“I Just Like Hybrid Activity”: The Matthew Thurber Interview

Themes: Underground Culture

TCJ: Let's talk about some more themes in your work. We've touched on ecology and your interest in the end of the world. One of the really funny things in 1-800-MICE was your interest in underground culture. When the three sushi chef assassins are sent after Peace Punk, there's a lot they have to go through to get to the literal underground. What was your concept behind that? What inspired you? Was it the culture you see everyday around you, in terms of how insular it can be? Was this a way of literalizing that?

MT: There's this subculture, and they are outsiders and the way they [are] into it is a joke, because they have to do all of these shitty, boring tasks that take them a year. To commit to a subculture takes a lot of time and isn't really worth it is the joke. Also, a kind of endless one-year long hardcore show, an overly long basement show was a joke, because you're always standing around in those situations, waiting for the one band you want to see play. I guess I make fun of subcultures, but I'm also really interested in them and feel very positively toward them, and I've been involved in them in my life. That's the funny thing--you can say you are, but there's never any badge or anything where someone says, "Congratulations! You are now a hippie!" Or a punk! Or an anarchist! People say they are and literally do wear badges of those things. That's the whole uniform of those crusty-punk anarchist dudes. They're covered with logos and badges, which seems hilarious to me, as I thought they were trying to avoid corporate logos. The whole thing with Crass having corporate logos is so hilarious to me. They're the ultimate, the touchstone for all these anarchist punkers. They're so popular in a way because they have an immediately recognizable logo and typeface that's on all their albums. I guess it was just looking at all those paradoxes. I just like music and I don't like the territorial nature of subcultures.

TCJ: Have you felt pushback from people in those cultures that you've expressed interest in before in your life? People saying, "You're a poseur, you're not really interested, who are you?"

MT: Oh, no, no, not really. When I was in high school, the punks in my school were all really nice and liked me and my nerdy friends, [and we were] accepted by them. Later, in art school, the art world is its own confusing, insane culture, but it's not a youth culture--it's more of a money-driven elite.

TCJ: It's true and it's interesting, but it's funny that the first thing you said about the art world is that it's primarily ruled by money.

MT: Well, up until the beginning of this semester, I worked at a couple of different art galleries for a bunch of years, and it's kind of the easiest way to learn a lot about the art world, but also to become extremely jaded. I played music in a band a couple of years ago. We broke up, and we were definitely accepted in all kinds of places in the musical world. That's kind of what I wanted to learn from playing music. How does this all work? When you go into a bar, how do the bands know how to do this and that. How do you work a mixer? How do people hang out? But then I felt like I couldn't really commit to that because I had this comics or writing interest going.

Thurber's Musical Career

TCJ: Have you always viewed music as strictly your sideline?

MT: I don't know, maybe so. It was kind of the main thing I was doing for about a year, or it definitely consumed me and forced me to become the main thing I was doing for a year.

TCJ: Was that when you quit drawing comics?

MT: I never really quit drawing comics, but the problem was all this stuff was happening at the same time. I quit my job in order to do illustration full time, because I was getting a lot of work. Then at exactly that same time, my band was getting a lot of opportunities to play and go on tour and stuff, but money was pretty up and down. So I couldn't really handle all of that at the same time, and then I had to go back and get a crappy gallery job. There were a lot of things that went along with being in the mind and the musical culture that were really interesting to me, like designing flyers, making videos, the visual side of performance.

Performing as Ambergris

TCJ: Your father is a musician. Did he teach you how to play?

MT: No, he's a fiddle player. He plays swing music, like gypsy jazz style right now. He used to play a lot of bluegrass. I played music with him; he tried to show me how to play the fiddle when I was a kid, but I was horrible. I took piano lessons.

TCJ: What instrument do you play now, mostly?

MT: Now I just usually play keyboard, although I have accumulated some things. When I was playing in that band, I played saxophone. It was called Soiled Mattress and the Springs. It was a Muzak-jazz-punk band.

TCJ: Muzak-jazz-punk. Can you go further into that?

MT: (laughs) It was aggressively played Muzak.

TCJ: Fast tempo, or kind of ragged?

