I don’t know if it’s me turning forty or whatever, but I found all these old undergrounds, some of the more famous Crumb ones and some of the other ones, and just reading through those made me think about Weirdo. Weirdo didn’t have any political “stance,” it wasn’t overtly political, but something came through that was. And those undergrounds, I mean they were all part of the counterculture and everything, and some of it was goofy and reflective of that particular moment in time, but it really made me wish there was some way to address some of these social, political issues now, in a way that was thoughtful and reasonable rather than this screaming and yelling, red or blue. You know what I’m saying?
Everything’s political if you make it political. There were occasionally some politically related pissing matches that occurred while I was the managing editor of Weirdo. And it was mainly me trying to allow people to express themselves, but without seeming like I was endorsing anything, which I realize in retrospect is impossible. Well the most obvious example was— There’s a cartoonist named J.D. King, do you know him?
He’s mainly an illustrator now. I always loved the way he worked, and back when I lived in New York he was a close friend of mine. And he’d flip-flop. One week he’d be like a hardcore Republican, and the next week he would literally be, not just a Communist, but a nostalgic 1940s-style-Russian-Jew-from-Brooklyn Communist.
He’d even once called up my wife to ask her how you make borscht. It wasn’t even the just the ideology, it was the accessories that appealed to him.
But when I first met him, he was in more of a contrary, hardcore Republican mode. Because I loved his artwork I asked him to do a back cover for Weirdo. Do whatever you want, just draw a back cover. So he did a Big Daddy Roth-style drawing of Ted Kennedy driving Mary Jo Kopechne off the Chappaquiddick Bridge. [Laughs]
And it had a caption that read, “Ted Kennedy, son of a bootlegger, son of a bitch.” It was blatantly obvious and over the top. I also knew that it was just begging for some kind of a partisan response, because it did come across as the partisanship that I’ve been bellyaching about. But I did say to J.D. King, “Draw whatever you want,” so he took advantage of that. Well, I did say, “Do you really wanna do that?” and he said, “Yeah, you got a problem with that? What, you love Ted Kennedy?”
Which by the way is always the best kind of argument, “What, you like him? What, you don’t like it, Bagge?”
Oh God [Laughs], see, I…
I did a comic about Ayn Rand, about how polarizing she is: you either worship her or you think she’s Beelzebub. I don’t feel either way. I have very mixed feelings about her and her writing. Anyhow, like the King drawing, I loved the art — I always love Crumb’s art — but I thought both pieces were childish.
See, now here we go, because I thought that was hilarious.
I thought that that back cover was just— and this may be exactly what we’re talking about, because Weirdo, I know it was just so absurd, and…
Yeah, but didn’t you also wonder where the heck that came from?
Yeah! But I thought it was just so kinda stupid and goofy that it still cracks me up. It’s just like, some dude throwing eggs at Ayn Rand? Saying, “Take that, ya witch”? I guess maybe that’s why I thought it was great.
Oh, okay. [Laughs]
Because I just thought it was out of nowhere. What? Oh all right, that’s hilarious. But that’s my point, like with the J.D. King thing that you just said, and the Ayn Rand, both of those being in the same magazine, within a couple issues. I loved that those two things had equal billing, and both were just kind of nuts.
Yeah. It certainly was that.
What emerged from that whole thing is not the politics of being this thing or that thing but the politics of being a fucking weirdo. And that’s about the only “political” thing that I could ever get behind, you know?
But it was a pissing match.
And by the time he did the Ayn Rand drawing, J.D. King was a “communist.” [Laughs]
To me, not knowing it was a pissing match, the thing that came through was just that it was the container for a bunch of artists and cartoonists, who are supposed to be a bunch of left-wing whatever-
While I was the managing editor of Weirdo for that brief period, the harshest criticism I got was from the other contributors, who would be offended by the work of other artists I ran. For example, I reprinted a three-page comic strip by S. Clay Wilson that originally ran in Screw magazine. Screw magazine probably told him, “Be your S. Clay Wilson-est, go crazy and break every taboo.” So he just went nuts, drawing the most sexist and racist and scatological comic he could possibly think of. He really went overboard, and I loved it. [Laughs] So I reprinted it.
You see, one of the things that was great about early underground comics is the way they gleefully and compulsively broke every societal rule imaginable. It was very cathartic to see that, and it was one of many things that helped loosen up our culture. But by the ’80s, those rules started to tighten up again, largely from the left, surprisingly, and under the guise of political correctness. The false notion of direct causation—that, say, a depiction of rape causes someone to commit rape—was gaining a lot of traction again, which made it easy again for people to demonize and ban material that they didn’t like.
