, and a whole bunch of different leaflets. Once we did one that was just a picture of a leaf, people would say, “What’s this?” and we’d say, “A leaflet.”

GG: Did this lead to any successful romances?

JL: No. [Laughter.] Not that I recall.

GG: A complete failure. [Laughs.]

JL: Well, you know, it was fun. And we got to talk to strangers. They thought we were nuts.

Comic by Art Spiegelman for Gothic Blimp Works #7.

Well, then came the Hippies and the underground press, and we did stuff for the underground papers. So I go to New York to do stuff for Topps, and they would put me in the Hotel Earl which was eight dollars a night — it was the official Topps hotel. And people would bang on the door and say “Speed, Acid, Lids.” I didn’t know if they were buying or selling. We also did East village Other cartoons when we weren’t doing the Topps stuff at the Hotel Earl. And Art did an early book of quotes called Whole Grains. Like Eisenhower once said, “Things are more the way they are now than they ever were before.” And we knew of Crumb from Help. Real early on I remember visiting Art and Art said, “I don’t know if Robert Crumb has left his wife.” And that was shocking. But after that he’d leave his wife every year at the same time.

GG: [Laughs.] Until he no longer had to.

JL: Yeah.

GG: That’s when he left Cleveland to go to San Francisco? That’s what you’re referring to?

JL: He worked for Topps. I guess he moved to New York and Kurtzman gave him a job as assistant editor of Help. But the day he showed up for work they were moving the furniture out of the office. So Kurtzman got him several gigs, one was assisting Jack Davis. And Jack Davis said, “This guy is so slow, how can this be?”

GG: Yeah that lasted about three weeks.

JL: Yeah, but Crumb wound up doing stuff for Topps and Woody Gelman, who was the creative director at Topps, who also had all these side things going. He had Nostalgia Press, and he published a magazine called Nostalgia Magazine.

GG: And this would have been around ’65?

JL: ’65 or ’66, what was the bubblegum thing … I think Glenn Brown was doing Sonny and Cher cards at this time.

GG: And you would move in and out of New York.

JL: I would go to New York for two or three weeks and I would stay with Art if he was living there, or I would stay with whoever I knew that was there at the time. I used to stay with Don Lewis who was the art director of The [Chicago] Seed [who] then became the art director of The East Village Other.

 

Precursors to Cartooning

 

GG: Skip Williamson moved to Chicago in 1967 so you could start a humor magazine, and I think that was the Chicago Mirror.

JL: Yeah.

GG: And then that segued into Bijou [Funnies], if I remember correctly.

JL: Right.

GG: Can you tell me a little about that, how you and Skip got together to collaborate on that and how you decided that he would move there? It sounds like you were both planning on being entrepreneurs.

JL: Yeah. Well we just finished the banana story. In the papers then it said that people were smoking bananas to get high. And we made up this thing that they were smoking dog poop. [Laughter.] They were called “shitheads,” and the most popular variety was Lincoln Park Brown. We told readers how to cure dog poop. But it was basically satire. So we were selling the magazine on the street and a kid comes up and he says, “Hey, thanks for the tip on the dog poop. We’ve been smokin’ this stuff for a week, it’s great!” [Groth laughs.] And I said, “No, no, that’s humor, that’s satire. You’re not really supposed to do that.” [Groth laughs.] And he says, “Hell, it works.” And around that time Crumb sent me Zap #1. So I thought … We’ve been misjudging our audience. If they’re gonna believe the dog poop thing, maybe we should just do a comic book. And that’s what we did.

GG: So it was a combination of Zap #1 and the dog poop that inspired you.

JL: Well, I think the dog poop was the crucial factor.

GG: [Laughs.] Well, of course.

JL: We never thought to do a whole comic, and even in The Mirror what we did mostly was one-panel gag cartoons.

GG: Now what format was The Mirror in?

JL: Well, it was like a magazine. Mostly articles with one-panel gag cartoons breaking them up, and an occasional full-page comic strip.

GG: Was Zap #1 the first underground comic you actually saw? Did you not see God Nose or …

JL: I saw God Nose in ’64. Jackson sent me a bunch of them to put in the Roosevelt University bookstore back then. They were in the Roosevelt store and they were in Barbara’s Bookstore on Wells Street.

Charlatan cover by Jack Jackson.

 

GG: But that did not inspire you to do something similar?

JL: No. Charlatan magazine was running God Nose comic strips at the time. And Wonder Warthog was a regular feature in Charlatan.

GG: But the God Nose comics format didn’t inspire you to do something like it?

JL: Right. It did not.

GG: I guess the time was not right.

JL: There were other things. There was something … It was yellow, it was on legal-sized paper folded over and it came out of Austin and it was like your humor magazine that was comics plus writing. And I have it somewhere, but there was only one issue. Then there was the Austin Iconoclastic magazine, which was a newsletter then, kind of like … There was a thing called Monocle that was a political satire magazine. But no, we didn’t think to do a comic book like God Nose.

GG: Were you dead-set on becoming a cartoonist?

JL: Not so much a cartoonist, but a humorist. And not even a humorist. Some of us in Chicago used to speak at coffeehouses and it wasn’t like we were telling jokes or anything, we were saying things that made people nervous and they therefore would laugh.

GG: Not humor exactly though.

JL: Well I guess it was humor, but when you repeat it 50 years later it’s not funny any more.

GG: Would this have been beat inspired?

JL: In a way, although it wasn’t that we liked Allen Ginsberg or Kerouac or that. We liked Albert Ellis and [Alfred] Korzybski . Not the art part of the beatnik thing but the social sciences part of it, I think.

GG: You wanted to stir things up politically and socially.

JL: Yeah, we did a newspaper called The Old Town Newspaper. Madalyn Murray [O’Hair] was in all that stuff that we did.

GG: Now The Old Town Newspaper, where was this and when was this? And who was this?

JL: This was in ’64 in the Old Town neighborhood of Chicago. It was a four-page paper published in letter press, without type. The first we had Nelson Algren writing about capital punishment.

GG: Let me just talk about this for a moment. First of all, who is we? You and who else?

JL: The Publisher was a guy named Karl Sonkin, who in recent years has been a news anchor in San Diego. Now he works for Kaiser, the insurance outfit in San Diego — he’s like a PR guy for Kaiser. Well, Carl was with Aardvark, he did stuff for Aardvark. And Skip [Williamson] was in The Old Town Newspaper. And Howard Shoemaker, who was a Playboy cartoonist and who at one point was in The Realist and all these alternate magazines.

Cartoon by Howard Shoemaker for The Realist.

 

GG: Now you would’ve been 19 years old at the time, how could you guys afford to do this?

JL: Afford?

GG: I mean how could you pay for the printing of this newspaper.

JL: It was 50 bucks.

GG: [Laughs.] Well, that was a lot of money back then.

JL: We sold ads. The first issue was good. There was a photographer in Springfield — the capital of Illinois — and at the back of the electric chair there was a no smoking sign. So I suggested that the photographer go up there and take a picture of that, and get the no smoking sign. So he goes up there and he takes pictures and they’re all these solarized, artsy-fartsy pictures, and you don’t see the no smoking sign. So that kind of pissed me off, so the caption I wrote was, “Here’s the electric chair in Springfield, not depicted is an ironic no smoking sign in the background.” Photo by whatever the guy’s name was. Just to embarrass him, you know. Ultimately, it got to where the paper was just trying to make money and they’d write reviews of restaurants and articles about people they sold ads to, and it just wasn’t of any merit. So I left, and it evolved into something called Skyline, which was a newspaper for high-rises. It’s the same corporation but last time I looked — maybe 20 years ago — it was called Skyline.

GG: So its gentrification was complete.

JL: Yeah.

GG: You said you were inspired by Zap when that came out, that would have been ’68, and then you started to form a community — Skip Williamson and Art Spiegelman and eventually Robert Crumb and so on—of underground comics and it became something — it was no longer an abstract idea, it was happening; did you then have a sense that you were changing comics, that you were no longer following in the traditions of mass market comics, with the exception of Mad, and that you were doing something —

JL: Yeah, we always wanted to change the [Comics] Code. That was our main goal.

GG: The Comics Code.

JL: Yeah. Chill the Code.

GG: Was there the conscious sense that you were pushing the medium in a different direction, or using the medium in a different way than it had been?

JL: Yeah. But I didn’t start doing comics as comics until the underground comics thing. Before that we did magazine gag cartoons, because we thought comics were killed by the Code and there was no place within it for us.

GG: And you were right.

JL: Yeah.

GG: Because you had to create your own place. It’s interesting, because without the historical moment being what it was, you couldn’t have done that. Without the counterculture, without the advent of head shops, without that distribution network, you couldn’t have done that. And I wonder what you would have done, but it might not have been comics.

JL: Did I tell you about the Pageant magazine article?

GG: No.

JL: In 1954-5, Pageant ran a piece on the Mad staff, of the comic book. So I bought Pageant. And in that issue of Pageant was an article called “Pills that Chase Away the Blues,” and this was about early LSD. And one thing it said in the article, it said that people who took this new drug reported seeing a Walt Disney black dwarf fighting with a white Walt Disney dwarf, and they spin around in a circle and turn into a yin and yang symbol. So of course when I took acid, twenty years later, that’s what I saw. Crumb did a strip in Underground Digest, a pocket-sized magazine, where there’s something like that, a dwarf spinning into a yin and yang thing. So I mention this to Crumb, and Crumb I guess also as a youth bought that issue of Pageant. So could it be that the suggestion of that influenced what he saw and maybe changed the course of comics? I don’t know. [Groth laughs.]

 

From Men’s Magazines to Underground Comics

 

GG: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think it’s ZAP #1 that really galvanized the underground comics movement, but there was so much activity before that and you were very much a part of that. There were the college humor magazines that preceded underground comics. There were the fanzines you were referring to that also preceded them and that fueled, that inspired the work by you and artists like Spiegelman and Skip Williamson. I’d like you to talk a little bit about that pre-ZAP #1 period, and what led up to it.

Cover by R. Crumb.

 

JL: Well, when underground comics came, originally we were mostly doing one-panel gag cartoons for men’s magazines, and when underground comics came we did strips. So there were a lot of one-panel gag cartoon guys who just didn’t ever get into underground comics. There was a guy named Hank Hinton, who did a strip called Charlie Carrot Charisma for Cavalier, he was really good. He did Frat Man for Help magazine, Joel Siegel wrote it, I think. But he wound up getting a job at the LA Times, and he was like their caricaturist, he was like their David Levine guy. And he did that for 20 years. He did some stuff for Hot Rod Cartoons, the hot rod magazine that [Gilbert] Shelton did stuff for. And Howard Shoemaker was a one-panel gag cartoonist, he’s a great cartoonist.

GG: He did a lot of work for The Realist.

JL: But he was of a generation that was a little older than the hippie thing. But, you know, people began to show up who were good cartoonists and I tried to get them to do stuff for my books.

GG: It sounds like you were basically scrambling to work for whoever you could work for. Men’s magazines or college newspapers or …

JL: Well, men’s magazines then had to have a certain amount of sexually redeeming copy. And there was a lot of good stuff in them. Playboy in those days would interview Bertrand Russell. Now, they’ll interview Chris Rock.

GG: [Laughs.] It’s a sign of where we’re going, yeah.

JL: You seen the new Playboy?

GG: I have seen the new manifestation, yes. Pretty dismal.

JL: Yes.

GG: What’s your opinion of it?

JL: It’s like it’s not there. It’s like Maxim or something. They send me Maxim for free, but I always gave it away. There was one issue, though, that had Spiegelman and Molly Crabapple — they sent her to Iran. And there was article on Dan Clowes. And that was just the one issue, and before that and after that it’s just been boring.

GG: [In disbelief.] You’re talking about Maxim?

JL: No, Playboy. Maybe six months ago they did one good issue.

GG: Huh, I didn’t know that. Must’ve been a mistake.

JL: Well, Molly Crabapple’s in Vice. So they might’ve thought that Vice is good to be like.

GG: [Laughs.] This is sad.

JL: Eh, Vice is nice. Johnny Ryan is my favorite cartoonist. He’s a laugh getter. [Laughs.] That’s the only stuff I laugh at.

Cartoon from Back in Bleck.

 

GG: So you wanted to be a humorist and it sounds like the most efficacious way you could pursue this was through cartooning.