MT: Well, kind of ragged but mostly because of my saxophone lack of ability, but it was very melodic music and sort of soft in recording. But when we played it [live], we played it as aggressively as possible. There's some videos online and stuff.

TCJ: Was that the concept you guys went in with, or did that just kind of evolve on its own?

MT: It just evolved. It seemed like the funniest idea. We didn't know what we were doing and then sort of the most counter-intuitive move would seem to be playing fusion jazz. That's something we all liked anyway, so we started playing a naive version of fusion jazz. The keyboard player was really amazing, Peter Schuette. Also the drummer Avi is a great musician.

TCJ: Was it a trio?

MT: It was a trio, yeah. "A jazz trio." (laughs)

TCJ: What kind of clubs did you play in?

MT: We played at the Cake Shop in New York a lot, the Smell in L.A., a lot of DIY spaces in New York, and went on a couple of tours and we toured the UK once.

TCJ: What kind of reception did you get? Did people get the joke?

MT: Good! Yeah, they generally did. People like melodic stuff and we did our best to entertain. It was a shameless entertainment unit. And we had little props. We had a song [where] while we were playing, this balloon would float into the air and hover there. We made a volcano that erupted for one song [Clough laughs], just funny stuff like that. Peter made music videos that would play while we were performing. No vocals, so you had to have some other kind of stagecraft to watch. It was a lot of fun, but gosh, it's a lot of work to be in a band. It's kind of a full-time job.

TCJ: Yeah, if you do it right.

MT: Even if you do it wrong [Clough laughs], it takes a lot of time. I don't know what doing it right might be. We were definitely not making money off of it. That was kind of a problem, because I was at a point where I really should have been pursuing lucrative work. Luckily, my girlfriend Rebecca didn't behead me. I still liked performing. I've been doing duets with my friend Brian Belott.

TCJ: I've seen some of those videos. It's interesting, going back to Dada. Dada in its initial forms was explicitly performative. What is it about performing, the ritual of performance, that is important to you as an artist, and is it something that you feel a particular tug to because drawing is such a solitary pursuit?

MT: It definitely balances out the drawing, but I don't think that's why. I mean, there's a lot of people who are just killer cartoonists/artists who don't want to perform. I just like hybrid activity and I like the improvisational aspect of it and the adventure of it. I've always liked seeing music that was theatrical or bands that were theatrical, or being in situations that were surprising or strange. In my comic, I tried to draw some bands that would be the kind of band I'd want to see. A bunch of mutants playing instruments you couldn't even fathom, or some musical tradition, like a folk tradition, that you've never heard of. I feel a lot of affinity with cartoonists who I know who do music, I feel like that's a special strain.

TCJ: It's kind of funny, because, in thinking about this, most of the cartoonists that I know who are musicians have an explicitly very theatrical stage act. It's not like, "I'm just going to sit up here and play a guitar." So I'm thinking if Flaming Fire, Lightning Bolt...

A page from MegaBat.

MT: CF is very theatrical, Carlos Gonzalez, Gary Panter. A lot of people are drawn to both things. I think it's natural to want to do [both].

TCJ: You said a phrase which sums it up: improvisational narrative. Theatrics imply narrative to me, that there's an event or a story. And the story doesn't necessarily have to have a beginning or ending or middle, but it's an event of some kind that you're witnessing. You're making it up on the spot, in a way that on the page you can also improvise. It flows with how you draw your own stories, which is largely improvisational. Am I correct?

MT: Yeah, even if you're scripted, sitting at the typewriter, it's improvisation from word to word. It's just doing that it's a more suspenseful, exciting realm to do it live. It's like a really fast, immediate way to get ideas communicated, rather than making a movie, where it takes so much time. You have to have the right place to show it or whatever.

TCJ: How important is the reaction of the audience to you in those performances? The performer wants an attentive audience, but what in particular do you get out of that interaction?

MT: I don't know. I want love from everybody, so I'm a really shameless entertainer. I will do the most base, shameless things to amuse people...crawling around in front of them. I don't know, trying to engage people, even in the jazz band. It always involved playing, going into the crowd, trying to draw them in. Trying to connect with people. That's comics, too. The most important part of it is connecting with people, sending things out in the mail, getting things in the mail, talking to people at conventions.

