I remember going to see Brian for this interview, which was commissioned for TCJ‘s “Fort Thunder” issue. It’s a measure of how impactful the Fort work was (via mini-comics, Teratoid Heights, Paper Rodeo, and Kramers Ergot 4) that TCJ would devote an entire issue to comics that were very difficult to actually see. Anyhow, Brian picked me up from the train station and we drove to his place, which was, at the time, his alone. I remember it as a plaster and brick cave, with a stuffed-animal-wrapped telephone pole out front. I had made plans to also interview Jim Drain that trip but never did find him that day. I was 26. I’m 39 now. I had attempted to convince Brian to contribute to The Ganzfeld, but was still a little ways off from publishing his books via PictureBox. That would happen a couple years later. Anyhow, what follows is very much a moment in time, after the Fort, at a time when Brian’s work could only be found in mini-comics and Paper Rodeo, and the community was splintering. Oddly, this interview feels, like the cliche goes, yesterday. But Providence is a very different place now. Most of Brian’s peers have left, Paper Rodeo is long gone, etc. But Chippendale is still there, still making incredible comics (his newest, and the occasion for this republication, is Puke Force), music and art.
Brian Chippendale grew up in suburban Philadelphia before finding himself at the Rhode Island School of Design in 1991. Chippendale, 30, lives in a cavernous work-space near the old Fort. We met there on May 31, 2003, and he spoke candidly about life in and after the Fort, drawing and the challenges now facing the group. — Dan Nadel
DAN NADEL: When did you end up at RISD?
BRIAN CHIPPENDALE: Fall of ’91. I just applied to three schools during suspension from high school [laughter] and everyone told me that was a good one.
NADEL: Were you drawing all the way through high school?
CHIPPENDALE: Yeah. I drew a lot as a kid. I went in and out of comics. From seventh to maybe tenth grade I was trying to draw comics; me and my friend would compete with these ninja comics. But I really got away from it in the middle of high school. That’s a bad period. It was a fun period, but I started to think that some weird, more serious art was necessary.
NADEL: And when you went to RISD, What did you intend to study?
CHIPPENDALE: I originally didn’t know what I was going to do. I went into printmaking; I almost went to school for ceramics. I was really into ceramics, too. I think I’ve always been into making stuff.
NADEL: At RISD, when did—
CHIPPENDALE: Mat Brinkman was my freshman roommate.
NADEL: Oh. That’s how it happened; by accident?
CHIPPENDALE: I think we both put God Flesh down on our favorite band list. I think we were probably the only kids in school that both wrote God Flesh.
NADEL: So, they put you together. How far into school did Fort Thunder start?
CHIPPENDALE: That started way later. Mat and I were in school for two years. We both dropped out. I came back a year later, and what should be my senior year, I didn’t actually ever finish. It was ’95. I spent my senior year at Fort Thunder.
NADEL: How did it happen? You and Mat were friends.
CHIPPENDALE: Yeah, we were room-mates on and off, and we lived on the East side, the college side, of town for a year. I think we were inspired when we went to one loft party downtown, or a couple, that older kids had: “We gotta get a warehouse space where we can have shows and parties.” So we sublet this place for the summer of ’95. We’d been looking around town and a little bit over in Olneyville. We asked the landlord, who was a kid, and he said, “Oh, my friends are moving out of this loft.” So me, Mat, Rob Coggeshal and a guy named Freddy Jones moved into it.
NADEL: Before that, you were already doing minis and things, right?
CHIPPENDALE: I had been drawing comics. I started my first ongoing comic, which is what became the Maggots minicomics, I think at the end of ’93, beginning of ’94.
NADEL: What was the impetus?
CHIPPENDALE: I’d been trying to draw comics on and off for a long time. I’d always try to write up stories and pencil them, and I thought, “I don’t work this way. I can’t think stuff up and lay stuff out.” I had a sketchbook, prior to the one I started Maggots with, where I’d occasionally do some narrative stuff. I thought, “Maybe I’ll collage these pieces together,” but I started a new book and decided to take that aspect of the last book and start a panel at the top and go. What was stopping me was my inability to deal with pre-thought and layout and all that kind of crap. So I thought, “Let’s eliminate that, and I’ll just draw guys standing there, and have them move around.”
NADEL: Was this a lined notebook?
CHIPPENDALE: It’s an old ledger, and it didn’t really have that much stuff in it. I found it in a building. There were some parts where I used it as a journal. I didn’t realize I was going to cover the entire thing. So I later ended up drawing over top of some stuff I had written. And there might be occasional little pieces of old penciled stuff from, like 1920 or ’30 or ’40. We used to explore old buildings and got some old books from them. This one’s from the ‘20s. So that started around the end of ’93, beginning of ’94. I was out of school.
NADEL: You were out of school where?
CHIPPENDALE: In town. Right around when I started doing it, I went on this road trip. It was exciting; I realized this is an art form I can put in the car, take with me and do whatever.
NADEL: Because you were just doing it in your notebook. And the comics you basically just draw straight in ink, you just go.
CHIPPENDALE: Just go, with ink, and just go.
NADEL: And then, you started drawing over printed pages of a novel.
CHIPPENDALE: I looked at my shelf, and knew I needed to start drawing a new book. This guy, Adam, who also went to school for printmaking, gave me a Japanese catalogue of books, and suggested I draw on it. So, I just did, and that became the book that Highwater will someday publish. After that, I picked an English copy of The Spanish Inquisition. I thought, “I’ll read this book and I’ll draw as I go.” I thought maybe I’d interpret it, it’ll seep in, then I thought, “I don’t want it to seep in so much that I’m actually reading the text, so I’ll start from the back.” This one was weird because I did it after the Highwater book, which was like 400 pages long. I went into this one. I really loved this one. It was a pain, because I spent so much time scribbling out all the letters — it’s bold ugly English type, like the Times font or something, not beautiful and graceful Chinese characters.
NADEL: Right. But then, having to scribble them out adds to the aesthetic of the actual comic.
CHIPPENDALE: You’ve got this shit everywhere, where I’m scribbling it out, The problem with this book is, I had these huge plans for it. There’s like 40 characters; they all have their own story. In my earliest comics, I had a rule that I would never leave the character doing something. The adventure had to start and end — like the adventure of eating a bowl of soup or something. The next day, when I sat down, I wanted a fresh slate. So I have basically gone from comics with one guy in a panel with maybe 40 panels on a page to one page with one panel with 40 guys, half of whom are talking with these little stamped-out letters.
NADEL: Why the stamp letters? Explain how you do it.