JL: Especially after the underground comics thing. Because there was a lot of that, a lot of underground comics. Before that, I would write for the college humor magazines just as much as I would draw.

GG: And these would be skits or stories?

JL: I did this thing, Money Talks, like, Walnuts, Jack Whal’s thing where he has small objects talking to each other.

I did a thing called Money Talks in Charlatan, where it’d be coins talking to each other. So it’d just be photos of coins, with captions. But I wrote … Oui magazine sent me to track down snuff movies and I wrote a thing about that, and Hustler sent me down to track down Howard Hughes’ urine and I wrote a thing about that. I did a profile of Paul Harvey for Chic magazine.

 

San Francisco and the Underground Scene

 

GG: Let me bring you back to the birth of the undergrounds. You met Skip Williamson and Art Spiegelman, I think you met Gilbert Shelton and Jack Jackson as well, part of the Texas contingent of underground cartoonists. Shelton was publishing in the Texas Ranger

JL: Jackson submitted stuff to Aardvark and he came to Chicago, and I didn’t really see him … I didn’t really hang out with him until after they all moved to San Francisco. Shelton was the same thing, I went to his house to help him bind Radical America Komiks

GG: In San Francisco?

JL: In San Francisco, to staple them, yeah.

GG: Did you meet Shelton in San Francisco?

JL: I think that might be the first time I met him. He was on the staff of Charlatan and other Texas humor magazines I contributed to.

GG: What year did you go to San Francisco?

JL: ’68 I guess, yeah.

GG: So that was very much near the beginning. So you met Shelton and Jackson; can you describe the beginning of the underground scene? I guess Crumb was there, Print Mint and Last Gasp were operating …

JL: It might have been before Last Gasp that there was the Print Mint.

GG: How about Rip Off? Had Rip Off started by then?

JL: Yeah. Gary Arlington had his company.

GG: Right, right. His store.

JL: But it was the same press. Rip Off Press, the printing machine printed Gary’s books. Oh, I guess ultimately they had the guts to print it elsewhere. Plymell lives up around here now, Charles Plymell lives in Cherry Valley, New York.

“A Typical Afternoon at Rip Off Press” by Gilbert Shelton.

GG: So when you landed in San Francisco, where’d you go and how did you go about …

JL: Well, Crumb would stay at my house in Chicago, so I stayed with Dana, but Crumb wasn’t in town the first time I went. And he had this cookie, like an Oreo cookie, from the 1940s that … relief on the cookie was really well sculpted, so for some reason he saved this cookie since his childhood.

GG: Crumb did?

JL: Yeah. And then Dana said, “I’m gonna get rid of this, I’m sick of this cookie” and she threw out the cookie. [Groth laughs.] Then [Rick] Griffin came over and I said, “Dana threw out Crumb’s cookie.” And so Griffin salvaged the cookie from the garbage, and then I guess he gave it back to Crumb when Crumb returned.

GG: [Laughs.] I wonder if Robert still has this.

JL: [Laughs.] I don’t know, maybe it was a reward for a spelling bee in kindergarten or something.

GG: This was a real cookie?

JL: Yeah, it was green — the middle of it, the icing turned green and yellow … [Laughs.]

GG: It’s probably still edible today. [Laughs.] It’s interesting what you remember, isn’t it?

JL: It’s always the top stuff. I don’t remember any job we did, but I do remember what everyone ate for lunch or where we went for lunch.

GG: Yeah, it’s fascinating what odd details one remembers and what larger things one doesn’t. Now, getting back to your trip to San Francisco, I assume the reason you went to San Francisco was to become part of underground comics.

JL: We printed the first printing of Bijou #2. It sold out pretty fast, so I went to give it to the Print Mint and they reprinted it.

GG: And how long did you stay in San Francisco?

JL: Maybe two weeks.

GG: Oh, is that all? OK. Can you give your impressions of the underground scene at that moment in history? I mean, who was there, and was there a sense of community?

JL: Kind of. Gary Arlington always wanted people to jam, and nobody wanted to. But it was Roger Brand and Jim Osborne, Art [Spiegelman], Rory Hayes … I dunno.

GG: What was your impression of Roger Brand?

JL: Well, I knew Roger in New York.

GG: He was quite knowledgeable about comics history, right?

JL: Right, he did fanzine type stuff in the beginning. I actually have a jam that we did where we all penciled something and we all passed it on to the next guy and he tight penciled it and then passed it again and the third guy inked it. It’s me, Roger, and Osborne. Roger Brand was the guy who discovered Eugene Teal, the Frogs: Sunday Funnie guy.

Eugene Teal’s magnum opus.

GG: Were you ever in touch with Frank Stack?

JL: Yeah. Not much, just for the Adventures with Jesus. I gave the Billy Ireland Museum the letters from that era. That was what, like ’63, ’64? So that was earlier than God Nose.

GG: Yeah, I think by some months. Right.

JL: Well, we thought he was Gilbert, and eventually we realized he was another person.

GG: [Laughs.] You thought Frank was Gilbert.

JL: I think it’s from Foolbert Sturgeon.

GG: What was your impression of Jack Jackson when you were in San Francisco? Did you have much of one?

JL: No, he’s like a Texas guy. He had a beautiful wife and he wore a cowboy hat. No, he was in Chicago and he called and somehow he wound up in the ghetto — he thought it was another neighborhood or something, I dunno. But I never saw him when he was in Chicago, I just talked with him on the phone about “Where am I? How do I get out of here?” [Groth laughs.]

Jesus Meets the Armed Services #2 by Frank Stack.

GG: He was doing some vicious satirical strips at that time. Really ballsy stuff.

JL: Yeah, in the college humor magazines too he was doing this one-page Jack Davis-looking thing. And there’s a bunch of them that Aarvark had that they were gonna print, but then Aarvark kind of stopped publishing because of the hippie thing. Instead of humor magazine they opened an underground movie theater. And the way the humor magazine was — it was a different era — it didn’t look like it was hip. It looked pretty academic.

GG: Really?

JL: Before the hippies, yeah. And Playboy used to influence their layout. They’d run an interview in Aarvark with three photos on the bottom of the page in italic quotes like Playboy did. It’s the only magazine that ran an interview with Shel Silverstein. He never did an interview except the one in Aarvark.

GG: Do you remember who interviewed him?

JL: No. Howard Cohen maybe?

GG: Was it good?

JL: It was good. He predicted stuff that would happen in the future. He said, “Someday they’ll say fuck on television and nobody will notice.” [Groth laughs.]

 

Little Ladies—the Ladies of the Underground

 

GG: I was curious about one odd thing I read, which was that your wife, Jane, published something called Little Ladies, which was about the spouses of the underground and girlfriends of the underground cartoonists.

JL: She would print a dozen and they went to the wives of the people we knew who Jane met on our travels. So Margaret Osborne and Dana and Trina …

GG: And what was that like?

JL: Little Ladies? Just complaining, mostly. But it was humorous, I guess.

GG: [Laughs.] Humorous complaining.

JL: Yeah. I did one called Big Men, it was like the opposite of Little Ladies. I did two issues of Big Men just for kicks. [Groth laughs.] Wilson and his girlfriend hated Little Ladies, so in Big Men we said, “We call ourselves by our last names. We don’t use the first names that were bestowed upon us by the matriarchy.” [Laughs.] So Wilson did some cartoon of that — I dunno, castrated penises or something, signed Wilson — for Big Men. His girlfriend complained about Little Ladies. She thought it was divisive, kind of subversive, and it was adding argument, making the women rebel and that kind of stuff.

GG: Do you still have copies of these?

JL: Yeah I do, I gave them to the Billy Ireland Museum.

GG: Speaking of men and women in the underground movement, it’s pretty undeniable isn’t it that it was a pretty sexist environment, I mean, male dominated?

JL: It was.

GG: Very few women cartoonists.

JL: Yeah. There were a few — Shannon Wheeler and Pat Dailey [who had published in the Berkley Barb]there were a few who actually did satire.

GG: Now, Shannon Wheeler’s not a woman cartoonist and not of that generation.

JL: Oh, no? Well, who’s the one who did …

GG: Shary Flenniken, do you mean?

JL: No. She was in the Hot Rod magazines too. She had some kind of Irish name. Shannon something. She’s dead now.

GG: I’ll try to look her up.

JL: She did a cover of one of the underground comics, a basically green cover with a guy holding a bunch of products, like how Wacky Packages did parodies of products. But, like Bijiou, I rejected Trina [Robbins] it is true. But Trina wasn’t humor.

“Speed Queen” by Trina Robbins.

GG: You’re saying you rejected it on the merits of the work, not because she was a woman.

JL: Right. Well, actually, the strip that I rejected was … she had some guy in his underwear and she’s got him in bondage, making him make her a tuna fish sandwich. And it wasn’t humor, it was more of some kind of power fantasy.

GG: [Laughs.] Reverse Crumb.

JL: Yeah.

 

Vietnam and the Myth of Freedom

 

GG: [In the ’60s] were you angry at what you were seeing around you, socially and politically? Is that what fueled a lot of this?

JL: Yeah. The myth of freedom, and the draft, and all the restrictions that are laid upon the average citizen.

GG: Vietnam was not really a part of that at that moment, as early as ’64, right?

JL: No, maybe ’65 I started having draft physicals. Eventually I got a CO status. So when I was in the alternate service — I wasn’t in the Army, I was in the alternate service — I went to Renewal Magazine, which was put out by the church federation in Chicago. It was about urban renewal as it was about integration, and they would print Martin Luther King’s speeches, to be the paper or record for that, so when Tribune or the regular mass media misquoted him you could always go back to the Renewal printing of the speech in an unedited, unadulterated form.

GG: And this was published by whom?

JL: The Church Federation of Greater Chicago.

GG: What is the Church Federation?

JL: Jim Mcgraw was the editor. It’s the liberal ministers, during the Malcolm Boyd, Harvey Cox craze.

GG: You are not religious are you?

JL: No, I’m more or less anti-religious, but then so were a lot of these ministers at the time.

GG: What was your job there?

JL: I don’t know, because they sent me the cover of the conspiracy trial. Mostly I drew pictures.

GG: But you were on staff?

JL: Yeah.

GG: That’s a pretty good job. [Laughs.]

JL: Well, it didn’t pay well, but it kept me out of the army.

GG: You were in the alternative service? I don’t think I’ve ever heard of that. Not the ROTC, but something else?

JL: No, if you have conscientious objector thing — I guess it’s 3A status, or something — I can’t work in a hospital, because you’re carrying weapons, but I could do certain things and that’s what I got. And then when it was over, my draft status is now 4W, the “W” stands for “Worked.” I think I’m the only 4W in the country, I’ve never run into another one. We don’t get benefits or anything.

 

Identity Politics and the Limits of Humor

 

GG: Well, one thing you have said was that when you worked for The Seed, and by the way, was that an anarchist periodical?

JL: It started as such, but it kind of evolved into one of those permission-seeking “legalize marijuana” kind of papers. And that never interested me, that attitude.

GG: Why would that not interest you? I mean, would you not want to see marijuana legalized?

JL: I would. But the way to do it isn’t to beg for it. The way to do it is to just, everybody smoke marijuana and if that happens all of a sudden it will be legal.

GG: So you’re opposed to the strategy.

JL: Yeah. Well, it started as a … There were surrealist papers in Chicago, and it started off as a spinoff of those. But then it evolved into a political thing.

Skip Williamson cover for The Seed.

GG: Now I think you mentioned that you ran afoul of their political doctrine, where they rejected work by you because it was not politically pure. Did you experience a lot of that? You said at one point that hippies don’t have a sense of humor.

JL: With The Seed, yeah. Once I ran a cover with a man thinking of a woman wearing a brassiere, a pointy brassiere. And that was sexist to them. But it ran in the Madison-Milwaukee Bugle-American as the cover, they printed in. But The Seed lost all of my art and all of Crumb’s art, and when they printed it they’d print it in purple ink, so you couldn’t really reproduce from what they’d printed.

It was kind of … If a free press and the free exchange of ideas is the goal, it wasn’t that. It was: “This is sexist. This is not good for the revolution.”

GG: Have you become more sympathetic to that point of view, sexism and racism as unpalatable sources of humor? How do you feel about that?