The Comics Community

TCJ: You like going to [comics] shows?

MT: Yeah, yeah, that's what it's all about. Maybe for some people, no.

TCJ: A lot of cartoonists talk about how much they hate going to conventions and dread interacting with others, but it seems like you're the opposite.

MT: I'm just so pleased to have anyone to interact with, to have any manner of audience at all, is incredible to me. I guess people could take that for granted, but if somebody buys my book, I'm still stupefied. Oh, they went into a store and found it and they were thinking of me...and I wasn't standing there! (Rob laughs) It's still great for me.

A page from Mining the Moon 2.

TCJ: How much feedback do you get, via email or whatever, about your comics?

MT: I get a fair amount of letters; I've always had a lot of pen-pals and people that I didn't know except through the mail. I like being part of a community and hopefully that community gets more interested and more open-minded. It's pretty awesome with comics in the last couple of years, just how relevant it feels to people.

TCJ: What makes you think that?

MT: I was at a lecture yesterday with the writer John Crowley and some other writers and they were talking about Persepolis and everyone was nodding. That was being brought up as something that had some value in the world. It's cool to think of not being the despised part of culture.

TCJ: Did you feel like comics was that, even when you were doing them for awhile?

MT: In the past ten years I never felt like it was lesser. Ben Katchor was appearing in the New York Press. It felt like you could definitely be—it wasn't a too separate part of the world, but I feel now, somebody told me about studios hiring cartoonists to develop scripts into graphic novels, so they'd be more usable as scripts or something like that? Studios are actually hiring people to turn things into comic books, because people know that comic books get made into movies, for instance. That's pretty interesting.

TCJ: I have heard that. That somebody will turn into a script and [the studio] will say, "Make this into a comic book first and then get back to us."

MT: Don't you think that's mind-blowing?

TCJ: It's crazy, but I don't think that's [necessarily] great for comics.

MT: It's not great for good comics, they're just going to be shitty comic versions of shitty scripts. But overall in the world, it's gained more currency. I think that's a good thing.

Talking Comics

[Clough mentions that the tree marriage sequence in 1-800-MICE reminded him of the 1970s "Celestial Madonna Saga" from The Avengers, which Thurber had not read.]

MT: I've gotten more into superhero stuff in the last couple of years thanks to Dan Nadel and Frank Santoro.

TCJ: Oh? like what?

MT: Just being around them and hearing their enthusiasm for these things has made it more alive and interesting for me. Ogden Whitney, or shit, I don't know. I've bought more superhero comics from Frank Santoro, Dan Nadel loaned me a whole bunch of Morrison Animal Man comics, Moebius, who I knew about but it's really cool to be discovering all this stuff. I'm glad there's always more stuff to learn. The tree marriage thing is funny because in a way 1-800-MICE is the most unoriginal idea ever. I'm proud of it being a mouse comic.

TCJ: It's unoriginal because it features anthropomorphic animals?

MT: Yeah, and anthropomorphic mice, so it's like Mickey Mouse, or Maus or Sammy the Mouse or anyone else's mouse. I'm not reinventing the whole medium. There's so much I can learn about all these great people in the comics field.

TCJ: I see what you're mean that you're using some common tropes, but I've never read anything like 1-800-MICE. The way you're able to bring a real sense of comic timing to the page is very unusual for someone working more on the Fort Thunder side of things.

MT: Check out Zissy and Rita. That guy [Seth Cooper] is an under-known genius. Well, and Ben Jones is funny as hell.

TCJ: But he's different from you. His comic timing is very different. His drawings are very different, the reaction he's trying to get is very different from you.

MT: In retrospect, I guess damn, he was The Simpsons all along. But you didn't read it that way in 2001. When people do what they are ultimately going to do, the rest of their work looks very different in retrospect.

TCJ: You make drawings that are funny and put in a lot of small incidental details the way Will Elder might.

MT: Yeah! Will Elder is one of my top ten.