CHIPPENDALE: Well, it switched over in the book that Tom has. I got a book of stamps from Staples, with little letters; I: got a stamp pad; I got tweezers. And I’d take a letter out, stamp it in ink … At some point, I thought, “Wow, these are really pretty.” I was talking so much in my comics, I decided I needed to start drawing more and talking less. Less talking heads. It becomes really easy to not draw. Now, I’m actually excited just to have some people talk. I want heads talking.
Opening Up the Fort
NADEL: How did Fort Thunder snowball as it did?
CHIPPENDALE: Fort Thunder started in September 1995. I’d been in Lightning Bolt, which is me and Brian Gibson — and a since departed singer, Hisham Baroocha, another RISD student who now plays drums for the band Black Dice — since December ’94. Lightning Bolt practiced there, and we were there for five-and-a-half years and played 110 shows in that time. We had the space, and it was what we always wanted to do. We had bands come, and we had two-thirds of a whole floor of the building. About a year later, the landlord said he was going to move these other people into this other third, and put a hallway across our space to the fire escape. And so we told him, “No no no! We’ll take it. We’ll find our own people.” That’s when Jim Drain, Brian Ralph and Paul Lyons moved in. They were a little younger than us. I kind of knew Brian Ralph; he was the Fireball guy. Paul, I kind of knew; we hung out on occasion. Everyone hung out a little bit. It’s a small school. Jim, I didn’t really know very well, except that he was a guy that had smashed a window once at our place. They moved in around the beginning of the second year. We went up to seven people, and then Fred moved out. There was one room that was cursed, with this turnover of people. I think Fort Thunder, over the whole period, had about 24 people that came and went.
NADEL: Were you and Mat in charge all along?
CHIPPENDALE: Not really. That’s not the right phrase; we had a weird seniority that…
NADEL: Somebody had to be organizing things.
CHIPPENDALE: Mat was the main do-er of shows. I was interested in doing a little bit of that stuff, and helping him do it. So we were in charge of shows, for the most part. We were bullies about things, in a weird way.
CHIPPENDALE: Kind of. Like, “We don’t care if you guys don’t want to have shows. We’ve been here the longest. That’s what this place is for.” We were definitely control freaks, and [sing-song voice] “We got this place for a reason! And we’re not going to change.”
NADEL How did the communal aspect of it — making it the whole world of things that you made — take shape? When did it start?
CHIPPENDALE: When we got there, but I don’t remember what the first thing I stapled to the wall was. Everyone started slowly building rooms. Some people never even finished. No one ever really finished, entirely. Mine was pretty over-grown, and I had to close it off with socks in every crack and hole. It was a slow evolution. Everything about that place was a slow evolution. Need roommates? People would show up, and we’d say, “Well, I guess there’s still room in that corner.”
CHIPPENDALE: Well, I was lucky because I was there in the beginning, and I had a room on the two-thirds side — the main space. Most people were shuffled in on the one-third side, which was a long space. So I had maybe a little more space, and I was really demanding about the band room so I had a place to play my drums. Lightning Bolt practiced at 9:00 almost every night. So, I had what I needed, and I had my drawing table. It was an amazing nightmare. Sometimes it sucked; I’d try to go to the bathroom, and four hours later, after five conversations, I’m back in my room wondering what was I doing. There were so many people around.
NADEL: People would just hang out?
CHIPPENDALE: Yeah, in the kitchen, people would just hang out.
NADEL: Strangers or friends? Was it basically open?
CHIPPENDALE: Yeah, for like a year and a half, the lock was broken, and we had all sorts of people wandering in. But not crazy. It could be the quietest place in the world, too. There was a guy named Leek or Lake or something, some dude who just came in that nobody knew, and he just sat down in a chair; he sat there for a week or something and then he just left. Things like that; some weird dude sleeping over there. [Laughter.]
NADEL: When did it start to get a national reputation? It became someplace to stop through on the indie circuit.
CHIPPENDALE: In the first couple of years, bands started to hear about it. For the first year or two — I don’t really remember — we invited bands that we’d want. After a while, we didn’t even have to contact bands anymore; they were contacting us. We were getting phone calls from all sorts of shitty bands. We made a rule that bands only play once, which was basically just to tell people so they wouldn’t call us anymore, but we’d let bands we liked play more than once.
NADEL: Did you charge admission?
CHIPPENDALE: We did, but it was all donations, basically. Anybody could get in. If you had no money, it’s not a big deal. Fort Thunder definitely started out as a RISD hangout. We slowly bridged over to the Providence scene that was already going on. I’m not sure when it started to become more than just this place to play. By the end, I would just hear weird legends about Fort Thunder. I’d say, “Oh, really? [Laughter.] I’ve been there every day for the last six years, and I didn’t know that ever happened.” But that’s the way it worked. Of course, now, there’s probably more talk about it than ever. It was very slow growing.
NADEL: Did it start to take the place of art school?
CHIPPENDALE: Yeah. Mat dropped out and went back for a year. Leif finished. Paul Lyons didn’t finish. Jim finished. Andy [Estep] finished. Rob left the house, so he finished. Most people finished. Peter Fuller, Eric Talley and Maki never went.
NADEL: So, people were able to function in RISD and in the space?
CHIPPENDALE: Kind of. My first year, I had a studio at RISD, so I’d spend most of my time at RISD. And upon gradu — uh, leaving RISD, I lost my studio and thought, “All right, here I am.” Because I was always in there, my studio was pretty heavily worked on, too. It’s slowly happening in my new space. It’s really important for me to define my space and feel like I’m in control of my situation. I did a lot of decorating. A lot of times, I feel like Mat would bring home all the junk, but I’d be the one to deal with it. He would pile it up, and I would put it up. Or all the trash that people left — a lot of it got put up. Most people were putting some stuff up.
Building Your World
NADEL: That making-your-own-space impulse is a classic urge, but you seem to have taken it to new extremes. I wonder about your world-making: Most of the artists who came from there make worlds, on paper or physically. Lots of them just have junk or their paintings around, but you actually made tangible physical spaces that correspond in some ways to your comics, which are also making fantasy worlds.
CHIPPENDALE: Originally I felt, “These comics are getting some ideas out which I will then make real.”
NADEL: As in three-dimensionally?
CHIPPENDALE: Yeah. I love thinking about these worlds of comics. I love it. Reading The Lord of the Rings or whatever, I thought, “This is it, making a well thought out world is it. It just seems amazing.” But after a while, you’ve got to get up and affect your real world.
NADEL: By building something?
CHIPPENDALE: Yeah. I feel like I’ve got to make some of those things I do on paper.
CHIPPENDALE: I get restless, I guess. It’s really weak to just draw all the time. You can sit at your desk and imagine all you want, but your body’s shriveling up.
NADEL: But J.RR. Tolkein wasn’t building things —
CHIPPENDALE: Yeah, Jack London never left his fucking house.
NADEL: There are two levels: in mediocre superhero comics, where the world isn’t that well thought out, and another —
CHIPPENDALE: Where the world’s really thought out.