JL: Well I think what he did wasn’t really racist, but it was a mockery of racism. And I think it’s good what we did, because there was a reverse discrimination type thing going on. When I worked for Renewal [magazine], we ran a — Jerry Farber was the guy’s name — article called “Student as Nigger,” which compared college students protesting against the war to Negroes working within the system during protests in the ’50s. So for the illustration to that I drew a guy that was split in half, and one half was a student wearing a tweed jacket with patches and carrying schoolbooks and having a beard — all the clichés of what was a student then. The other half was a plantation Negro holding a watermelon, and that was the analogy that was in the article. But even the editor of Renewal at the time made me change the whole watermelon-carrying half to a Negro with a black suit on, like Sidney Poitier. So there was a taboo, but it meant that all black people had to be Sidney Poitier. Like there was a big outcry against Amos ’n’ Andy, but really Amos ’n’ Andy is just The Honeymooners but they’re black. It’s not like the janitor Lightnin’ represents all characters in the thing, any more than Ed Norton represents all white men. So as a reaction to the overly sensitive depiction of blacks in the liberal media, I think that’s what I did and that’s what Angelfood McSpade kind of was.

GG: I was going to ask you if Angelfood McSpade would fall into that category that you’re describing.

R. Crumb drawing from Zap #2.

JL: Yeah, I dunno, I don’t understand Robert. [Laughs.]

GG: You don’t understand Robert Crumb?

JL: Yeah, when he did that thing about “When the Jews Take Over America,” [“When the Goddamn Jews Take Over America”] “When the Blacks Take Over America” [“When the Niggers Take Over America”] … I talked to him about it, and his thing was like, “Well, everybody is racist, you can’t get around that.” But I don’t think so, necessarily.

GG: You don’t think everyone has innate bias?

JL: I don’t, when it comes to race, I don’t think so. Like toward the end, Martin Luther King was doing an anti-utility company thing against the monopolies that were the utility companies then. And that actually had potential to unite poor blacks and poor racist southerners, because both of them had this common enemy. And that’s when they killed him. All the other stuff was divisive, or at least it could be manipulated into that. And then after that black leaders became opportunists, you know, Jesse Jacksons, Al Sharptons.

GG: How do you feel about the rise of identity politics?

JL: Which is what?

GG: Which is a much more strict political point of view based upon your gender identity or racial identity. Do you think that’s …

JL: You mean, the what do they call them, political action warriors?

GG: Social justice warriors?

JL: Social justice warriors. Right. No, that’s crazy. That too has the same Jesse Jackson concept that you can’t be not racist if you’re black, you are racist if you’re white, no matter what.

GG: You mean you can’t be racist if you’re black.

JL: You can’t be racist if you’re black, yeah. I don’t like that. There was a time when things were more natural.

GG: How do you mean more natural?

JL: People didn’t think about who was black, necessarily. There wasn’t a time in the mass media, like if you look at old Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, those shows where Sammy [Davis Jr.] is … any joke directed at Sammy would have to do with him being black, but there was a time … I was the roommate of a guy who was the father of Chaka Khan, and I dunno, the black thing didn’t come up much at all.

GG: Are you saying that that was healthier?

JL: Yeah, I think.

GG: Are you of the opinion that there’s no subject that’s off limits to satire and humor?

JL: Yes. What would be one?

GG: Oh, the Holocaust. [Laughs.] Racism. There’s a lot that today could be …

JL: I’ve never seen a good Holocaust denier gag. The guy who shot Rockwell was a cartoonist, but he wasn’t that good. His stuff wasn’t that funny.

GG: That could be something to strive for. A good Holocaust denier gag. Do you remember Lenny Bruce’s famous skit?

JL: “Six Million Jews Found Alive in Argentina”?

GG: Yeah, yeah.

JL: Well, that’s okay.

GG: That’s pretty inspired.

JL: The opposite of what were traditional National Inquirer headlines of the day. Yeah, that’s the thing about The Realist Cartoons book, the context of a lot of the gags is always forgotten.

 

Election 2016

 

GG: Well, I have one last question at the moment, which is, what was your reaction to the election?

JL: Well, first of all, I never signed anything that said that I agree to be governed. It’s not my election, I don’t care about this crap. The political system is corrupt. It’s just a bunch of people who decided that they would govern the others and take their money. And I don’t want any part of it, and it doesn’t matter if it’s Trump or Hillary or who, it’s a bunch of evil opportunists who want to take the wealth of everyone else. And I don’t care about electing somebody so I have to buy them a new shirt every day. It’s not part of anything that has to do with the reality of things, except when everybody agrees on it and it is. But I don’t agree on it, so I don’t really care.

GG: Did you care whether or not it would be Trump or Clinton?

JL: They were both terrible.

GG: [Hesitating] True, but was one more terrible than the other? Does that matter to you?

JL: I thought Hillary might’ve been more terrible than Trump.

GG: Really?

JL: All of those murders, and …

GG: In what way?

JL: The whole drug thing in Arkansas, and various people she had bumped off.

GG: Oh, you believe that, huh?

JL: Yeah. What’s not to believe?

GG: Well, you’re not referring to Vince Foster, right?

JL: To who?

GG: Vince Foster?

JL: I don’t know. No, not especially, but a lot of people. I think it’s interesting that whenever the newspapers do a survey of who the most admired American is, it’s always the worst opportunistic piece of scum. [Groth laughs.] And what do they think, do they think, “Oh yeah, you scum. You’ll screw everybody, but you’ll take care of me.” But he won’t.

GG: Well, there’s something rancid about the American character that appreciates that kind of predatory mentality. Admires it. I think that’s because we’re such an opportunistic, predatory culture. We’ve championed that in modern life. The ultimate opportunists.

JL: I don’t know, but as you get older it seems like it’s easier.

GG: Easier … ?

JL: To make a living. If you just live long enough, people respect you.

GG: Oh, I see. Right, right, right. It’s like what John Huston said in Chinatown.

JL: What?

GG: I think he was referring to whores and buildings, that they get respectable if they last long enough.

JL: Oh, yeah.

 

Jay Lynch, Painter

 

GG: Now, I understand recently, or at least in the last ten years, you have been doing commissioned paintings …

JL: I do paintings and I auction them off.

GG: Can you talk a little about that? Do you do recreations of underground covers or your characters or what?

JL: No, I just do paintings that are kind of in that style. I just paint what I feel like painting and then I sell it on eBay. I’ve done about a hundred of ’em. Actually, I have scans of all of them, but they’re in four parts. Somebody’s gotta put them together, my Photoshop program doesn’t work for that.

GG: What medium do you use?

JL: Acrylic.

GG: And how long have you been doing this?

JL: Well, I’ve been doing painting since … Did you see the Antiques Roadshow painting of mine they had?

GG: I don’t think I did.

JL: If you [search] “Jay Lynch” plus “Antiques Roadshow,” some guy found a painting I did in 1965 in a dumpster, and he brings it in and they estimated it as $7,000. The video is on the web somewhere. It’s like that section of Antiques Roadshow where they go over the painting. But yeah, I did it in ’64, ’65 and I guess I pretty much always did it, except I didn’t do it in the ’70s. But it did it most other decades.

Lynch’s painting that appeared on Antiques Roadshow.

GG: And you’ve been doing these painting that you sell on eBay for how long?

JL: Since we have had eBay.

GG: So at least a decade or so, I guess. You must have quite a few.

JL: Yeah, probably a hundred. And then there’s ones that I never saved a copy of from the ’60s …

GG: And you did these basically to sell? Not to …

JL: In the ’60s? Well, I went to art school and we had to do paintings, and I just always did paintings.

GG: Do you still have those?

JL: No. I know I still have some. Well, there’s the Roadshow one. And Arnie Winograd, who was the vice president of Pabst, bought one that was a really important one. You know Sue Williams?

GG: Yeah.

JL: It’s kind of like what Sue Williams now does. So Arnie Winograd bought it, and this was in about 1967, and he got divorced, his wife Verna Winograd has it — she’s a real estate agent, I think in San Francisco now. I think she still has it, but maybe they just left it in their garage. Maybe they just bought it to be polite, I don’t know. And there’s one that Rufus Diamont has. But most of them I don’t know where they are.

GG: I’m looking at your Antiques Roadshow painting right now [Antiques Roadshow video playing in background].

JL: It’s oil, so the oil is intrinsically worth more.

GG: And were you on LSD when you did this?

JL: Not when I painted it, but during that time, yeah. Outside from the school was a Billboard for this guy Woods who was running for Sheriff, and I showed him and his family. So that’s what the painting is.

GG: Was this a significant source of income for you, in the last decade or so?

JL: No. I don’t know, maybe $600 each.

GG: Oh, not $6,000.

JL: No. Well, some. I did one of Wacky Packages for some guy for $5,000. All the Wacky Packages characters.

But Wacky Packages are like a negative … If it’s Wacky Packages, you can buy it for 20 bucks. If it’s underground comics, it’s more. There’s a bunch of stuff up now on Heritage, from Eric Sack’s auction. So he sold the initial stuff, but most people don’t know that they continue to sell his stuff of mine and Crumb’s. They do. Some pages sell for $5,000 and one page — the back cover of the Speed Freak Mask from Bijou #4 — sold for $500. So $500 now is like $50 in 1968. But eventually, everything that is made by hand will be valuable.

One of Lynch’s Wacky Packages.

GG: And you have most but not all of your paintings that you —

JL: No, I have none.

GG: No, I mean you scanned them or took photographs of them or something?

JL: Yes, since the advent of computers I scanned them all.

GG: Billy Ireland is getting all those scans?

JL: Yeah. Billy Ireland has all my photos too, they just haven’t organized them yet.

GG: Does Billy Ireland come to your place and pick things up? Or how does that work?

JL: A year ago, they came and looked at everything and took 25 percent of it. There’s a lot that they don’t know what it is — like I have [Antonio] Prohías’s newspaper Zig-Zag Libre from the days of the Bay of Pigs. So it’s just like Prohías’s political cartoons. And no one has it, the Cuban Museum doesn’t have it. But I have these, and I’ll explain to them what it is. And then Spiegelman and I are in there doing cartoons when we were kids — once, we were each in it once. And I have every rough for every Garbage Pail Kid I ever devised. I never threw anything away.

GG: That’s good.

JL: They don’t know why I have it. Like the Jay Ward stuff. I was in touch with Jay Ward, I wrote an article on Jay Ward for Wild. And Jay Ward sent me all this publicity stuff that was intended for the newspapers. So I have that, but their explanation of why I have it doesn’t seem to indicate that I have anything other than the common publicity stuff that everyone was allowed to see. But I guess if someone studied all this, it would be clear.

GG: Well, you can bet that academics are going to be studying it.

 

Facing Mortality

 

GG: Are you willing to talk about your medical condition?

JL: Yeah, although I don’t have any final, authoritative information. It is lung cancer and it is malignant, and there isn’t a cure. And it’s — what do you call it — a lymph node thing. Lymph nodes. So at first they said, “Well, you might live five weeks,” and that struck fear into me to get the chemo and radiation. Then they said, “Well, you could live two years,” and they said, “Well, you could live five years,” and they said, “Well, you could live five weeks.” But I don’t have anything in writing on this. I don’t have a diagnosis in writing, just what a doctor wrote when I demanded it when I was in his presence. So it’s small cell lung cancer.

GG: Can I ask when you were diagnosed?

JL: Around Thanksgiving [2016].

GG: And that came as a surprise, I assume.

JL: Well, I had a shortness of breath, so that was debilitating because I couldn’t breathe. So I went to the hospital, and they kept me for a week and gave me all kinds of tests and told me this. So now it’s better in that I can breathe, but I’m very weak and everything I do takes about five times as long. Like tying my shoes takes ten minutes.

GG: Are you undergoing chemo and radiation?

JL: Yeah. I have had nine radiations and two chemos so far.

GG: That’s pretty brutal stuff.

JL: Yeah. The chemo takes away your taste for food. So I have to eat, but I experience nothing resembling hunger. So it’s on my list.

GG: Eating?

JL: Yeah, yeah.

GG: Well, I guess that frees you from the burden of wanting flavorful food. Well, I’m sorry to hear that. It has all kinds of horrible side effects, doesn’t it?

JL: Yeah.

GG: Well, I have to say, it seems to me, based on the limited conversations we’ve had that you’ve been dealing with this with enormous equanimity. How, if I can ask, do you cope with that, philosophically?