TCJ: And that was something I could definitely see going on in your work, like "eye pops". You don't need to look at it, but it's there, and it's a joke. There's a lot of that in your work. It seems like the bulk of the humor in your work is conveyed through words, and often in this really deadpan way. One of my favorite scenes in 1-800-MICE is when the cop comes along and tries to arrest the two pornographers for immoral acts, and they talk about how this is the most moral of all acts because we're slowing down sex, etc.

MT: Trying to stop the population.

TCJ: That scene killed me, because the things you were drawing in those scenes were ridiculous, like the woman under a water cooler and whatnot, and they were funny, but what was funnier was the incredible earnestness of what they were saying. That seems to be something you've mastered: using earnest language to tell a joke.

MT: I guess that pseudo-scientific tone has always killed me, like Monty Python, just the mimicry of over-academic thought. Alfred Jarry does that a lot when making fun of people who are so convinced of their rationality. I worked to make them funny.

A page from Carrot for Girls

Themes: Secret Societies

TCJ: You seem really interested in conspiracies, secret organizations, secrets, being plotted against, people plotting against you.

MT: Secret societies, yeah. There's brotherhood that you're getting into, inclusive brotherhoods in some cultures and then there's "everybody is in a brotherhood except me, and they're all trying to take me down"! I'm interested in that.

TCJ: What's great is that you address it straight-up, but you also see the humor in that conspiracy theories are almost always wrong.

MT: The way I feel is that it's probably the most simple solution that is actually true. You just will never know. You'll never have any proof that the moon landing wasn't faked. And even if you know, is that proof actually conclusive?

Periodicals Vs Hardcovers

TCJ: You've gotten more notice with the publication of this book in the comics world than you have for much of your career, but I know you have mixed feelings about a book vs a series--you liked the comics, every issue is packed with interesting paraphernalia. It gives you the freedom to do little one-page side stories, letter columns, etc. Now that it's done, how do you feel about the publication of the series as a book?

MT: I think it came out really well. Any trepidations I had were completely erased by the feeling of holding a really nice hardcover book. I think I would definitely do comic pamphlets again, but I'm so happy it's this object that feels like it has a shell and is bulletproof or something. It feels like that story is wearing armor now, [though] I love that back and forth thing with pamphlet comics and letters columns and miscellaneous grab-bags of stuff.

TCJ: I loved the covers that Rebecca Bird did.

MT: They're beautiful, [and] it was nice to collaborate. I couldn't have her draw the cover of a hardcover book, that would be my thing. Having another artist do the covers is a good comics tradition. I'm just doing this webcomic for now, but I'm starting to feel the itch already to want to do a longer story.

TCJ: Is it just an itch or do you have some formative ideas?

MT: Well, it's just that the Infomaniacs strips are getting longer and longer. I already had to split up the last one into two--I have a script, but it's too long to put it into one week.

From Infomaniacs

Themes: Mysticism and Drugs

TCJ: Given that belief and mysticism are elements of your story (even if they're presented satirically), what sort of religious upbringing did you have, and how did that evolve?

MT: I did not have any sort of religious upbringing. My great grandmother was a Christian Scientist who died of a gangrene infection because she wouldn't go to the hospital. I love mythology so much, demons, and Satan and the character of Jesus and the character of Buddha and all the Greek gods and the Hindu gods, but I think "believing" is a bit of a crappy idea and I have never been afraid of Hell. But on the other hand, I also don't "believe" in the "real world," so what am I gonna do?

TCJ: One other major theme of your work is mysticism, as occasionally expressed through drugs, and the two are related. It's a constant in your comics—there's always an altered state coming on somewhere, be it religious or drug induced. Why is that such an important thing for you?

MT: I guess it's just something I'm interested in. It's just how people transcend or deal with the world that they have inherited. In my neighborhood, there are just so many churches and people are always praying and there are these different factions. So I see it all around me all the time and I'm always just wondering what that's like, if people are really serious about it and what's like to really believe in hell or what it must have been like to worry about hell.

TCJ: What it's like to be a fanatic, even? That's something else that's going on in your comics.