NADEL: — in Tolkein, where he doesn’t need to build it physically, because it’s completely there on paper.
CHIPPENDALE: But he wouldn’t have written such a thorough world if he didn’t really want to be there.
CHIPPENDALE: It’s sort of sad. Maybe in his mind, he was entirely there. I don’t know.
NADEL: Maybe it was just fun.
CHIPPENDALE: Yeah, maybe. But I feel we can be …
NADEL: You can be there?
CHIPPENDALE: Kind of. One of my favorite comics growing up was Daredevil. I’ve always thought that was amazing. I’ve always been into climbing on stuff; I’ve always been a really physical person. I’m still sort of convinced that someday I’ll be Daredevil… I don’t want to live my life with my head in a book or something, but I love it. I’m conflicted about it.
NADEL: The funny thing about Fort Thunder is that everybody was really physical. You’re dressing up in costumes, going out into the woods or whatever. Lightning Bolt is incredibly physical. So, in a way, you do it.
CHIPPENDALE: Well, to some extent. Lightning Bolt is a weird vehicle; obviously drumming is really physical and I got a mask on — I’m a fucking superhero!
NADEL: [Laughter.] Is that what the mask is for?
CHIPPENDALE: Well, the mask is mainly a holder for my microphone. It’s a decorative holder for the mike.
NADEL: Is that because you’re drumming so hard that you can’t sing properly?
CHIPPENDALE: I don’t want to have to aim for a mic stand. I don’t sing much but it’s important to me, as little as it is. It’s like a bridge. You can understand. I am not so into instrumental groups, except a few brilliant ones. I like the human voice; it connects you with the audience. Every human can relate to the human voice. I really like singing. On another note, when I draw all the time, I get freaked out and nervous. And I need to do other stuff — run around, staple something to the wall, hammer stuffed animals to the telephone pole outside — because I have bigger ideas, and I don’t want to just draw them on paper. Hammering stuffed animals to poles, for example.
NADEL: Like a paper house.
CHIPPENDALE: Yeah. The other thing is that I want to make some of that stuff outside. Losing Fort Thunder was a big shock to that whole system — we could do whatever we wanted in there. Every idea I could do in there, and now I don’t know where to do it, exactly. It was escapism, too; we were building real things, but it was still like in a book, within those walls. Now it’s in a book. It’s important, if you have an idea, to follow it up no matter what the medium is. I don’t want to be limited to comics — which makes me sad, because I feel that if I were limited to comics, I would just go forever. There’s not enough time to do all the different things. I’m almost half-assing it in some weird way. There are people with focus — I was just reading about some comicbook guy who draws for 12 hours — I’ve gotten to points where I was drawing comics six or seven hours a day, but a week later I’m driving around the country, playing drums.
NADEL: I want to go back to Fort Thunder for a second: it’s funny that it was a group of people that seemed really interested in making worlds. Was that something that sprang from you and Mat, or were the people who came in interested in that, as well?
CHIPPENDALE: That’s a hard question. That’s a question that has to do with the break-up of Fort Thunder, which is still going on now; it’s a question that some of the guys have to come to grips with, because there were people there who really knew what they wanted to do and people that didn’t know quite as much and did stuff that the others were doing. I know that I really like building and decorating, drawing and playing music, all intertwined. Everyone had a piece of that, but I think people definitely got swayed in certain directions.
NADEL: It seems that Mat would be the same as you.
CHIPPENDALE: Yeah, Mat’s pretty much the same. Maybe I have more of a driving urge to coat everything with stuff than he does, but he has a weirder urge to collect stuff and stack it up than I do. That thing in the Whitney I view as definitely Forcefield, but it was also a collision of celebrating Fort Thunder ideas mixed in there, too. There’s been a lot of issues now with us and some people who spent time at Fort Thunder and are now getting involved in the art world. They don’t have to, but they might need to take some time and reevaluate what they’re thinking, and what they picked up along the way.
NADEL: Are you talking about money or credit?
CHIPPENDALE: No, I’m talking about … I’m getting into touchy stuff, because one of the ideas Forcefield came up with for the Whitney was to build a house inside the room and cover it with patterns and have the dudes inside that.
NADEL: Which didn’t happen.
CHIPPENDALE: But if you went into Fort Thunder, there was one room coated with patterns; it was mine. So when you’re living with a group of artists and you decide to become a professional artist, you might want to be wary of taking ideas that your neighbor has and making them yours. It’s like anything. You learn something new along the way and you use it. Happily, the house idea was quickly voted out of the Forcefield Whitney plan.
NADEL: But it’s also tricky when there’s a collective involved — especially if Forcefield is breaking up.
CHIPPENDALE: Forcefield is basically not supposed to exist anymore. Jim and Ara are changing it so it’s not Forcefield anymore, because you can’t take Mat Brinkman out of Forcefield and keep it Forcefield. I had a RISD friend call me up, like three days ago, and say, “Brian, I just made a little building with painted silkscreen papers on the inside, covered with green. It looks like grass; it looks just like your thing, and I feel really guilty.” What am I going to say? “Take it down”?
NADEL: Does it bother you?
CHIPPENDALE: It doesn’t bother me so much because I didn’t invent wallpaper, houses or installations. I went and saw her thing and it’s different from what I’m doing, but I can see it. I feel that at some point, everything will come clear. And if people take some credit they’re not supposed to, it may be embarrassing for them in the future. Maybe not. Maybe it’ll never come out.
NADEL: That’s generally what happens.
CHIPPENDALE: I don’t know. People should do whatever the hell they want, but they should also have a little bit of respect.
NADEL: How did you feel about the Whitney project?
CHIPPENDALE: I was conflicted, because I was weirdly jealous. [The curator] took three of the main Fort Thunder people and they had a show and I wasn’t involved. It was only Leif, Jim and Mat — and Ara Peterson, the Forcefield member who never lived in the house, although he did sleep in a closet for a little bit and on the roof. We all did installations in Philadelphia as Fort Thunder, with Peter Fuller and Andy Estep; Raphael Lyon was a big part; Erin Rosenthal, the list goes on. And also, Forcefield had never been an installation group — Fort Thunder was an installation group — Forcefield was more a multi-media performance group. I know the Whitney guy came to Fort Thunder and looked at everything, and then went back and asked Forcefield to do a show. So I was jealous, but I was also happy. They came together and were given a deadline and made this awesome group of figures and all sorts of awesome stuff. I’m super happy they did it, and I’ve come to terms with my own lingering jealousy about being in it. Lightning Bolt went on tour in Japan at the same time anyway.
No One’s Super-Happy
NADEL: Had the attention changed the scene here?