Lynch’s satirical take on the afterlife.

 

JL: What is, is. I leave my body, I become one with the universe, then I come back in tiny segments. Not necessarily as a human or animal, or even anything that exists in our reality, but infinity is a vast thing. Ever since I was a kid I always wanted a certain degree of immortality that in our system represents being able to talk to unborn generations, and that being through the printed word. So I got that as good as I can, I don’t think I have anything really to say.

GG: Well, now is that true or do you feel that your criticism of American society through your satire is something that you feel that needs to be said?

JL: I don’t know.

GG: Do you feel satisfied with what you’ve accomplished?

JL: I don’t know. It will be interesting. Well, you know, like during the days of LSD when you leave your body you realize that near-death experiences — even before LSD — there’s a point where nothing matters, and then again everything matters. But, you know, it’s there, it’s hip. I don’t know how to articulate it.

GG: Well, I can’t imagine that there’s anything more powerful than facing death.

JL: True. [Laughs.] I don’t know.

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Ticket Here http://www.tcj.com/ticket-here/ http://www.tcj.com/ticket-here/#respond Wed, 08 Mar 2017 13:00:01 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99123 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, we bring you an interview with the late Jay Lynch by Gary Groth, conducted in the last few months of Lynch’s life. It allows a glimpse into a life led in multiple areas of cultures and small publishing, and the kind of knowledge that only a certain kind of cartoonist of a certain generation has access to.

GG: Well, one thing you have said was that when you worked for The Seed, and by the way, was that an anarchist periodical?

JL: It started as such, but it kind of evolved into one of those permission-seeking “legalize marijuana” kind of papers. And that never interested me, that attitude.

GG: Why would that not interest you? I mean, would you not want to see marijuana legalized?

JL: I would. But the way to do it isn’t to beg for it. The way to do it is to just, everybody smoke marijuana and if that happens all of a sudden it will be legal.

GG: So you’re opposed to the strategy.

JL: Yeah. Well, it started as a … There were surrealist papers in Chicago, and it started off as a spinoff of those. But then it evolved into a political thing.

GG: Now I think you mentioned that you ran afoul of their political doctrine, where they rejected work by you because it was not politically pure. Did you experience a lot of that? You said at one point that hippies don’t have a sense of humor.

JL: With The Seed, yeah. Once I ran a cover with a man thinking of a woman wearing a brassiere, a pointy brassiere. And that was sexist to them. But it ran in the Madison-Milwaukee Bugle-Americanas the cover, they printed in. But The Seed lost all of my art and all of Crumb’s art, and when they printed it they’d print it in purple ink, so you couldn’t really reproduce from what they’d printed. It was kind of … If a free press and the free exchange of ideas is the goal, it wasn’t that. It was: “This is sexist. This is not good for the revolution.”

GG: Have you become more sympathetic to that point of view, sexism and racism as unpalatable sources of humor? How do you feel about that?

JL: Well I think what he did wasn’t really racist, but it was a mockery of racism. And I think it’s good what we did, because there was a reverse discrimination type thing going on. When I worked for Renewal [magazine], we ran a — Jerry Farber was the guy’s name — article called “Student as Nigger,” which compared college students protesting against the war to Negroes working within the system during protests in the ’50s. So for the illustration to that I drew a guy that was split in half, and one half was a student wearing a tweed jacket with patches and carrying schoolbooks and having a beard — all the clichés of what was a student then. The other half was a plantation Negro holding a watermelon, and that was the analogy that was in the article. But even the editor of Renewal at the time made me change the whole watermelon-carrying half to a Negro with a black suit on, like Sidney Poitier. So there was a taboo, but it meant that all black people had to be Sidney Poitier. Like there was a big outcry against Amos ’n’ Andy, but really Amos ’n’ Andy is just The Honeymooners but they’re black. It’s not like the janitor Lightnin’ represents all characters in the thing, any more than Ed Norton represents all white men. So as a reaction to the overly sensitive depiction of blacks in the liberal media, I think that’s what I did and that’s what Angelfood McSpade kind of was.

Elsewhere:

Here’s more Jay Lynch.

Historian (and author of Lynch’s TCJ obituary) Patrick Rosenkranz:

A lengthy clip related to his fanzine collaborator, Don Doehler:

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Wham http://www.tcj.com/wham/ http://www.tcj.com/wham/#respond Tue, 07 Mar 2017 13:00:53 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99228 Continue reading ]]> As is usual on Tuesdays, Joe McCulloch is here with his usual indispensable guide to the Week in Comics, listing and commenting upon the best-sounding comics new to stores. This week’s spotlight picks include new books by MariNaomi and Kazuto Tatsuta.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. Eleanor Davis writes about her recent experience with citizen lobbying.

Previously, citizen lobbying had felt impossible to me; but after making a hundred phone calls and speaking up at rallies and commission meetings, it didn’t seem like such a big deal. I realized that just because people who disagree with me might tell me I am wrong or confused, it doesn’t actually mean I am wrong or confused. I realized I don’t think it’s wrong to irritate people or waste their time when they are actively trying to dismantle or deport everything I love about my country. I realized that whenever I wasn’t busy fighting for what I believed in, I was busy feeling very, very bad.

Hazel Cills writes about the Raymond Pettibon exhibit up in NYC.

While many still see Pettibon as the unofficial creative director of hardcore, the irony is that even as he was creating this aesthetic back in the ’70s, he was often simultaneously critiquing it. “I mean, what the fuck is a battle to punk rockers? Against long hair?” he later recalled in an interview with BOMB Magazine in 1999. “Jesus. It’s a really decadent mockery, when you think of it.” A plaque at the New Museum exhibition inside a display case of Black Flag flyers assures visitors that “most of his actual illustrations of punks were less than flattering,” and notes for the record that Pettibon’s visuals were usually not made by collaborating with the musicians. At the time, hardcore punk was a hypermasculine scene; loud, angry at seemingly everything, and ready to pummel each other in the pit, its true believers were a direct counter to the long-haired, peace-and-love hippie culture of the previous decade. Yet Pettibon’s cover art for Black Flag’s 1981 Six Pack EP depicts a man cowering in the corner, blood all over the floor, as if to mysteriously warn fans about the dangers of attending one of their shows.

At Savage Critics, Abhay Khosla has a huge multipart review of Marvel’s Civil War II.

At this point, the question of whether or not Bendis has written a “good comic” is especially meaningless. They made a Netflix show of one of his comics that won a fucking Peabody, and he got to go to the Peabody’s (!). This life’s a game, and that dude’s played the game well, man. (And I think he’s deserved his success– he worked very hard for it, anyways.)

So now that he’s had this whole career, whether one comic is good or not doesn’t seem all that Life-or-Death. But what strikes me as interesting is you can now see this entire career of him exploring and reexploring particular themes and go “oh how does this fit into that“…

More specifically, Bendis’s career-long obsession is characters negotiating situations where the Old Systems don’t work anymore– characters either choosing to redefine themselves because of their exhaustion with the old status quo, or having new status quos thrust upon them.

Neil Gaiman writes about Will Eisner.

I bought my first copy of The Spirit in 1975, in a basement comics shop in south London. I saw it hanging on a wall and knew that, whatever it was, I wanted it. I would have been about 14. Reading it on the train home, I had no idea that the stories I was reading were 30 years old. They were fresher and smarter than anything I’d seen in comics – stories that somehow managed to leave out everything that wasn’t the story, while telling wonderful tales of beautiful women and unfortunate men, of human fallibility and of occasional redemption, stories through which the Spirit would wander, bemused and often beaten up, a McGuffin in a mask and hat. I loved The Spirit then. I loved the choices that Will made, the confidence, the way the art and the story meshed. I read those stories and I wanted to write comics, too.

—News. Vanessa Davis has won The Paris Review‘s Terry Southern Prize.

This year’s Southern Prize will be presented by the filmmaker Todd Solondz to Vanessa Davis for her series “Summer Hours,” a comic in eight parts that began last June on the Daily.

—Interviews. Betsy Gomez talks to Ariel Schrag about the recent school challenge to her Stuck in the Middle anthology.

I’ve read a lot of middle-grade and young adult prose fiction, and I know that Stuck in the Middle is fairly tame compared to much of what is currently available in school libraries. Many books written for middle school-aged kids tackle similar subjects and use realistic language and scenarios. Stuck in the Middle is targeted because, being a graphic novel, it’s visual and the content is more immediately recognized. For instance, if a parent has a problem with their child reading about someone being bullied, they would have to spend more time reading through the prose of a novel to find the objectionable section, whereas opening up a comic to a drawing of a kid calling another kid a name can be recognized instantly. Comics also have a history of being considered “low brow” or “corrupting,” so despite the high caliber of the artists and work in Stuck in the Middle, people sometimes bring this prejudice to the book.

The most recent guest on Process Party is Joe Decie.

—Misc. 2dcloud has launched a Kickstarter to crowdfund their spring 2017 lineup, which includes new work by Maggie Umber and Sarah Ferrick and the Sean T. Collins/Julia Gfrörer-edited issue of Mirror Mirror.

We’ve been using Kickstarter as a mechanism for pre-orders and curated book bundles since 2010. This is our 9th Kickstarter, and it’s how we keep the lights on. We’re selling these book at less than retail cost and giving you a closer connection with us as a label and with our authors. Which we think is cool. Help us bring these works into the world

Chester Brown and Dave Sim have been arguing about prostitution and misogyny and petitions again.

According to Dave [Sim, he never considered me his friend, and] this was his reason for hanging out with me regularly:

“I [thought] it was worth maintaining communication for the sake of Canadian Cartooning Posterity.”

He wasn’t my friend, he was fraternizing with me for the sake of Canadian Cartooning Posterity? Perhaps that’s so, but I do remember Dave saying that he was my friend. Perhaps he was using the word ironically. At the time I assumed he was sincere because he certainly acted like a friend. I was sincere in being Dave’s friend. I genuinely like the guy.

Kevin Huizenga higlights a disturbingly plausible passage about how comics conquered the world from Jarrett Kobek’s I Hate the Internet.

—Not Comics. At Hyperallergic, Rob Colvin writes about “Like Art,” and how art has been influenced by social media. It would be interesting to consider whether comics has been similarly affected.

It is art that looks very much like art you’ve already seen, that you know very well, and that you already like. […] It’s “the look for less,” with no greater aesthetic aspirations. It lives for heart taps, thumbs-up clicks, and space on people’s walls — digital or brick-and-mortar.

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (3/8/17 – The Patter of Rain on the Roof Brings Me Blessed Sleep) http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-3817-the-patter-of-rain-on-the-roof-brings-me-blessed-sleep/ http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-3817-the-patter-of-rain-on-the-roof-brings-me-blessed-sleep/#comments Tue, 07 Mar 2017 13:00:06 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99211 Continue reading ]]>

Desperate moments from Cloud Stories, a long-gestating self-published work from artist K. Thor Jensen; I backed a Kickstarter campaign for the project in 2013, though I can find references to the title as early as 2007, the year Alternative Comics released his first book, Red Eye, Black Eye, an anecdotal memoir. Cloud Stories is quite different – its 216 pages encompass everything from poetry to fantasy to superheroes, nonfiction, wordless flights of drawing… all linked by the presence of clouds. Also, there is a gritty sci-fi crime story titled “Vape”, which inevitably is what I have excerpted above. What will vaping be like in the near-future? Dangerous. Vaping will be the most dangerous game, one we are all going to lose. This and more, available to non-backers through Amazon at the moment.

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PLEASE NOTE: What follows is not a series of capsule reviews but an annotated selection of items listed by Diamond Comic Distributors for release to comic book retailers in North America on the particular Wednesday identified in the column title above. Be aware that some of these comics may be published by Fantagraphics Books, the entity which also administers the posting of this column, and that I also run a podcast with an employee of Nobrow Press. Not every listed item will necessarily arrive at every comic book retailer, in that some items may be delayed and ordered quantities will vary. I have in all likelihood not read any of the comics listed below, in that they are not yet released as of the writing of this column, nor will I necessarily read or purchase every item identified; THIS WEEK IN COMICS! reflects only what I find to be potentially interesting. You could always just buy nothing.

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SPOTLIGHT PICKS!