MT: To be a fanatic or really believe it—I guess I don't have a lot of people who are arguing the other side. In this comic, I was really into the consequences of being fanatical. It's interesting to me that religion stands in for other things. People don't always necessarily believe in every detail of the thousand arms of Durga or Vishnu or whatever, or maybe they do, I don't know. Do they believe in all the details? That was why that Robert Crumb [The Book of Genesis Illustrated] book was interesting, because he threw all those details back in people's faces just by illustrating them and being "this is what every word says." He wasn't trying to challenge everyone.

TCJ: I think you're hitting on something there. Through all this lurid stuff, he says, "Well, that was there", but there's something about illustrating it that makes it more real.

MT: Yeah, well can you commit to this, can you commit to believing in this or that story? I think most people don't, religion stands in for something for them. I think religion is like the best way that a lot of people have to congregate and get together and deal with their mortality, and transcend their sense of mortality. Also, a social, celebratory thing. People celebrate the community that way. I like all the details that go along with every religion I've read about. The stories. I've been interested in that Joseph Campbell series trying to figure out religion as a way of understanding story structure. I have a lot of sympathy for it, especially if it stands in for something else. When you see all the writers who were also preachers in the 19th or 18th century in America, that's where this oral tradition, where a lot of writing and music comes from. Maybe that's where rock n roll comes from. I just don't have that. My gods are just mere mortals. I have various heroes. I'm not really searching for anything. I have enjoyed blissful states of music or contemplation of art or I've read things that have struck me as totally divine. People speaking in tongues are some of my favorite writers.

TCJ: Have you heard that before, live or on TV?

MT: I've heard that before, that kind of babble or nonsense that touches on Dadaism, the irrational, the subconscious level. People access that through church, that's really interesting.

TCJ: [Clough discusses speaking in tongues as part of the mystical experience of religion and its similarity to the psychedelic experience as a function of his background.] It's its own special thing, because it takes you out of the physical. That experience to me is very similar to the experience of art at certain points. Art that really affects you is a mystical experience.

MT: I agree. Art can have the communal effect, for music and theater, that's an echo of that religious experience. That's interesting that you had that background. Do you remember what it was like to go into those [mystical] states?

TCJ: Sure. [One would] clear your mind during prayer or during a service. To a degree it was somewhat ecstatic, but it was mostly like your mind just clears. It's not rational and it's not emotional, either. You can think about it and you can have feelings about it, but the thoughts and the feelings aren't the experience. It's the same way when you experience great art. It can have an emotional effect on you, and you can talk about experiencing the art, but it's not the same thing as having the experience. It's entirely temporal and can't really be captured by description.

MT: Yeah, or trying to describe the feelings when you're really high and time is different or something like that. I don't find that those states are productive in any way. It was funny reading those Kim Deitch stories where he said he thought he had to be stoned to draw, and I was like, "Wow! That's crazy." You feel like a vessel or something when you're performing or in those ecstatic states. You don't feel like you anymore, you feel like a vessel for whatever the holy spirit, or if you're playing saxophone really well probably, if you're Charlie Parker you probably feel like you're channeling some kind of spirit or energy. I'm interested in energy.

TCJ: It's definitely an energy. It's not a sentient energy, it's just energy, in the same way that the magnificent beauty of the Grand Canyon when you see it for the first time has this powerful aesthetic effect and is overwhelming. It's more than the rational mind can even hold in, in a way. I would love to see an MRI of someone when they're speaking in tongues and see what their brain is doing.  It's got to be all neurological somehow, but just in ways we can't understand right now.

MT: It's interesting that people have found different ways to get into that state, there's all kinds of cultures, either through repetitive drumming, meditation...

TCJ: Extreme self-deprivation.

MT: Starvation. People love to get into those states, and people love to transcend themselves.

TCJ: That's a pretty important part of 1-800-MICE. What's your general attitude toward drugs?

MT: In the story or in life?

TCJ: Both. I'm curious about your interest in religious culture and mysticism--how does that connect to drugs or is that just a separate thing?

MT: I guess in the story it's a negative thing.

TCJ: The drug there is more like heroin.