CHIPPENDALE: Well, yeah. I don’t know what is driving people to move to Providence, but when we go on tour, there’s always one or two people in every town that wants to move to Providence or has heard great things about Providence or likes bands from Providence.
NADEL: But has it changed you guys? Your relationships and your art and —
CHIPPENDALE: Well, success has hurt the relationships between the Forcefield guys, and they’re dealing with that. We’re fucking pissed; we’re angry. We miss our old house; prices are twice as much in this town. There’s like three times as many people; it’s not the town it was. It’s the cheapness that made everything so lively. We’re either going to have to leave or cope, and coping means being more of a salesperson. It’s a weird spot right now.
NADEL: When you say coping means being more of a salesperson, do you mean deciding to sell stuff? There’s hustling and then there’s selling stuff. Isn’t there a happy medium to be found?
CHIPPENDALE: Well, everyone’s always needed to sell stuff. Rent was 200 bucks for Fort Thunder. I’ve always had to sell stuff to get 200 bucks a month, but now I’m trying to raise 600 bucks a month. I’m a month behind; utilities are almost shut off all the time.
NADEL: Well, what if there was a New York gallery that’s very mellow and owned by a nice, super connected guy who shows work you like. Would you be averse to sending him a package and saying, “Hey, do you want to sell my work?”
CHIPPENDALE: For a really long time, I have not asked somebody to show my, work. I have this thing where I won’t ask, so if they really want to show my stuff, they should come talk to me. It’s a weird pride issue.
NADEL: If they came to talk to you, would you be open to it?
CHIPPENDALE: Maybe. We just; turned down a show in L.A. This hip gallery woman wanted to do a show at the end of the summer.
NADEL: New Image Art?
CHIPPENDALE: Yeah. I think it’s a good place; I don’t know that much about it. But it sounds like it’s a good location and she’s got Chris Johanson. I met him a few times. He’s a really nice guy. I saw him at the Whitney. He’s supposedly a big Fort Thunder fan. But all that stuff is just in the air.
NADEL: It’s all very crafty; it’s based on, hand craftsmanship.
CHIPPENDALE: It’s also the movement. I feel there is some sort of world-building.
NADEL: There is. And there are people that got much bigger already, like Barry McGee and Johanson. That’s something that’s going on with people our age right now.
CHIPPENDALE: Yeah. I don’t think you can get away with just hanging your paintings on the wall right now. You gotta hang a painting, have a thing, but it’s fucking bullshit, it’s just like it’s hip. It’s not affecting anything. It’s a learned language: you put a 3-D object with a 2-D object, you make a connection and do something on the fucking roof. It’s not good enough.
NADEL: Why is it not good enough?
CHIPPENDALE: Because it still comes down three weeks later, and there’s still a bunch of suits and ties … I don’t know! It’s a weird commodity. That’s what thrilled me about Fort Thunder; we were living inside this thing.
NADEL: You and Mat don’t want to be commodified in the art world.
CHIPPENDALE: Pretty much, but it’s hard to figure out how else to survive.
NADEL: How did Johanson survive? He’s been totally commodified in the art world, but his art remains just fine and he’s a swell guy.
CHIPPENDALE: I don’t know what Johansen used to do, or ever wanted to do.
NADEL: He was a house painter.
CHIPPENDALE: Really? I think he’s psyched to be a successful artist. He gets flown around for shows. I feel that being flown around the country would be a distraction. Or having three different galleries call me in one day, I’d be like, “Give me a break. Call me in six months.” I’m not built for it. Just give me enough money to pay my rent for a couple months; I’m just going to draw.
NADEL: What about ten years from now?
CHIPPENDALE: I’m not worried about that; I’m just trying to get through the summer. We’re looking to buy a new building — that’s been a new thing, a group of us, so we can start it up again. But its difficult in Providence right now.
NADEL: Have you guys thought about going nonprofit and trying to get grants, or is that too much in that world?
CHIPPENDALE: We can’t even spell. That sounds great, but realistically? I actually got a grant for like $5,000 last year. If we run into someone who’ll sit me down in a chair and help me fill out the papers, I can do it. It sounds great; there are a couple guys in town who’ve offered to finance a building for us, or give us all kinds of aid.
NADEL: You don’t want to —
CHIPPENDALE: No, I’m into it. Its got to feel right. I’m not going to jump into something, not to mention that I’m busy right now. I don’t know. We’ve got a problem because none of us are happy. I’m not super happy. Mat’s not super happy. Leif’s not super happy. It’s not what we want. Jim was trying to jump in with Forcefield, I think, and he was like, “Look, Leif, Mat, I’ve got this ticket to money and power in the art world, come along.” Jim wanted, I think, the best for everyone: “We can be a success. We can use this as a bridge to get what we want. Make money and get what we want later on,” but I feel everyone — at least Mat and Leif and me — we don’t know if you can go through the process of the art world to make good money and come out the same way on the other side. Come out with the ability to think clearly on the other side. Lightning Bolt is trying to not find acceptance, to some extent.
NADEL: [Laughter.] Not doing a very good job! But what are you going to do? You’re not going to reverse the process.
CHIPPENDALE: Well, you could try to kick it around a little bit, but…
NADEL: Did it hurt Sonic Youth?
CHIPPENDALE: They still do good stuff. They’re definitely a band that came through on the other side with their integrity pretty much intact. It can happen. There’s got to be others.
NADEL: Do you really worry about that with Lightning Bolt?
CHIPPENDALE: The only thing I worry about Lightning Bolt is, once again, we have an aesthetic: We play on the floor, we like small places and small crowds.
NADEL: Let’s talk about Lightning Bolt. You play drums and Brian Gibson plays bass guitar. And you play on the floor.
CHIPPENDALE: Yeah, for the most part. And we’re loud as hell.
NADEL: Why do you play on the floor?
CHIPPENDALE: If you’ve been at the club a million times and seen a million shows, playing on the floor will separate the memory of that night.
NADEL: But people can’t see you a lot of the time.
CHIPPENDALE: Yeah, that’s true. [Laughter.] That never used to be an issue, and now it is. To some extent, I’m thinking maybe lots of people will stop coming — but maybe not, maybe they’ll still keep trying to get a glance. You’re just not going to get me up on a stage, through a P.A. system.
NADEL: It’s not even through a PA. system?
CHIPPENDALE: No. Brian’s amp is huge and my drumming is really loud. We bring everything. I need two different plugs. That’s it. I don’t want your sound system; I don’t want your P.A. guy. I don’t want some sound guy translating our sound into the club’s sound. We’re a loud band, but we’re sometimes way quieter. Being different is all I want.
A Sphere Of Control
NADEL: Let’s change subjects and talk about the comics.
CHIPPENDALE: But I think it all ties in. It’s all about having a sphere of control.
NADEL: That you wouldn’t call up the gallery is interesting.