I Thought YOU Hated ME: Retrofit/Big Planet has been on a run lately with long-short comics, somewhere south of 100 pages. The other week we had Anya Davidson’s Lovers in the Garden, and now we’ve got this 64-page piece by MariNaomi, experienced purveyor of autobiographical comics. A series of comic-strip vignettes covering three decades, the book surveys “female friendship,” vowing to avoid “stale tropes like acrimonious competition or fighting over boys,” as the publisher puts it. Landscape format, 9.5″ x 7″; $9.00.

Ichi-F: A Worker’s Graphic Memoir of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant: Kodansha Whoa, look at that cover – surely this is one manga that’s shooting for the general graphic novel audience. I actually saw some of this when it was serialized in Kodansha’s line-leading weekly seinen magazine, Morning, starting in 2013; at the time I wondered if artist Kazuto Tatsuta wasn’t a former assistant on Golgo 13, given that he draws eyebrows in much the same manner. As it turns out, he’s an amateur artist who found himself with a lot of free time after absorbing the maximum advisable radiation while working cleanup at Fukushima Daiichi following that much-covered disaster. The result of his labor was a highly-successful entry in one of Kodansha’s new artist competitions, and ultimately this 536-page comics memoir, a detail-oriented account of what the day-to-day affairs are like on such a heavy vocation. Though the work occupies three volumes in Japanese, I believe this Kodansha USA softcover should collect everything; $24.99.

PLUS!

California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot Before The Mamas & the Papas: Sometimes it feels like these biographical comics are liable to usurp ‘people with their clothes off in the future’ as the most readily stereotyped iteration of French comics in English; obviously there’s a lot of stuff to choose from. This week’s entry comes courtesy of First Second and artist Pénélope Bagieu, who saw the work published in French in 2015. Across 272 b&w pages, we follow the future Mama Cass as she navigates the entertainment scene of the ’60s bereft of the kind of looks favored of star performers. A hardcover release; $24.99.

Sky Doll: Sudra #1 (of 2): On the other hand – there’s always a place for this. The creation of Disney Italia artists Alessandro Barbucci & Barbara Canepa — the former draws, the latter colors, both write — Sky Doll blends religious and social satire with far-future concepts and a not-inconsiderable amount of cheesecake in a manner long-favored by American consumers of BD, though since it’s the 21st century the visual approach also strives to approximate a heavily candied feature anime aesthetic. I’ve kind of lost track of the various side-stories and whatnot, but this is the long-delayed fourth album in the ‘main’ series (another colorist, Cyrille Bertin, is now involved), released in French just last year and presented in English by Titan initially here as a small comic book miniseries; $3.99.

Nightlights (&) Street Tiger #1: Two comics from artists with which I’m unfamiliar, selected mainly on the character of the art. Nightlights is a 64-page Nobrow hardcover from Colombian illustrator Lorena Alvarez. A debut comic, the very lushly-colored story concerns a little girl who makes a new, possibly supernatural friend. Street Tiger is the comic book-format work of Madrid’s Ertito Montana, “a violent, revenge thriller” about a helmeted killer told in a very gestural format. An Amigo Comics release, this edition colorizes the work from a 2015 black, white and red format; $18.95 (Nightlights), $3.99 (Tiger).

Man-Thing #1 (of 5): Marvel has not given up on securing celebrity writers for their comics, and so we now have a new swamp monster miniseries scripted by juvenile horror impresario R.L. Stine of Goosebumps fame. Note, however, that Stine dates back a lot further than that, having edited the youth magazine Bananas at Scholastic in the ’70s and ’80s (where his wife was a colleague of future DC publisher Jenette Kahn), at one point collaborating with a young Stephen R. Bissette. The artist here is German Peralta (of various Marvel projects over the last few years), colored by Rachelle Rosenberg. Preview; $3.99.

The Manara Library Vol. 1: Indian Summer and Other Stories SC: Finally, if you’ve been enjoying those Corto Maltese collections over at IDW, but you just wish there was a little more… Milo Manara involved, Dark Horse has you covered with this new softcover edition of its first Manara omnibus, notably containing Manara’s & Pratt’s titular 1987 collaboration, an (imo) hugely uneasy blend of 17th century familial drama and glossy sexuality/violence. I actually enjoyed the backup album more, 1982’s The Paper Man, a solo Manara reflection on cowboy fiction that speaks to genre devices perhaps more relevant to European comic readers than us children of different market forces. Translated throughout by the late Kim Thompson; $29.99.

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Um Tut Sut http://www.tcj.com/um-tut-sut/ http://www.tcj.com/um-tut-sut/#respond Mon, 06 Mar 2017 12:20:53 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99127 Continue reading ]]> The pioneering cartoonist, historian, and satirist Jay Lynch has passed away. Aside from being an incredibly funny, dextrous cartoonist, he was, as a teenager, an important part of mimeograph fandom, as an adult, the crucial part of the underground press, and later still, a longtime contributor to Topps bubblegum cards. His was truly a career and life in art that will never exist again. 

Our coverage of Jay Lynch’s life and times is in three parts:

-Patrick Rosenkranz has written an obituary.

-Gary Groth conducted the artist’s final interview (this will run in the next couple of days).

-And we’ve republished his long out-of-print 1987 TCJ interview.

Rest in peace, Jay.

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The Jay Lynch Interview, 1987 http://www.tcj.com/the-jay-lynch-interview-1987/ http://www.tcj.com/the-jay-lynch-interview-1987/#comments Mon, 06 Mar 2017 12:20:40 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98304 Continue reading ]]> From The Comics Journal #114 (February 1987) 

Jay Lynch held down the Chicago end of the underground comics movement. Bijou’s Funnies, which he edited, was second only to Zap as an underground anthology. Bijou’s

, and Rory Hayes. The best-remembered issue was probably the full-color #8, which featured a cover by Harvey Kurtzman and parodies of underground comics in the manner of the early Mad.

            Lynch was born in East Orange, New Jersey, in 1945 and studied at the Art Institute of Chicago. A compulsive cartoonist since early childhood, his first published work appeared in Don Dohler’s fanzine Wild (as did Williamsons). While at the Art Institute his cartoons appeared in the notorious college humor magazines Aardvark and Charleton. By 1965 he had appeared in the “Public Gallery” section of Kurtzman’s Help! and had written for Cracked.

            With the rise of the underground press in the late ’60s, Lynch moved on to the Chicago Seed newspaper where he introduced his most famous characters, Nard and Pat. In 1967 he and Williamson started an underground magazine called the Chicago Mirror. Crumb’s Zap inspired them to abandon the Mirror and start an underground comic book, which they named Bijou, after the movie theatre.

            In order to confound crank phone callers angered by his cartoons, he began signing himself “Jayzey” Lynch. This seemingly transparent subterfuge was enough to baffle lower primates such as Chicago Tribune readers, who didn’t associate “Jayzey” with “Jay” in the phone book. Lynch’s cartoons mix an attractive crosshatch style reminiscent of the ’30s “bigfoot” cartoonists with contemporary themes. His most famous cartoons feature the conflicts between the conservative wallflower Nard and his bohemian ne’er-do-well cat, Pat. Two Nard ‘n’ Pat collections have been published by Kitchen Sink (the first was originally published by Cartoonists’ Co-Op Press). With Gary Whitney he did the syndicated alternate-paper strip Phoebe and the Pigeon People, three collections of which were also published by Kitchen Sink. This interview was conducted en masse by Lynch’s pals and associates Richard “Grass” Green, Craig Yoe, and Jackie Lait. It was transcribed by Tom Heintjes, former managing editor of the Journal.

 

 

 

GRASS GREEN: You were born in January 1945, right?

JAY LYNCH: Yep. With a Rapidograph in my hand, screaming and crying for 3-ply Strathmore.

CRAIG YOE: And your father was a cartoonist?

LYNCH: My father did cartoons for his army base newspaper. There are a few printed samples of his stuff that I have that have survived over the years.

YOE: So in what ways did he encourage you?

LYNCH: He didn’t really encourage me that I can recall. He was in the Army, and I was born at the end of World War II. Then he was discharged, and he and my mother and I lived in a dressing room of a burlesque theatre in Asbury Park, New Jersey, for a while. Burlesque was dying, so the theatre had a number of not-being-used dressing rooms, and they were requisitioned by the government and designated as veteran’s housing. Soon I wound up living with my grandmother, though. My parents got divorced, and I haven’t seen my father since 1947 or ’48. I have the impression, though, that maybe my mother may have encouraged my cartooning on account of the fact that my father was into it.

GREEN: Can you remember your first drawing?

LYNCH: No, but I can remember an early drawing experience. When I was 2 … maybe 3 years old, I saw a crack in the sidewalk in front of a vacant lot. The crack kind of vaguely looked like Mickey Mouse, so I went home and got my crayon and enhanced it so that it looked more like that affable rodent in the Disney cartoons. Then I hid in the bushes and watched and listened as passersby stopped to discuss this artistically enhanced sidewalk crack among themselves. As people walked by they’d say “Aah! What a clever young child it must have been that did this, y’know?” So I enjoyed hiding in the bushes and listening to their critiques a lot more than I enjoyed the physical act of doing the drawing.

YOE: Is that the appeal of cartooning for you? The audience reaction part of it as opposed to the actual doing of it? Has that changed over the years, or does that maintain a constant?

LYNCH: Oh, I definitely like the audience reaction part a lot more than the doing of it. But the doing of it has become much more mechanical — much more automatic to me over the years. It’s not something I sweat and suffer over so much as I did when I was a youth.

JACKIE LAIT: Zen, eh?

LYNCH: Yeah. Like maybe 25 years or so ago Jackie and I — and all of our friends back then — we’d hang out at coffee houses and discuss the way of Zen all the time. By the mid-60s I was so OD’ed on Zen talk — I remember when I got married then, my wife of that era wouldn’t let Jackie, or any of my Zen pals in the house. So we stopped out constant discussions of Zen, but …

LAIT: But then years later it turned out that we’d all unconsciously internalized it, and …

LYNCH: C’mon Jackie man. Let’s not get into a Zen discussion here. We gotta talk comics.

LAIT: Spider-Man, Schneiderman, The Blue Beetle, The Green Hornet, The Yellow Discharge …

YOE: So what you’re saying is that Zen helped you in …

LYNCH: In making the act of drawing a cartoon a lot more automatic. Yeah.

GREEN: But in the final analysis, you’re seeking praise and approval from others more than just the enjoyment of putting lines on paper. Right?

LYNCH: Well, I’m seeking to communicate with others, yeah. It doesn’t matter if it’s praise, approval, or anger — or total hatred of what I do on the audience’s part. As long as it gets some kind of reaction that makes it permanent.

YOE: What kind of things are you seeking to communicate?

LYNCH: Probably the same thing that everybody seeks to communicate: that everyone should be like me, and that it’d be a better world if they were.

YOE: What is Jay Lynch like?

LYNCH: Well — uh — I never killed anybody. That’s good.

GREEN: But in terms of — like — what would be the moral of your work?

LAIT: That’s a heavy “Q,” Lynchboy! What’s the “A”?

LYNCH: I dunno. Probably that I think that people should think about the consequences of their actions — be responsible for their behavior. I think that would be the moral of my stuff.

YOE: Do you think all cartooning does, or should have a message to it?

LYNCH: No, but I think that the readers should accept it for what it is. I mean — there are two kinds of stories, or comic strips. And even in non-fiction — there are two kinds of communication. First, there’s the “cautionary tale,” which is like. … A mother will tell her kid, “If you’re going outside, wear a scarf. There was a little kid up the street who went out — and he didn’t wear a scarf, and he got pneumonia and died!” Now that might not necessarily be a true story, but it’s a pretty basic example of a yarn that has a message that gets to the kid, so that the kid will know to wear his scarf. It’s a cautionary tale. Many superstitions are just Readers’ Digest version of what once were longer cautionary tales. “Don’t walk under a ladder if there’s a can of paint resting on top of it. On account of maybe you’ll jostle the ladder, and the can of paint will fall on your head.” This original story then becomes shortened to the superstition: “Don’t walk under a ladder.” A few hundred years went by, and some iconoclast sees a ladder, and since the superstition makes no sense to him he defiantly walks under it. Then “Splat!,” a can of paint falls on his head. Now the cat knows why he shouldn’t walk under a ladder, and he can tell his descendants about it, and the cycle repeats itself.