MT: It's a drug made from dead trees that gives you hallucinations of tree death. It's the ultimate negative hard drugs that people take who are really death-obsessed. It's a really negative view of a negative drug. [Then] there's Groomfiend being a coffee drinker. There's one moment in the story where he gets coffee and it starts to talk to him, and it's a very positive—it's like his muse or something. Which is a little of how I think of coffee as being our ritualistic muse-invoking lightweight drug.

A page from 1-800-MICE

TCJ: Sure, it's a way of altering your brain that virtually everyone in every culture has some variation on. A strong, bitter drink that revives you.

MT: Yeah, it's tied to the earth, it centers you, you drink it in the morning and [it] centers you on the planet earth. I feel like that's a positive portrayal. Much harder than that, I don't really have much that to say. I like smoking pot every once in a while, but for me it's a recreational activity I don't hardly have time for.

TCJ: It's not a lifestyle.

MT: I don't use it ritualistically; it's not an inspiration for me. It's more distracting or confusing. I really do feel like music and performance can take you, the best jam sessions can take you to ecstatic states. Even drawing together with people can put you in that mood if everybody's sharing this weird energy or building off of each other or something. It's not really that big a part of my life. I'm pretty tolerant, I guess. Frank Zappa never used drugs, and he achieved so much through lucidity. I think it's important to have power and lucidity.

TCJ: It's funny how people see certain kinds of imagery and assume that it had to have been influenced by drugs. Steve Ditko drawing Dr Strange—really weird comics, but he's perfectly strait-laced. Steve Gerber wrote all kinds of bizarre comics, also completely strait-laced. Often it's the people who are really into drugs, it doesn't necessarily reflect on their work.

MT: It can rattle their brain.

TCJ: It tends to make people less productive at a more extreme level, like. Rory Hayes.

MT: His work is kind of inseparable from drugs. All his characters are all taking drugs.

TCJ: At a certain point, it did become that when he was still able to draw.

MT: I don't know, it's weird because the underground guys had so much energy...there's an uncontainable amount of energy there, and they partied super-hard. They were too excited, this uncontrollable amount of creativity and energy, and it was really unharnessed. Except by the people who could harness it anyway, like R.Crumb, who everybody worshiped and tried to get to that level through this franticness in an effort to catch up. But all he did was draw all the time.

TCJ: He did try acid, and he probably smoked pot a few times, but he wasn't much of a partaker. The people who quit [hard] drugs were the ones who kept working, and the ones who didn't, died.

MT: It's crazy to hear stories of that time and try to imagine what it must have been like. It must have been intense and really exciting, feverish or something. People would come home from a party and draw four pages, staying up all night on speed. Wow! I don't know anyone who does that these days. There's this craziness and money was in the air... underground comics could make money.

TCJ: What's funny is that in the Golden Age, there was some weekend where one of the artists had completely blown a deadline, and he invited two of his friends to come over and knock out a sixty-page story. The three of them stayed up three days in a row drinking coffee and eating sandwiches they had delivered to them. It was Bill Everett and Carl Burgos, this one giant Human Torch vs Sub-Mariner story that was ridiculous. It's completely improvised, and it's just one long fight scene. Some habits like that continued on, but [seem] way less prevalent today.

MT: I just think it's too hard to survive. When you read about the people who crashed at Kim Deitch's house and then imagine trying to have a house guest like Roger Brand or something. Something not as likely to happen these days.

TCJ: I imagine a lot of cartoonists drink and smoke pot, but I'd guess neither does much for productivity.

MT: It's good if people socialize and hang out & see each other, but maybe if there was the amount of copies being sold in the sixties people would get that amped up.

TCJ: It's true, and they were inventing something brand new and on the spot, and that had to have a crazy energy. So much so that people literally picked up and moved across the country just to go there. That boggles my mind.

MT: When something's really new, that's how you feel. You have to be there.

Dame Darcy's Intern

TCJ: You mentioned in another interview [an excellent one with Chris Mautner] that you were Dame Darcy's intern. That concept blew my mind just to think about it.

MT: A lot of cartoonists have interns. I don't have an intern, but I feel like a lot of people my age do, and they must be very helpful. I'm six years older now than Dame Darcy was when I was her intern. She was 27, and that seems crazy to me. She likes to surround herself with helpers.