CHIPPENDALE: Well, there are places in town where I’ve installed stuff. They’re not galleries.
NADEL: That you describe it as pride is interesting.
CHIPPENDALE: I don’t like asking people for stuff I don’t want to presume that somebody would want my frickin shit in their shop. And I’m also not a hustler. It feels like begging. I get embarrassed when people do that. I think you get a lot more respect if you don’t. That was the whole thing with Fort Thunder: I was trying to make a living making posters, and the whole city’s our gallery. I’ve got posters all over the place, I don’t need to have something in a gallery. People will see it, they’ll ask people how to get it and they’ll come find me. But I’m not going to go put my stuff in a gallery. Although I sell stuff in a bookstore in town and Armageddon, a record shop. That’s a new movement for me. I have more than twice as many bills to pay. Some people have a lot more freedom in life; their parents send them a check every month, and the world’s an open book. Good for them. And not that it’s that important, but both those shops asked me to sell stuff, just to reinforce my little pride issue. Oh pride, American pride, isn’t pride a sin?
NADEL: [Laughter.] Did you start printing posters at Fort Thunder for your own shows, and then people started asking you?
CHIPPENDALE: Pretty much. I was a printmaking major in school, but I didn’t do a whole lot of printing. I felt like school was a playground; I did everything but what I was supposed to do. Fort Thunder was a playground, too, but it was different. It was like we were desperately making a playground.
CHIPPENDALE: Nothing’s been as free-wheeling as school was. Ever since school ended, things have been a little more serious. When I was in school, my parents were paying my rent. As soon as you have to make money and support yourself, everything’s different. Somebody knocking at your door, saying, “I’m shutting off the electricity in two hours if you guys don’t come up with some money.”
NADEL: But, desperately is a funny way to describe it...
CHIPPENDALE: Well, none of us can make any money; we were really bad at it. Me and Mat fucking freewheeled it all through Fort Thunder, just printing stuff. He was better at it than I was. He made more posters and people wanted Mat’s stuff more. He kind of backed out; he got sick of it.
Closing Down The Fort
NADEL: Fort Thunder ended when?
CHIPPENDALE: I think it was 2000.1 was on tour and came back to a chain on the door. Pretty much. We were there for almost six years. It would have been ’95 to 2000. I think it was 2000 summer. I think if we had made it to 2000 September, that would have been six years. The fire marshall shut it down. Chained the door. Locked us out. We got permission to go back in and get some stuff. I actually got some walls stashed, and some other shit. Now it’s dirt … it’s a vacant lot. It’s gone.
I drove by one day — we’d been out of there for eight months or something — and they knocked a big hole in the back of it. So I snuck in that night and took some photographs. The next day, it went. Me and Mat went to see the debris. It was kind of amazing; it’s a weird sentimental thing, just the two of us standing there. It was funny because they only knocked down our half of the building. We had one side; and the other side was still standing there. It was just like they took us out. Which is kind of funny and awesome. Everywhere you looked, there were little pieces of pattern papers and little shit just starting to blow in the air. It was almost like they set us loose. You know, we used to go outside and have parades and do weird shit, maybe to try to get into the public eye more. At some point, we went into Fort Thunder and just never came back out. Maybe it’s a better solution to be that way. But it seemed like in knocking it down, they’re actually letting loose this thing. But it’s only served to frustrate us, for the most part.
NADEL: Do you miss the camaraderie?
CHIPPENDALE: Not really; everyone is here.
NADEL: What is it?
CHIPPENDALE: The space. I miss the space and the cheapness, honestly. We had so much confidence behind that specific location and good feeling in there. From day one, I thought, “I’m not leaving this place till it’s really the end.”
NADEL: They shut it down because it was unzoned?
CHIPPENDALE: They shut it down for so many weird reasons. The building got bought, but it hadn’t been turned over yet. The people upstairs didn’t get kicked out till the following January. There was a big to-do over the project; they were putting in a shopping mall, and hundreds of people were coming to the meetings and saying, “We don’t want this! No way!” and it was kind of centered around Fort Thunder. The fire marshall came into our space, looked around, said it was a death trap and we all had to leave. But he went upstairs, two flights up, where they had one exit from all their spaces — they couldn’t even leap from the windows — he said it was fine and let all those people stay. So there was some sort of corruption going on. People were moving out, and there were only a few of us stragglers, and we said we weren’t leaving. Certain people were jumping the boat, and the landlord was just being a total asshole. He basically said we had to tear down every single thing in there if we wanted to stay. And we thought, “Forget it. We’re not going to spend all our time to tear down everything we built, and get kicked out. We’re not going to clean the space for you,” although it would have been nice if we had, actually, because then we’d have all our stuff. But the fucking junk can go back to the streets where it came from, all the couches can go back to the fucking junkyard where we dragged them from in the first place. The whole point of Fort Thunder was that we really felt like we were in charge, that we owned this place — which we learned wasn’t true. It was a heartbreaking blow. It was definitely a lesson hard learned. Someone else owned it and they sold it to an asshole, or one asshole sold it to another asshole. And now, I know it can happen again, so what are we doing? How do you really do what you want to do? We’ve been trying to find a building or some land to buy. But it just comes at a hard time in Providence’s history — it’s expensive now. I feel we, to some extent, instigated this area’s gentrification and now we gotta deal with it, and we can’t. And we’re not buying-minded people; none of us are going to walk into a bank and get a loan. Maybe in a couple of years we’ll be able to deal with that kind of stuff, or someone will step up. We found a building that was $100,000 down the street, and a guy we knew was basically going to come over with a suitcase with $100,000 in it. He’s a friend of ours who owns some buildings around. He’s a little bit older, he’s involved with some city stuff and he has development money. He was a big fan of Fort Thunder.
NADEL: What happened?
CHIPPENDALE: It’s confusing. All these buildings are environmental hazards. You’ve got to spend like $5,000 on environmental testing first. You might buy a place, and before you know it, you’ve got the Environmental Protection Agency knocking on your door with a $3,000 bill. Or you’ve got a $300,000 clean-up for a $50,000 property. Everyone said, “This place is a toxic-waste dump. It’s got a basement that, for some reason, they filled with sand and cement. There are a lot of problems with the place.” We were just out the door of Fort Thunder and desperate. Fort Thunder started with two of us saying, “We need a place to be loud!” and ended with like 10 people saying, “We need to find a place to live together.”
NADEL: The “we” right now is who?
CHIPPENDALE: It’s boiled down to me and Mat, Leif, Peter Fuller, who worked on bikes — that was his main thing there — and Christopher Forgues is lurking in the shadows. It’s a pretty serious little gang. But, you know, I haven’t even paid this month’s rent, yet.
NADEL: Right. But you’re all also doing incredible work now.