GREEN: And what’s the other method of communication?

LYNCH: The other method is the “I’m screwed up, and I want you to be screwed up” approach. I think most, if not all, communication breaks down into these two categories. But usually the author is unconscious of it.

YOE: And your own personal cartooning, which of these two methods does it fall into?

LYNCH: Well, I’m only human. I admit some of it over the years probably falls into the latter. But originally it was my idea that all of my stuff should have a didactic purpose behind it.

YOE: When you say “originally,” how far back were you conscious in your own work that this is what you wanted it to be?

LYNCH: I guess I first started to think about it in ’63 or so. We were doing a college humor magazine called Aardvark back then. Once we had a meeting and we decided at the meeting that everything in the mag should have didactic purpose. That idea was soon abandoned by the Aardvark staff. I think we did one or two “didactic purpose” issues, and then that was that. I dunno, though. I never really abandoned that idea. Last year I wrote a comic book version of the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie Commando. Hilary Barta drew it. It comes with the Commando six-and-a-half-inch Action Figure toy. While I was writing it, I kept thinking, “Well, at least I don’t have to do Rambo.” At least it’s a movie where — I mean in Commando, they do kidnap some guy’s daughter, so maybe he might be justified in killing everyone in sight, but …

LAIT: So is that hypocrisy on your part or what?

LYNCH: I hope not. I hate hypocrisy. But after the comic book came I gave $25 to The Great Peace March. I’ll still probably rot in hell, but …

LAIT: But doing this Commando comic book was a commercial job. In terms of your own work — the stuff you have total control over. … What are the main ideas that you want to espouse?

LYNCH: My main holy cause is that there should be a free exchange of ideas. So, getting back to the two types of communication I was talking about, I think that both categories should have the right to see print.

YOE: You were one of the founding fathers of the underground comix movement. Which of the two categories of fiction did the work generated by the underground cartoonists fall into? Didactic or nihilistic?

LYNCH: The underground comix movement more or less started with the publication of Robert Crumb’s Zap Comix in 1967. If the underground comix did anything good, it was that they opened up the field of publishing to a non-censorship type of situation. Whereas, before you couldn’t buy Henry Miller’s work here in the U.S. James Joyce’s Ulysses was banned here until a lengthy court trial, at the publisher’s expense. There was a climate in this country where ideas could be stifled. Usually the fact that these books or publications had a sexual tone to them was an excuse to prosecute the publishers, ostensibly for pornography — but in reality for other ideas that the power structure may have found threatening.

Nard N’ Pat #1 (April 1978)

 

GREEN: Such as?

LYNCH: Well, for instance, there was an issue of Playboy in 1962 or ’63 that was removed from the stands here in Chicago because it had a nude pictorial on Jayne Mansfield. Supposedly the Mansfield pictorial was considered obscene by the local authorities, and that was the reason that this particular issue of Playboy was removed from the stands in Chicago. Now up to that point, every issue of Playboy had naked women in it — and it was hard for me to imagine at the time how come this particular nude pictorial was any different in the eyes of the local law. But in fact, this same issue of Playboy also had editorial material in it which criticized the administration of Mayor Daley — which is something they’d never done up to that point — so this is the one local authorities chose to jump on. The reason given was that the magazine was pornographic because of the Mansfield pics. The real reason is that the mag was critical of the Daley administration.

YOE: So you feel that underground comix then, had a direct impact upon publishing in the United States, and upon opening up more freedom for exchange of ideas?

LYNCH: Yeah. But what I thought was that after the press was open to this, we’d have ten times as many Henry Millers and James Joyces and Nabakovs. And what happened is that after it was open, the public did not especially want that — and what we got was Larry Flynt.

YOE: So, if you had it to do over again would you do it, and if so, how would you approach it differently?

LYNCH: I would have done the same thing. Regrets, I have a few. But then again, too few to mention.

GREEN: One thing I’d like to cover here is your aversion to super-heroes, which I know about since I’ve known you for so long. You didn’t even have a thing for the super-heroes comics when you were a kid? Most kids idolize Superman. I know I did. But you didn’t.

LYNCH: It’s not only super-heroes that I didn’t care for. I didn’t care for Western stuff, and I don’t think much of barbarians.

GREEN: No Westerns? That’s un-American!

LYNCH: I remember once, this kid came over to my house. This fellow kid, this was in 1950 or so. And the Lone Ranger was on TV. I never watched the Lone Ranger. To me it was silly and boring. The Lone Ranger was on opposite a panel show hosted by Conrad Nagel called Leave It to the Girls. This is what I preferred to watch. One of the panelists was Eloise Mackelhone. I guess she was an author or something. So I would watch this show to look at Eloise Mackelhone. She was cute. I enjoyed watching her and listening to her opinions. Anyway, this kid came over — and he wanted to watch the Lone Ranger when could watch Eloise Mackelhone? I’ve never understood this.

GREEN: And super-hero comic books?

LYNCH: I just don’t have any interest in that genre. Just because they’re comic books doesn’t mean I’m interested in them. That’s the thing about the comic book business. When you say “movies” some people think of, say, Star Wars, and other people think of the Ingemar Bergman trilogy. Movies can be anything, but comic books gotta be super-heroes? No. This is wrong. It’s a medium that can’t realize it’s full potential until the public grows up and gets off this super-hero kick. The comic books I save are comic books that have to do mainly with humor. I mean, I like some super-hero type stuff by guys like Jack Cole and Will Eisner, but that stuff has a satirical edge to it. Mainly, though, the comics I save are the comics that relate to what I do.

GREEN: So when I said “aversion to super-heroes,” — Perhaps the right terminology in your case would be “apathy towards super-heroes.”

LYNCH: Well, it’s like this. … If I were involved in the writing or drawing of the super-hero type of comics, I’d be making money off of the promotion of idolatry. I’d be helping to create false gods. I’d be defying the. … See, it’s not that I’m religious in the usual sense of that term — in light of what it has come to mean to the sensibilities of Western culture, but … what you’re doing with satire is that you’re destroying idols. Satirical comics in that sense are the exact opposite of the books that elevate super-heroes as idols — the books that promote false gods. So in the Judeo-Christian ethical system, super-heroes are incorrect for me to draw. Satire is correct for me to draw. I have no interest in super-heroes.

YOE: But you have worked on super-hero related projects over the years.

LYNCH: I know. I could say it’s unavoidable in this business, but I could say anything I want. I know Stan Lee insists that all of the Marvel super-heroes have Achilles’ heels. They all have their weakness, and therefore, if I were to accept that rationale, the Marvel super-heroes are not true contenders for false-god status. In the late ’60s I wrote a lot of the gags used in the Topps Chewing Gum Marvel Super Heroes series of bubblegum stickers. The one that I remember — It’s a sticker of Captain America, and he says, “I think I’ll run up the flagpole and see if anybody salutes!” — which was a twist on a popular Madison Avenue advertising lingo cliché of the era. It was a gag, like all of the gags that I wrote for that series, that kind of mocks these super-hero figures just enough to make me feel I’m justified, and that I’m not promoting the idolization of these mindless might-is-right type characters. Not that I really thought that much about it in those terms while I was doing it, but …

“Little Creeps” comic (1981)

GREEN: So in order to write these gags about Marvel super-heroes, you must have read some of the comic books, then.

LYNCH: Yeah. In order to do that sticker series I had to read about a dozen Marvel comic books to familiarize myself with the characters. I remember reading those books was painful. It was very hard for me to follow the stories, but I had to. It was like reading F.D.A. regulations for lead content of ink used to print jar caps — or a book about upholstering or something. Those are too subjective to be good examples. What I mean to say is that to me these Marvel books were dull, and it was a major effort for me to get through them. But I know that the fans like them. That’s cool. I like to read the New England Journal of Medicine, which to most folks is plenty dull. ‘Nuff said.

GREEN: But the EC comics were drawn realistically, and …

LYNCH: And they were well written, and the stories had points to them, and I loved ‘em. The science fiction books from EC were great! And the war comics that Kurtzman did were great. EC is in a class by itself. These were more than comics. EC was great American literature. Before the EC books, when I was a real little kid, there was this show on the radio called The Witch’s Tale. I lived in Newark, at 721 Highland Avenue with my three aunts, who were teenagers at this time. We had a ritual for listening to this show. One of my aunts would put a big kitchen knife on top of the radio, just in case anybody tried to break into our apartment during the program. There was a witch that would introduce the dramatized stories, and she would call the audience “kiddies,” like, “you’ll like this little fable, kiddies.” To me, this show was the scariest thing that there was outside of the stuff that was going on in my own head. I really dug The Witch’s Tale — and later when the EC horror books came along, I enjoyed them in the same way. I mean, when I’d read the EC books, I’d hear the radio witch’s voice as the voice of the EC horror hostesses who did the narration in the comic books.

LAIT: You were a pretty famous baby, no?

LYNCH: Well, I was in a soap ad that was printed on the back cover of a newspaper Sunday supplement in the ’40s. In the ad I was naked — so I guess that did something to my psyche. I mean, I was nude in print before I could speak, and. … Hey! This is kind of an interesting cartoon related thing. The first picture of me in a baby parade in Asbury Park from a 1947 Pathé newsreel. The second is a World War II Dubout cartoon. The third is a early 1970s postcard by the Dutch cartoonist Evert Geradts. What does all this mean? No one knows!

LAIT: Your aunts were professional photographers?

LYNCH: Yeah — but don’t emasculate me, man. This interview goes in a mag for comic fans who are hard-pressed these days for positive role models! Anyway, then when I was about 2-and-a-half I cut off the tip of my finger playing with razor blades. They sewed it back on, but they hadda put this device on my arm to keep me from messing with my finger until it healed, and this put an end to my big-time modeling career.

LAIT: Yeah. You can see the bandages in this baby parade picture. So like, what does this mean? There are no accidents, man. At age 2-and-a-half by all rights you should have been passing from the oral to the anal stage of psychological development. But this razor blade finger shtick is indicative of some sicko acting out of a phallic stage castration-anxiety fantasy, wherein you …

LYNCH: Jackie, you know well and good that you’re crazier than I am, even. Cool it! Sometimes a finger is just a finger.

YOE: Speaking of crazy stuff, what was this magazine you did called Fanboy? The original Fanboy was done as a gag by me, Glenn Bray, Bob Armstrong, Jay Kinney, Cathy Goodall, Denis Kitchen, Alan Dodge, Justin Green, and a bunch of other folks. This was in 1974 or ’75. We did it as a gag. Glenn Bray only printed six or eight copies. They were Xeroxed. Then there were several other Xeroxed small printings of it. We all signed fake names. We just did it for kicks, but now it’s a priceless collectible.

GREEN: What comics did you read as a kid?

LYNCH: Well, my first vivid memory of really being blown away by a comic book story is … 1947 is the year. I remember looking at the pictures (this is before I could read) of a Vince Fago story in a book called Ding Dong Comics titled “The Callico Pup.” About 20 years ago I found a copy of this book. I located Fago — this was in 1967 — and he told me he was now into Zen. In the late ’60s he was doing these Zen cartoons and humorous verse books. He still is, I think. So, when I’m 2 years old in 1947, I remember laying on the couch drinking a baby bottle full of orange juice and marveling over this Callico Pup story. You can’t deny that the funny animals that Vince drew in the ’40s are cute — but there’s also something weird about them, there’s something vaguely maniacal in their half-moon shaped eyes. They stare into space — and. … I don’t know what it is, but there’s something that attracts me to the Fago funny animals even more than the Disney funny animals, or the Jack Bradbury funny animals. There is something about Fago’s stuff that …

YOE: There’s definitely an edge to them. Wonderfully weird! What else?