TCJ: What did you get out of the experience?

MT: I was always grilling her for info on this band she was in, but it ended badly. She was the first professional cartoonist that I had hung around with, and I got to see how she spent her time and made her money, and how much she worked on her comics and how much she didn't. Kind of what it was like to be an adult.

TCJ: How many hours a day did she draw?

MT: She never drew while I was there. A lot of times, I'd just go pick up the video tapes for her public access show, take them uptown and drop them off at the station. Sometimes I would help her shoot her public access show called Turn of the Century. Other people would be around, acting in these skits. I remember she would be working on a doll, and she had a doll that she'd talk through. So she'd be talking and then this little miniature version of her would be talking to you. She's a kooky lady. I liked her a lot.

TCJ: How much of that was performance at all times and how much was just who she was?

MT: Oh yeah, she's just that way. She's an otherworldly being. She's pretty funny. Right when I worked for her, she was about to leave to go to L.A. to, as she said, become a celebrity. I think that worked out for her. I think she got on some TV shows. And she still does her comic book. What I like about her again is she did music and art and comics. This whole time, she puts out a regular comic book. I like her drawing style a lot, that kind of really confident line. Very old-fashioned fairy-tale, very 19th-century derived.

TCJ: Did you answer an ad to become her intern, or did someone point you in that direction?

MT: I knew somebody who knew somebody who had quit being her intern, so I knew she was looking for somebody. I actually got paid by school as a work-study thing to go there four hours a week. I went to her karaoke birthday party, which involved the most amazing performance I've ever seen of this guy dressed in lederhosen singing "Greensleeves". I still remember it to this day.

TCJ: Did you meet other cartoonists through her?

MT: I don't think so. I know Lauren Weinstein used to hang out with her. Patrick [Hambrecht] from Flaming Fire. It was valuable because I saw that this lady is crazy doll woman, but she invented this persona and made it work for her. I got to chat with her about how she made her stuff, how she drew out her comics, how she'd thumbnail. There was some useful info. I wish there was more dirt. I would just kind of show up and be this intimidated kid. She always thought it was funny that I was from Washington and my dad worked on a ferryboat. She was from Idaho, so after that when I'd see her for years she'd say, "Oh how's your dad on the boat?"

TCJ: Do you know if she's read your stuff? Do you keep up with her at all?

MT: I haven't seen her in years. I should probably try and send her a book or something.


13 Responses to “I Just Like Hybrid Activity”: The Matthew Thurber Interview

  1. ant says:

    Fucking Warlock of Firetop Mountain! That reference blew my mind.

    Thurber, you’re a genius.

  2. ant says:

    Oh, and I think maybe Mr. Thurber means “Brass Eye” when he talks about the “English mock news show”….Chris Morris, right?

  3. Rob Clough says:

    That’s my error in transcription.

  4. ant says:

    Oh right. Absolutely brilliant interview, thank you! Would’ve been nice to hear Mr. Thurber talk about late-sixties/mid-seventies German art-rock bands but that’s a minor quibble. And, uh, sorry for hijacking the comments thread….

  5. Rob Clough says:

    Glad you enjoyed it! I feel like there’s a lot I didn’t get to (I didn’t get to talk about his early minicomics as much as I would have liked), but I’ll leave that to future interviewers.

  6. patrick ford says:

    Thanks Guys. I’ve been waiting for this one, and it’s wonderful.
    Rob and other interviewers often ask variations of “Have your parents seen your stuff?”
    We often tend to underestimate our parents. As a kid sexual matters were never discussed in my family, so it was a surprise to me when visiting my Dad one day he gave me copies of Henry Miller’s “Tropic” books.

  7. Patrick Hambrecht says:

    Great interview!

    Hey Thurber, when did you intern for the Dame? Around what years?

    – Patrick

  8. Rob Clough says:

    Thurber interned for Dame Darcy around 1995.

  9. thanks! I went out and bought an Ambergris CD after reading it.

  10. That was epic. Glad you had such great questions for MT

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