CHIPPENDALE: Maybe. Or our worst; a friend of mine told me, “Man, I hate telling you this, but your comics were so much better back before you got into politics.”
NADEL: But Leif and Mat and Christopher —
CHIPPENDALE: Oh, Christopher for sure. Did you see that melting man, one-page thing that he did, where the guy stops at the inn? That thing’s amazing! It’s the best comic ever! But he’s got the same fucking weird problem that we all do about exposure. Mat has it the worst of anybody; Mat sees success in front of him and walks 180 degrees the other way, then shoots himself in the foot and limps off in a different direction. Mat has always been the best at all the things that he’s applied himself to; he was the best at doing posters; he was drawing amazing comics freshman year. But he doesn’t draw comics a whole lot, really, and he doesn’t make posters anymore. With Forcefield, the door was wide open, but he didn’t want to deal with the art world. Which, more than even the art world, there are a lot inner problems among them anyway. I don’t know. Mat has his own issues to deal with, success issues, He’s the greatest comic-book guy ever, but has only done a handful.
Tom Fucking Devlin
NADEL: I want to go back to the beginning: You started doing comics that were, in some weird way, autobiographical. Your figures kind of represented you, and the comics tended to be like a lot of the Fort Thunder-ish stuff guys walking around —
CHIPPENDALE: Discovering things. I heard that Ron Regé was influenced by that at some point. I forget what he said, like, “I’m just going to draw dudes in the dark discovering things!” Fort Thunder books. A lot of my approach to that was; that I would sit down with no idea and draw comics. Very rarely did I approach it with a story in mind. So, me and the character were discovering what was happening. We didn’t know what was going to happen, and then you get into the motion of moving your arm and, in an hour, you’re focused. You’ve tuned everything out and your imagination lets loose.
NADEL: For somebody who said earlier that you always feel split into different directions, you’ve drawn, what, a few thousand pages of comics now?
CHIPPENDALE: Probably. It’s up there.
NADEL: What is the Highwater book?
CHIPPENDALE: Well, Maggots Book One is made up of the four minicomics I published, and it should probably have two or three more in it. But the Highwater book is a whole separate Maggots volume. The minicomics aren’t a part of it, so, we’re going to call it Maggots something. On the cover, it says Maggots Fort Thunder, actually. It’s loosely about, I mean, none of them are specifically about anything. But it’s a group of characters; it has something to do with them living in this place called Fort Thunder. It has loosely to do … I haven’t read that thing in three or four years, because Tom fucking Devlin ran off with it! And I don’t even have a copy, I don’t even have photocopies of it. I had a bunch, but I left them all at Fort Thunder, and now they’re gone. I think the main character is this guy named Hot Potato. It’s something to do with … What is that thing about? It’s just little subplots. There’s a character of power who people are seeking. In other words I don’t remember what the hell it is about. They eat peanut-butter people; they run around a lot; there is a bad guy who is a capitalist; its like life: a lot of little tiny stories and finally something erupts that actually changes things.
NADEL: The comics you’re doing are basically fantasy comics.
CHIPPENDALE: Yeah, pretty much.
NADEL: We should talk about influences then, because it’s a funny thing for you to be doing. What are you a product of?
CHIPPENDALE: Marvel Comics. I don’t like alternatives. I don’t know if they still draw stuff like couples sitting in coffee shops talking about their love life or whatever — it’s boring. It’s not visionary. I don’t like that Generation X mentality. It’s a waste of time, and it’s backwards. But I draw a character just sitting around and talking about their favorite candy bar for a minute, but then it flies away. It’s a mixture of stuff.
NADEL: Do you follow comics now?
CHIPPENDALE: I’ve actually been getting a litle bit of stuff, having partially to do with my discount at the comic-book store. I’ve been reading the New X-Men. I think Alan Moore’s stuff rules. I thought Top Ten was amazing. I’m reading League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I started getting He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, [laugher] which sucks, but the drawings are all right. I’ve been getting Daredevil. I like Mike Mignola and Hellboy, even though he dumbs it down a lot. Paul Pope I think is really good, although if I have to see another picture of him in his studio blowing smoke, I’m going to puke.
NADEL: I saw a bunch of Lone Wolf and Cub volumes here.
CHIPPENDALE: I went on a big Lone Wolf and Cub binge. After we got kicked out of Fort Thunder, I was living in this attic for a while — electricity coming up from the first floor, no running water — and I felt this weird connection to the simplicity of Lone Wolf and Cub. But I can’t read that stuff now.
I was actually talking to Christopher about this the other day. It’s the same thing in Lightning Bolt; a lot of times, while I’m playing and singing, I’ll be thinking about Madonna or something like that. I’m thinking about pop music. But I feel that when you read comics or listen to music, it gives you a feeling that’s not the same as what it is. Like, when you read X-Men or something, you get like this feeling of wonder, but I don’t want to make that stuff. For one thing, someone’s already making that stuff. That’s fine. I don’t need to do the same thing. And the other thing, it’s like I’m translating that through my own weird retardation. I could sit down and try to play what I think are pop beats, but the truth is, I’m hyperactive. I can’t slow down. It thrills me to go nuts on the drums. So I’ll be singing that song, and it’s almost like the feeling of euphoria that I get listening to certain stuff. But when I actually show you what that feeling is, this is what it turns into. It’s like, my love of comics and it’s what I love about comics, but it’s translated through my inefficiencies and weird interests. Gary Panter comes up as an influence, too. Especially the Dal Tokyo stuff I saw and early Jimbo. I didn’t start seeing that stuff till like three years into Fort Thunder. I was already drawing pretty scrappy stuff. My friends had seen Panter’s stuff. Mat loved Pee Wee’s Playhouse, but I’d never even really seen it. I wish I had. I’d like to still see it, but I was living in a Pee Wee’s Playhouse of my own making, but it’s probably because I was watching the other Saturday-morning cartoons.
NADEL: Were there painters and people like that who influenced your style?
CHIPPENDALE: What influenced me? I don’t know. I used to try to draw like Frank Miller when I was a kid [laughter], because I love that Daredevil stuff. Gary Panter has been big, only at that point when I saw him, I was definitely shown that you can do anything you want. But a lot of it was just seeing what Leif’s drawing, what Mat’s drawing, what Jim’s drawing or this weird thing on the floor that someone dragged in from the trash. For some reason, I can’t seem to remember any fine artists. I went thought my litle Basquiat phase [laughter] and, of course, Darger — which was obviously later. Talk about world-building.
NADEL: One of the funny things we talked about earlier is that your work is not seen by many people. What are you trying to get out of it? Do you want to communicate to other people? For example, a typical criticism of the work is that it’s incoherent. Is that a concern? Does it bother you that very few people have seen it?