LYNCH: Well, I only retroactively liked Carl Barks. When I was 4 or 5 years old, I guess I thought the stories in the duck books were too long or something. In the early ’60s Don and Maggie Thompson started doing a fanzine called Comic Art. It was in Don and Maggie’s zine that I first began to read critiques of Bark’s duck yarns. So I went and got the old Barks duck books — and sure enough — the guy was a master storyteller. But as a kid, Fago was my fave rave before I discovered the Kurtzman, Elder, Wood, Davis crowd. Before Bill Gaines took over EC, the old M.C. Gaines EC Comics put out a book called Dandy Comics, wherein Vince Fago did a strip called Handy Andy. Later Standard comics, in the early ’60s, reprinted these Handy Andy yarns, and the title character’s name was changed to Happy Jack. I liked the John Stanley Lulu books as a kid. I liked a book called “Dodger de Squoil” from Brooklyn. A little later I got into Jack Cole and Will Eisner. To this day, I don’t really follow many realistically drawn comics — but there’s still something I dig about Cole and Eisner. There’s some sort of subtle anxiety in the facial expressions and actions of these guys’ characters that I like. And the camera angles that Cole and Eisner used to tell their stories were great innovative stuff. Also, in The Spirit, Ebony was the only one who was drawn in a cartoony style while everyone else was drawn realistically. In Plastic Man by Cole, Woozy Winks was drawn cartoony, and the other characters were all drawn realistically. So to me, Ebony and Woozy were pretty heavy characters when I was a kid. It’s like an intrusion of a different reality system. I mean, what if you went into your kitchen late at night and saw the Pillsbury Dough Boy standing next to your oven? You’d be scared out of your wits. You’d probably try to kill the thing with a broom.

YOE: But when you first saw Kurtzman’s Mad comics in 1952, that was pretty much it for you.

LYNCH: Yeah. My uncle worked for Colliers, then later he worked for Time Life in distribution. A friend of his at one of the local warehouses would, at the end of each month, lay copies of all of the major magazines and comic books on him, copies with the covers torn off. So as a kid, I was pretty hip to the zine scene. Even before the St. Johns 3-D Mighty Mouse book came out, my uncle gave me an oversized dummy of that book, which was part of a limited press run for the distributors to use as sales samples. It was printed on good paper, and it was a little bit larger than the final product. You don’t see it in Overstreet, though. I lost mine in ’56. It’d probably be worth a fortune now. So anyway, I got all the Dell and DC stuff for free. And I’d also see a lot of the Archie stuff. I guess I’d trade coverless books that I’d read with my friends for other titles, like the Archie series. But I was more into magazines than comics as a kid. I wanted to be the editor of Colliers when I grew up. Then one day my uncle brought home a copy of the Mad with “Ping Pong,” the King Kong parody, and “Teddy and the Pirates,” the Terry and the Pirates parody in it. He and his distributor friends loved it, and he gave the mag to me when he was done with it, and it totally flipped me out. So from that point on I was a big Mad and EC. fan. I used to trace Elder’s stuff when I was a kid. I remember thinking that Mad was one of the few comic books in the early and mid-50s that didn’t talk down to its audience, and I dug it. Seeing that something like Mad comics was possible when I was a kid is what made me want to be a cartoonist.

Nard N’ Pat #2 (June 1981)

Cont.

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Jay Lynch, 1945-2017 http://www.tcj.com/jay-lynch-1945-2017/ http://www.tcj.com/jay-lynch-1945-2017/#comments Mon, 06 Mar 2017 12:20:32 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98439 Continue reading ]]> Born: January 7, 1945, Orange, New Jersey

Died: March 5, 2016, Candor, New York

Jay Lynch — cartoonist, satirist, and counterculture archivist — died from complications of lung cancer on March 5th. His career spanned more than six decades and made full use of his many graphic talents. He contributed to the earliest counterculture press, drew and edited many underground comic books, designed confectionary novelties and promotional products, and in later years painted a myriad of private commissions for fans of his work.

Young Jay Lynch with a banner headline for Herbert Hoover, circa 1948.

Jay Lynch saw himself as a cartoonist even when he was just a young whippersnapper. He liked to draw. He liked funny stuff. It just made sense. He enjoyed the strip There Ought to be a Law!, which appeared in his local paper. He noted that the cartoonists, Al Fagaly and Harry Shorten, invited readers to send in gag ideas, maybe events from their own lives, that could be adapted for the two-panel strip. The first panel set up a situation that required quick action, and the second showed how their best efforts went awry. The name and address of the person who suggested the joke was included in the strip. Lynch sent Fagaly and Shorten dozens of ideas but none of them were ever used. Rejection, he soon realized, was part and parcel of a cartoonist’s life, and he accepted that.

Many years later, There Ought to be a Law! provided inspiration for his Give ’Em an Inch series that appeared in Playboy during the 1980s. Similar setup, same sort of payoff, but with many more naked adults.

Lynch first sold gags to Cracked magazine while a student at Norton High School in Miami. In 1963, he left his home in Florida, moved to Chicago, checked into a cheap hotel, and got a job as a lingerie stock boy. It was all part of his master plan to earn big bucks in the exciting field of cartooning. He attended art school at night, sold gags to Sick and Cracked, and contributed cartoons to a network of college humor magazines and satire publications, including The Realist. He was a frequent cover artist for the Chicago Seed when underground papers first came to Chicago and also appeared in the Berkeley Barb, East Village Other, The Fifth Estate, and many other members of the underground press syndicate.

The teenage contributors to Wild magazine, an early mimeographed fanzine included future underground cartoonists Jay Lynch and Skip Williamson.

He was a key figure in the underground comix movement, producing eight issues of Bijou Funnies with his partner-in-crime Skip Williamson. They were a vital part of what became one of the most revolutionary art movements of the 20th century. Lynch contributed to numerous other underground titles like Bogeyman, San Francisco Comic Book, Bizarre Sex, and Teen-age Horizons of Shangri-la. The last issue of Bijou Funnies, an homage to Lynch’s favorite satirist, featured Harvey Kurtzman-style parodies of popular underground comic characters drawn by other cartoonists.

After the underground faded he moved into commercial work, overseeing the production of celebrity sticker books and fast food giveaways. He drew cartoons and illustrations for Playboy, Oui, and other men’s magazines. His juvenile sense of humor was also in high demand at Brooklyn’s biggest bubble gum manufacturer, Topps Chewing Gum, who hired him to design cards and stickers, which prominently featured puke and booger jokes for Garbage Pail Kids, Wacky Packages, and many others. In recent years, he has worked on public interest campaigns, illustrated children’s books, and designed covers for the last remnant of the underground impertinence, Mineshaft magazine.

Lynch designed several series of Bazooka Joe comics to wrap around bubble gum for Topps Chewing Gum over the years.

His personal archives are stored in his home in a small town in upstate New York, where he moved in 2000, and include every letter he ever received since 1958, every publication in which he has appeared, file cabinets full of notes and rough sketches, and extensive collections of humor magazines. He bequeathed his property and belongings to the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at the Ohio State University.

Before he died, I had several conversations with Lynch about his end-of-life plans. He wanted to stay alive long enough to ensure that his will transfers his whole estate to the Billy Ireland Museum and that his creditors are paid in full, so no one can make a claim on his home. He bought his own casket and funeral package and was interred at Maple Grove Cemetery in Candor, New York. He told me he wanted a tombstone with a coin-operated fortune-telling device on top to pay for perpetual maintenance of his resting place.

“I’m thinking of a Magic Eightball-type-of affair, where you can ask a question,” he explained. “You put in a quarter and it answers it with a Magic Eightball type of answer. They won’t have quarters in the future, but some credit system. I don’t know. Something that maintains itself.” If any hardcore fans of Jay Lynch want to fulfill this eternal wish, please step forward.

He left no close family, two ex-wives, no children; he believed his life’s greatest accomplishment was the creation of an archive that spans the whole Beatnik-Hippy-Punk-New Wave-Alternative-Millennial counterculture. He accumulated a big pile of paper over many years, and it brought him great satisfaction to know it will be part of a proper repository of comic lore, The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum. Columbus is also a less likely target for terrorists in the future compared to our major metropolises, he noted. “Billy Ireland’s new building was built by the Army Corps of Engineers and is nuke proof. It goes very deep below the ground.”

Lynch was an old-fashioned graphic artist, with the know-how to make things work in the printing industry. After several decades as inkslinger for hire, he became a repository of arcane printing processes, discontinued art supplies and materials, and forgotten production methods. Eventually, he became the go-to guy when it came to obsolete printing technology. He readily adapted to computer design tools in the 1990s, but if you were printing a million sticker books on a giant Webb press and the color was a little off, you’d want Jay Lynch with his knowledge of halftone color separations and chromatic charts to be in your corner.

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Turkish Trilogy http://www.tcj.com/reviews/turkish-trilogy/ http://www.tcj.com/reviews/turkish-trilogy/#comments Fri, 03 Mar 2017 13:00:55 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?post_type=reviews&p=98895 Continue reading ]]> Fortunately, laughing out loud – even talking loudly to yourself – is not frowned upon in Berkeley cafes. (Indeed, frowning upon someone, no matter how offensive and high-decibel his ravings, is so eschewed, you would think it would have frowners hauled before some Human Rights commission.) So I was free to snort my way through Turkish Trilogy, by Wostok and Friends, unrestrained.

As I understand it, in the early 2000s, the American blogger Seanbaby posted online reviews of bootleg videos of grab-the-bucks (or lira) unauthorized Turkish remakes of hit Hollywood movies, including Star Wars, The Wizard of Oz, and The Exorcist, which had been churned out at a level of excellence which made Plan 9 from Outer Space look like Citizen Kane. These reviews caught the eye of Wostok, a Serbian cartoonist/film maker, who had seen the same bootlegs. Unbeknownst to and unauthorized by Seanbaby, he then drafted comic book scripts based upon them and led workshops, from Macedonia to Slovenia, in which dozens of amateur cartoonists illustrated these scripts, which Wostok had printed in book form in Croatia, in runs of ten or twenty, ordering more each time he sold out his stock. One of these made its way, via the internet, to Berkeley and me.

That neither Seanbaby or Wostok nor, as far as I know, any of the workshop participants spoke Turkish only contributes to its appeal. So does the fact that the workshops lacked equipment on which to show the videos, leaving the participants only Wostok’s reconstructions of the films to rely on. Not to mention that Wostok’s English, in which he wrote and, for those who did not speak Serbian, conducted the workshops, while good, is not of Sir Kenneth Clark’s quality.

Trilogy is a rib-tickling gut-buster. The prose is witty and inventive, and the judgments (most of which I presume to be Seanbaby’s) “kicked the ass off my face”—to cop one I admired. The Turkish language is said to sound “like Dracula squeezing a mouthful of pudding through his teeth from inside a washing machine.” Special effects were considered “so crappy” it would have cost more to make them “out of macaroni.” The screenplays seemed written in “the international language of retard” and bizarre enough to answer “that age old question whatever happened to all that hash the Turks took away from Billy Hayes in Midnight Express.” You had an “insane use of gel filters,” zoom lenses used beyond all “narrative and artistic meaning,” and musical scores created from old, scratchy recordings of roller rink organ music.

It seemed, Trilogy summed up,  like a CARE package containing a motion picture camera had fallen off a cargo plane and been found by a village idiot, who decided to make a movie. Plots were so imbecilic you could fast-forward twenty minutes and miss nothing. Robots were built from garbage cans set one upon another. Mummies appeared to be bit-players wrapped in toilet paper. Warriors wore pasta strainer helmets. Scenes shifted between day and night without reason. Corpses wriggled. The Dorothy in Wizard disappeared from a crucial scene probably, it was surmised, because Turkish labor laws required child actors to spend several hours a day in haunted salt mines. (She also was reported to have been played by an actress who made it seem like Judy Garland had grown up, gone crazy on her pain meds, and been forced by her studio to keep playing Dorothy forever.)

The films set “world records for lack of production values.” They proved “whatever (others) can do, (Turks) can do much worse.” The most entertaining use to which they could be put, Trilogy suggests, would be to invite your grandparents over, spike their tea with LSD, slip a video in the TV and pretend nothing was wrong. If we could understand the motivation of these film makers, the reviewers say, “we wouldn’t be sitting here. We’d be powering flying cars with our minds at some kind of smartest people ever convention.”

When the point of a words-and-pictures book is critical judgments, the pictures are secondary. The words render the verdicts. The pictures compliment or amplify them. Turkish Trilogy has, by my count, 16 to 25 illustrators per book. A single four-paneled page may have four illustrators. (Individual panels are not signed or otherwise credited, so it is impossible to know who did which, unless you are familiar with the styles of non-professional Slavic cartoonists.) Most are sketchy – a few lines, some dots – many are big-footed cartoony or abstract. Only one artist takes a realistic, if noir-exaggerated, approach. To drive home the yucks, Princess Leila is a thunder-thighed, fishnet-stockinged, stiletto-heeled, whip-wielding dominatrix. And Dorothy resembles a cigar-smoking, be-stubbled Russian woman shot-putter of the 1950s. It may not be subtle, but it’s great, goofy fun.