CHIPPENDALE: It doesn’t bother me, because I know that people will see it eventually — unless every copy of it is destroyed, like if this table caught on fire right now. This stuff would be gone, and I’d be sad.
CHIPPENDALE: I look at Paper Rodeo and I think “I can’t read this crap! What is that stuff?” I look at mine and it actually seems like the most digestible stuff in there. But maybe my stuff now is more digestible than it was. But it seems pretty damn coherent to me. Because —
NADEL: [Laughter.] You’re doing it.
CHIPPENDALE: It just takes a little bit of commitment. All that stuff does. Like a lot of Paper Rodeo, if you feel like taking the time to read it, it’s there. It’s not so difficult, but we are asking a lot. My parents don’t read my stuff. I give them everything. They haven’t read it. Maybe little bits.
NADEL: Are the comics more of a private endeavor? As opposed to the music?
CHIPPENDALE: Well, it obviously used to be super private, ‘cause these books aren’t easy to reproduce.
NADEL: Was it better that it was private? Did you want it to remain private?
CHIPPENDALE: No. I like showing people the books. For the new stuff, the Ninja stuff, I wanted to do a monthly comic. I needed money, and I thought, “I’m going to make a comic and sell it. If you can make money off Marvel comics, I can make money off Ninja comics, around here,” which is also me interpreting major things in my own minor way.
NADEL: Right. The Ninja comics are funny because you started it when you were how old?
CHIPPENDALE: I drew like 17 episodes of the Ninja when I was 10 or 11. All the characters from my childhood are moving to this town called Groin, and they’re waiting in line, which parallels this dilapidated city. I’m trying to overpopulate this huge city because I want to draw parallels to Providence, but at the same time I want a city that seems unending, which is what I love. And the Ninja will come into play. I think the Ninja has become this black sphere. The character I drew as a kid called “The Ninja” would basically break into places and steal money or something. I think he would break into evil places. He would kill all the people — as a kid, that’s what I was into. It’s a little hard for me to just kill people, in the last couple of years, so the ninja character was exploded into a weird, evil black mist that people will have to … I don’t know, but I’ll deal with it at some point. Like all my comics, it’s all about tangents. I’m trying to do a town where there are so many characters, and every time I sit down, I come up with new one, and I’ll go draw a part of the story and I’ll come back with more stories and new dudes and eight more places. I’m utterly confused about it…
NADEL: Yeah. That goes back to the coherence issue that people complain about. Do you ever want to force yourself to stick to these characters?
CHIPPENDALE: I think, in the new stuff, they have a little more consistency — but I can’t get away from the fact that life is incoherent. For things to have stupid, sweet endings where everything works out is utter crap. Life works in this weird way of things leading other things, and you can’t control that, and I don’t want to be in control of that when I’m drawing. Because when I sit down and I’m utterly in control — it’s all mapped out. I don’t want to go through the paces, although I can do that a little more now.
Destroyed By Politics
NADEL: The other funny thing— like in the Grasslands strip that’s running in Paper Rodeo — is a conflation of Bush’s war and the shuttering of the Fort.
CHIPPENDALE: That friggin’ paper comes out once every four months, so the idea of trying to do a continuing story line is a joke. Grasslands is boiled down to political satire. I just ditched the characters.
NADEL: There was a continuing story going, but now it’s gone.
CHIPPENDALE: I’ve been destroyed by politics.
NADEL: Was the closing of Fort Thunder the catalyst?
CHIPPENDALE: It was everything: the war, President Bush — I can’t stand that guy! It’s getting harder and harder to live with the idea of what our country represents and our place in it, playing this huge game where everyone pretends all this crazy shit isn’t going on. Politics are fucking killing me.
NADEL: Me too. But I want to break down your comics output, so we can get all of this clear, there have been three issues of Ninja, which started about a year ago. Maggots was a continuing series of minicomics, four of which have been published. When were they published?
CHIPPENDALE: Like, ’95 to ’97, somewhere in there.
NADEL: Grasslands runs in Paper Rodeo. That’s a catch-all of sorts.
CHIPPENDALE: Right. There’s been 12 or so of the 11 by 17 Grasslands.
NADEL: And the however-many-thousands of pages of unpublished comics. Is that all Maggots?
CHIPPENDALE: That’s all Maggots. It’s supposedly from the same story.
NADEL: Ninja’s leading into that world as well.
CHIPPENDALE: Ninja takes place on the other side of the mountains in the Grassland, which takes place on a level lower than the book that Tom’s putting out, which is like a cave below the original dark Maggots level. There are gardening levels. And the sandlands, where Ninja takes place, was a garden that was ill-farmed. It’s a used-up area of land that’s now a desert. So the grassland, which I think is soon to be a garden, a field that has a regenerative plant planted in it to bring back the nutrients, or something. I just made that up. This mud land is the waste level and maybe the Fort Thunder level is maybe where a lot of people live. It’s all sort of barely there.
NADEL: [Laughter.] But it’s a world that you’re trying to delineate.
CHIPPENDALE: Flesh this thing out. But there are so many tangents; it could go everywhere and anywhere. The thrill I get out of sitting down, coming up with ideas and spending a few hours drawing can be so wonderful. It’s also great to play drums in front of 400 totally excited people. But better to play in front of 40 really excited people.
NADEL: I want to talk about drums for a second. Well, I want to talk about three things at once. One is patterns; the other is drums; the other’s storytelling. The way you tell stories seems very, very similar to the way you play drums. I’ve heard Lightning Bolt described as having “micro-beats.”
CHIPPENDALE: Lots of fast beats.
NADEL: You’re playing incredibly fast and hard. And the stories are very dense — they also have micro-beats, because you’ll take a single action and stretch it out over several panels.
CHIPPENDALE: I’ve been doing that less.
NADEL: But the earlier stuff, like Lightning Bolt, is incredibly fast but also ambient. Like dub music.
CHIPPENDALE: Yeah. It’s funny. People say that even more so about my playing, because it’s all electronic.
NADEL: But do you see a connection?
CHIPPENDALE: Its just a need to take care of every little space. If it’s on paper, I fill it up. If it’s my walls, I want to fill it up.
NADEL: Well, even down to the story-telling, you’re filling up time. And the patterns, like your posters: They’re heavily, heavily patterned. Is that a similar urge, to fill up space? What is it with patterns?
CHIPPENDALE: I was printing, and I just got sick of these blank fields of color. You can do almost a similar blank field of color, but with way more action. I like the feeling of movement and aliveness, and you can capture that with a series of little marks playing off each other, more so than a field of flat color. It comes alive. I’ve been printing this wallpaper stuff on newsprint. You can surround yourself with it, and make it your whole world. It just all comes more alive, colorful vibrant stuff, all sort of vibrating. So, that’s another solution for covering everything. I like figuring out solutions.