I am led to this concluding modifier by having the “narrator” of the opening Star Wars critique resemble the Disney character of that very name. (He bears on his shirt the words “Kunyat Arkin,” the name of an actor, renowned in Turkish cult-film circles, but I am not fooled.) The author/artists’ judgments appear to be scathing, but the book is playful. Trilogy seems to say, “Hey, you want amateurish; we’ll show you amateurism that can deliver.” In fact, if you want to get political – and I do – at a time when Turkey seems to be devolving from Western democracy into theocratic totalitarianism, Wostok can be viewed as exclaiming, “Yo! Here’s how valuable collaborative, free-flowing, liberated consciousnesses can be.”

I mean, you have three films, each of which had attained, not only the massive dollars of popular success, but the olive wreaths of critical acclaim. They had become significant props of American popular culture and, as such, of American identity. To “debase” these films, as the Turkish film makers have done, out of avarice and ineptness, leaves one aghast, offended, appalled. It is not just the rip-off and the defilement but the revelation that there was nothing in the essence of these works – neither story, nor structure, nor character – and perhaps by implication, nothing at the core of America either – which can withstand the tweaks and twists, whether from individual action or historic or cultural forces, sufficient to avoid its own reduction to junk or offal or dribble from the mouths of fools.

But against the onset of this encroaching despair, comes Wostok, Seanbaby, and Friends, who, with saws and hammers, fresh eyes and enhanced imaginations disassemble these debasemenys and reconstruct them into something startling, new and fine.

One more thing. I had wondered if Wostok’s glee at taking on the Turkish film industry might have been influenced by Serbian ill will simmering since the Battle of Kosovo in 1389. (Any Philadelphian, like me, who rooted against the Boston Celtics in the 1960s, has a taste of  how grudges may linger.) Wostok, however, denies this. He says only extreme right-wing Serbian fanatics still have it in for the Turks. For him, the “weirdness, spontaneity and imaginativity (sic)” of the movies constituted unwitting examples of ostranenie, the early 20th century Russian avant-garde theory of art, in which things are made as “as unusual and strange as possible” in order to cause people to freshly re-experience the everyday. He laughed at the movies. He laughed at Seanbaby’s reviews. He laughed at the idea of people creating drawings about weird movies they had never seen.

And what more than laughter, he wrote me, “can you ask for in these gloomy times?”

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The Waiting http://www.tcj.com/the-waiting/ http://www.tcj.com/the-waiting/#respond Fri, 03 Mar 2017 13:00:20 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99114 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Bob Levin reviews Turkish Trilogy, a Serbian collection of comics describing and mocking low-budget Turkish cinematic remakes of Star Wars and other blockbuster Hollywood films.

As I understand it, in the early 2000s, the American blogger Seanbaby posted online reviews of bootleg videos of grab-the-bucks (or lira) unauthorized Turkish remakes of hit Hollywood movies, including Star Wars, The Wizard of Oz, and The Exorcist, which had been churned out at a level of excellence which made Plan 9 from Outer Space look like Citizen Kane. These reviews caught the eye of Wostok, a Serbian cartoonist/film maker, who had seen the same bootlegs. Unbeknownst to and unauthorized by Seanbaby, he then drafted comic book scripts based upon them and led workshops, from Macedonia to Slovenia, in which dozens of amateur cartoonists illustrated these scripts, which Wostok had printed in book form in Croatia, in runs of ten or twenty, ordering more each time he sold out his stock. One of these made its way, via the internet, to Berkeley and me.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. The Chicago Tribune profiles Emil Ferris.

Ferris boards the Purple Line “L” in Evanston, not far from her home, and glances around the train car and picks a seat that offers options, the widest, most expansive view of the largest variety of subjects. She places her cane against a railing. She drops her tote bag on the seat beside her and unfolds a sketchbook with her right hand and, in her left, grips a thicket of pens. She scans up and down the car, staring at her half-dozen fellow riders for a long second or two while simultaneously not quite gawking. She looks for interesting faces, for characters to insert into her work (after a tweak or two, for privacy).

The Fridge Door talks to Jessica Campbell.

I took a class in undergrad that used Janson’s History of Art (an edition that included women, thankfully) but countered it with essays like Linda Nochlin’s “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” Frankly, most of the blatant sexism that I have encountered in art has been in the comics world, where even last year, the largest (or second largest?) comics festival in the world gave out a lifetime achievement award that, of 30 nominees, included not a single woman. And, similar to Janson’s text, about 10 years ago in comics there was a touring exhibition and catalogue called The Masters of American Comics that was intended by its curator/editor to solidify a comics canon and included not a single woman artist. I remember watching a panel discussion with him where he said that there’s “never been a female Milt Caniff,” which was essentially the same as Janson saying that there’s never been a female Rembrandt or whatever. Yeah, OK, but there is a female Mary Cassatt, Artemisia Gentileschi, Frida Kahlo, etc.

Inkstuds interviews Rich Tommaso.

—News. After a decades-long tenure, Bob Mankoff is stepping down from his position as cartoons editor at The New Yorker.

New Yorker editor David Remnick announced yesterday that Mankoff will step down and that the magazine’s Emma Allen will inherit the post. Mankoff says that he’ll continue to contribute cartoons to the publication, and that he’ll keep working on the forthcoming book “The New Yorker Encyclopedia of Cartoons.”

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Crew of 15 http://www.tcj.com/crew-of-15/ http://www.tcj.com/crew-of-15/#respond Thu, 02 Mar 2017 13:00:29 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99085 Continue reading ]]> Today it’s part three of Frank Santoro’s Risograph series. This time he interviewed Ryan Cecil Smith.

Tell me about your current set up. What kind of machine(s) do you have?

I don’t have my own risograph, thankfully! Basically since 2010 or so I’ve used a risograph print shop in Japan called Retro Jam for all my color prints, and then after leaving Japan I’ve continued to use them for everything I make. I love working with them and I don’t want to change my process if I can help it. The tricky part, honestly, is the logistics of paying them and getting everything shipped to me in the US. But they do such good work, and I like working with them so much, that I’d rather figure it out than start working with someone else. And…well, it *might* be a good investment to buy a risograph for myself… but I don’t really have the space for it. I like my deal now.

Personally, I am fascinated with how risograph printing has changed the landscape around making color comics. Before risograph, as you know, the choices were expensive offset or expensive print on demand. And often dealing with those printers was difficult. The riso printers I have engaged are not faceless sales reps on the phone who have no experience making comics. So riso printers and their enthusiasm for the materials has reinvigorated the small press scene – which has drifted into “book publishing” (like giant offset press books) – and I was hoping you could speak to that?

Well, my print shop Retro Jam is kinda a mix between those two things. They are a big commercial shop with an official process and are quite strict about how they do things. They’re very professional, clear, and fast. Actually it took awhile for me to get used to this. But now, I like it! And, I think that if you only worked with them over email, they would be basically faceless and get the job done. However, thankfully I have gotten to know everyone at my print shop (they have a staff of 25 or so) and am happy to be friends and know that many of them are artists and designers, too. Which, of course, is clearly reflected in all of their website, print material, their workshop space, etc.

Elsewhere:

Lauren Weinstein remains our foremost chronicler of the new… reality. Here’s her latest.

Frank has announced the new semester of his correspondence course.

CF has announced the release of three new receipt-printer zines. Highly recommended. 

I didn’t know about this art director, Harris Lewine. Worth looking at this typography. 

 
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Risograph Workbook 3 http://www.tcj.com/risograph-workbook-3/ http://www.tcj.com/risograph-workbook-3/#respond Thu, 02 Mar 2017 13:00:13 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98968 Continue reading ]]>

Style and Fashion Zine #3C by Ryan Cecil Smith

This is Part 3 of an ongoing series where I speak to some of the pioneers of risograph printing. Check out Risograph Workbook 1: Mickey Z and Risograph Workbook 2: Jesjit Gill/Colour Code Printing.

Now Ryan Cecil Smith weighs in with his riso story.

==============================================

Santoro: Ryan, legend has it that you were one of the first American small press comics makers to employ risogragh printing of your comics, and that you basically introduced the process to the States. I remember you were in Japan making comics around 2008. Can you give us your “Risograph Origin Story”?

Smith: I heard that risograph was “a thing” but I didn’t know what it was. I guess I’d heard that Mickey Z was using it and Ryan Sands was using it. I discovered that my office workplace (in Japan) had this weird photocopier that was used for mass handouts on cheap paper. It was manufactured by “Ricoh” not “Riso,” but I eventually figured out it was the same technology. (This was 2008.) I loved how the prints from this machine lay on the paper; they seemed to soak into the paper, yet they lay flat and matte. They weren’t glossy or threadbare like laser prints/Xeroxes tend to look. So I was very happy that I had this machine that could make prints which didn’t look like anything else I’d ever seen! I made several books and tens of thousands of prints on my office risograph machines over the next few years.

Loop Poster made for the LOOP de LOOP Animation Challenge’s screening at Meltdown Comics

Tell me about your current setup. What kind of machine(s) do you have?

I don’t have my own risograph, thankfully! Basically since 2010 or so I’ve used a risograph print shop in Japan called Retro Jam for all my color prints, and then after leaving Japan I’ve continued to use them for everything I make. I love working with them and I don’t want to change my process if I can help it. The tricky part, honestly, is the logistics of paying them and getting everything shipped to me in the US. But they do such good work, and I like working with them so much, that I’d rather figure it out than start working with someone else. And… well, it might be a good investment to buy a risograph for myself… but I don’t really have the space for it. I like my deal now.

Personally, I am fascinated with how risograph printing has changed the landscape around making color comics. Before risograph, as you know, the choices were expensive offset or expensive print on demand. And often dealing with those printers was difficult. The riso printers I have engaged are not faceless sales reps on the phone who have no experience making comics. So riso printers and their enthusiasm for the materials has reinvigorated the small press scene—which has drifted into “book publishing” (like giant offset press books)—and I was hoping you could speak to that?

Well, my print shop Retro Jam is kinda a mix between those two things. They are a big commercial shop with an official process and are quite strict about how they do things. They’re very professional, clear, and fast. Actually it took awhile for me to get used to this. But now, I like it! And, I think that if you only worked with them over email, they would be basically faceless and get the job done. However, thankfully I have gotten to know everyone at my print shop (they have a staff of 25 or so) and am happy to be friends and know that many of them are artists and designers, too. Which, of course, is clearly reflected in their website, print material, workshop space, etc.

SFVPN Plus is a supersized foldover version of the comic SFVPN made in 2014

I do enjoy knowing the faces and names of people in risograph publishing. Everyone is very excited by how accessible this medium is – we can easily experiment, publish small or weird projects, or just print something very basic, very easily. This is so great! And much nicer than having to dream of an offset budget, or wishing print-on-demand looked the way we wished it could. Because (unlike owning an offset press) risographs are sorta accessible, the scene is pretty nice and helpful – you don’t feel like there are gatekeepers here.

Can you talk about how (riso) printing your own work has influenced the way you make comics? For example, you might have had experience using a limited palette or spotting colors before using riso but has the riso process changed the way you approach making new work?

There are two ways I can speak about this. First, when I started using risograph, I loved the way it cleanly and flatly reproduced my lines and spotted blacks, with no grey scuzz. It made my black and white drawings look great, which encouraged me to use screentone as a tool with more projects, and just made me love graphic drawing. Second, when I started figuring out the color experiments I could do, I dove in and couldn’t stop trying new things with color — probably to my detriment, as I haven’t done as many long stories since then. I spend too much energy and enthusiasm doing weird color stuff. But that’s great about the risograph: it gives us exciting new options (“I can publish this book” or “I can print in color!?”) and we can pursue whatever we want.

Diptych risograph print – an experimental 4-color “freak-faux-CMYK” print using  pastel hues instead of Ryan’s usual relatively-representational-riso-polychrome

Four “faux-CMYK” screentone test cards, one Copic marker print chart, two sample prints, and a booklet with instructions/explanations of how they were made and why Ryan approaches color-mixing this way.

I just got your Ris