NADEL: The other interesting thing about it is that the patterns are almost classical. They’re beautiful; they’re almost classically beautiful.
CHIPPENDALE: Yeah. Some of them lean toward almost Japanese or Chinese characters. I’m really enthralled by Asian stuff. I just got this Japanese book of monsters yesterday. I love this stuff! Talking about influences, these old prints and scrolls and paintings of demons and monsters and samurai. Just like the mark-making. Yeah, it’s really beautiful. But I don’t want to be restricted by that either. I’m doing a new print, a new wallpaper. I’m making a collage out of three different colored papers cut into angular pieces that are glued down to a larger piece of paper. It’s sharp and angular, done in a new way. I have a new solution I just figured out. It’s like a crayon coloring-book style on the M&M print I made, printing the outline first and then doing the layers of color with a crayon so each printed color has a crayonesque feel when printed with the acrylic ink. It leaves that hazy overlapping coloring book-look, like actual M&Ms.
The other thing I’ve been doing, which I think is a big deal, in my comics, is that I’ve got this black-and-blue style going. I keep the blue pen in my left hand, and the black pen in my right hand. I’ve actually been doing it for years. I mention this because I’m really psyched about it. It adds a weird element of chaos. I feel like you get really good, like I was with my right hand, the art can become stiff — so I though maybe if I just brought the other hand in to basically scribble on top of what I was doing, it would become more alive. I want to keep things alive. I feel you’ve got to fuck yourself up to get some liveliness.
NADEL: Well, the blue and the black is also the vibration you get.
CHIPPENDALE: But you don’t see that. My plan is to take these into the computer, separate them and silkscreen a book of this stuff. Black and blue, on a little bigger scale. I have 60-something pages here and I hope to hit 100, after I finally get sick of Ninja. I want to go back, reacquaint myself with the grueling task of stamping and finish that story up. Which is more story than ever, but so many stories in one. It’s a brain-collecting tree, but at the same time collecting seven pyramids rising to the sky, and the cloud people are coming back, and I don’t know. It’s overstimulation. I see more stuff. I haven’t even processed the stuff I learned in kindergarten.
NADEL: And you’re processing it all into this sci-fi fantasy epic, basically.
CHIPPENDALE: Kind of. Half of it is sci-fi fantasy.
NADEL: Is it? Are you being facetious?
CHIPPENDALE: No, no. I’m serious. I’m into science-fiction and fantasy stuff. I’m into all sorts of stuff. I was talking about movies that I love the other day, and I definitely love sci-fi books and movies and fantasy stuff too, and I also like other modern, realistic —
NADEL: Is it because sci-fi fantasy gives you a freedom that another genre wouldn’t?
CHIPPENDALE: For the most part. It’s also laziness, maybe. I’m not going to draw this room, all this shit in every panel. But you’ve got these science-fiction worlds that are really minimal, which means that you draw less.
NADEL: But they’re not minimal in the way you draw them. Yours are incredibly ornate.
CHIPPENDALE: But a lot of times it’s just the scribbling that’s ornate. This stuff isn’t ornate. It’s mark making. A little while ago, someone mailed me a Comics Journal that had Jason Lutes talking about his comic Berlin, which I had never seen. I remember that guy used to have Jar of Fools in the paper here. But now, he’s doing this period piece. When I see period movies, it’s great. I think I’m glad they’re being made, but I can’t believe that people do that stuff. Trying to get all the details right — it blows my mind.
NADEL: You’d rather just imagine it?
CHIPPENDALE: Yeah. I’ve been doing a lot of bike riding, since it’s an excuse to get fresh air and I’m looking at buildings. There’s a few buildings around town that are just so amazing, I want to take photos and bring them in for drawing. But still, they’ll be surrounded by other weird shit that doesn’t exist. I can’t be limited by reality.
NADEL: And the panels are usually the same small size, usually just big enough for a figure surrounded by marks, especially in Maggots.
CHIPPENDALE: I’m at my best when I’m being repetitive. It’s the same with Lightning Bolt, playing drums: When I really concentrate and get into a groove, that’s when my mind is really starting to work. When I sit down to draw, I shit out a bunch of ideas haphazardly and then I focus. The way I focus is through repetition.
NADEL: Which accounts for the wallpaper patterns. Would it be correct to say it also accounts for the kind of figure-panel figure-panel figure-panel compositions you use?
CHIPPENDALE: Yeah. It accounts for all that.
NADEL: And then occasionally it explodes, like in Non, where you suddenly move to full pages?
CHIPPENDALE: ‘Cause I’m thinking; you can see me thinking. I’m drawing and thinking, just wandering around, and then it reaches what I’ve been thinking about.
NADEL: I think what’s very exciting to me, and probably other people, about this work is that it’s image-making and mark-making which vanished from comics for a while. There was Panter, Kim Deitch, Chris Ware and some other people. But otherwise, the imagistic power of comics was rarely seen. Straight image-making as opposed to just storytelling, which are two different things. A lot of your work is about drawing. Is that conscious on your part?
CHIPPENDALE: I want to be able to go off and just draw, to the destruction of everything else. I think that’s what Paper Rodeo is about, even more so than me. I stick to stories more than a lot —
NADEL: Paper Rodeo is really about drawing.
CHIPPENDALE: Yeah. It’s an extension of the Fort Thunder mentality. It’s a fucking free-for-all, anything goes. Comics aren’t necessarily drawing, but I want to make sure that they can be.
NADEL: The ideal is when the drawing and the storytelling are equal.
CHIPPENDALE: Sure. Gary Panter gets that. I have talking heads, which isn’t exactly about drawing, but it’s still drawing.
NADEL: Was that always your interest!
CHIPPENDALE: Yeah. I like to draw.
NADEL: Do you feel related to what’s going on in comics now at all?
CHIPPENDALE: As I said, I’ve been reading the New X-Men. It kind of sucks, but it’s kind of good. Daredevil’s boring.
NADEL: No, I mean do you feel connected to more “alternative” comics?
CHIPPENDALE: I’ve always felt connections to the people here. It’s the same musically; Providence is a big music town, but it can be limited in scope. When I want to go look at great art, I walk over to Mat’s house. I’m lucky being surrounded by this stuff.
NADEL: It’s a world unto itself.
CHIPPENDALE: It is.
NADEL: But do you sometimes feel it’s restrictive?
CHIPPENDALE: It’s totally restrictive musically and artistically. We could all use some fresh air here. There are a lot of new people moving here — new people are fresh air — but there’s not a lot of, space for them. An hour drawing opens this untapped world. There are too many ideas in my head and not enough time to do it. So, in a weird way, I don’t need influence; all I need is time. We’ll see. I say that and then I get frustrated. I need some land and a big building.