The S. Clay Wilson strip was obviously meant to fly in the face of this new political correctness, yet artists who were offended by it kept saying, “It’s been done before, time to move on.” To which I said, “No, it’s obviously time to do it again.” [Laughs]. I felt that critics of the strip were being disingenuous when they said “Wilson isn’t funny anymore,” since I don’t think they ever thought he was funny. They simply felt that now was the time to say it out loud, and over and over again. A number of artists said they’d no longer contribute if I ran a strip like that again. So I ran another strip by Wilson that was even more offensive. [Laughs] That may sound childish and spiteful on my part, which it was to some degree, but I also thought those strips were very, very funny, so it wasn’t solely about making a point.
Huh. Did you-
I suppose everything becomes political when you’re the managing editor of anything.
Well, if you guys would let me fire up Weirdo again, I could find out for myself… [Laughs]
I almost started another anthology towards the end of Hate‘s run. I was running work by other artists in the back pages. I was thinking of expanding on that, even changing the name of the magazine. I wanted to drop the name “Hate,” because the word became politicized. As if liberals don’t hate stuff. [Laughs] They like to pretend they don’t hate anything. I thought that that would go away, this politicization of a verb. But it didn’t, it’s only gotten worse, with the advent of “hate crimes” and all that. So I was thinking of changing the name of it, and I mentioned it in an interview in The Comics Journal. And when that interview wound up in print I immediately got bombarded with submissions, 90% of which were really bad. And all these horrible memories came back, of this totally thankless job being the managing editor of a comic-book anthology.
Yeah. I mean, I guess the reason I ask was I know all those things were political, but the stuff I see you doing for Reason, it’s perhaps supposed to represent, um, “the libertarian perspective,” but those strips for me just read like this is some guy giving you his take, from no overt political perspective, other than this is what I believe, and this is what I feel about this thing.
Right. But I am a libertarian, so it is from a libertarian standpoint.
Yeah. It doesn’t read like some didactic—and that’s the shit that I hate, whether it’s Republican or Democrat or whoever the fuck, you know? If it’s that didactic-
But the problem with the partisanship, with Republican versus Democrat, is its high stakes. There is a reason why people make a huge deal out of these absurd distinctions, and that is that when a party gets in power, they have a lot of power. They control the purse strings, and they get to hand most of the money out. So if you back the right horse, you benefit from it. You could pretend to be the maker of solar panels, and con the government out of hundreds of millions of dollars and never go to jail. Or with both parties, people on Wall Street are getting away with murder, and nobody’s gone to jail over all that crap. Both under Republicans or Democrats none of them go to jail because they give whoever’s in power fuck-loads of money, so they have a “Get out of jail free” card. It’s corruption. With average folks you get leverage through groups like the teachers’ union or the NRA. They tend to back just one horse, so they have to head for the hills when the wrong side wins. And demonize them on Facebook in the meantime. [Laughs]
Well, let’s get it back to that. Where do you see yourself fitting in to all this, like the stuff we’re talking about and the kind of comics you want to do, and the kind of comics you feel like you have to do? I mean, do you want to keep doing comics forever?
Yeah, sure. I mean I wish it paid a lot better than it has been lately, and that’s been a real issue. It might be a mistake because it’s causing me a lot of sleepless nights, but a year or two ago I finally noticed and took advantage of this thing Google has called Google Alerts. And I typed in my own name, so basically in my e-mail box, whenever my name comes up anywhere in the internet, they’ll tip me off, they’ll send a link.
And 90% of it people putting up entire graphic novels that I had just drawn, so that everyone in the universe could download it for free. And I spend entire days writing to these people saying, “Look, this is my livelihood, you’ve gotta take this down.” I look at the websites and they’re all, “corporate motherfuckers, fuckin’ Google, fuckin’ Coca-Cola, fuckin’ Time Warner empire,” and I’m just like, I’m not any of that. I shouldn’t have to say any of this, but you know I’m intimidated by their ballsiness. You know, Pirate Bay, Megaupload, they make you jump through all these hoops to get them to take your stuff down. I’m the sole owner of this artwork, and they’re completely robbing me of my livelihood. And that’s just it too, it’s always the same guy for years now, even before I started getting these Google Alerts. There’s this guy who goes to all these file-sharing sites, and amazingly he hasn’t changed his name. It’s Leonard T Spock. For as long as these file-sharing sites have been on, this person who calls himself Leonard T Spock has uploaded literally every drawing I’ve ever done, and shares it with the entire world, onto every single one of these file-sharing sites. And when I click his name he’s not just doing it with me, he is sharing with the world, for free, every single comic page that Joe Sacco has ever done, that Gilbert Hernandez has ever done, that Jim Woodring has ever done, that Gary Panter has ever done. He’s such a big fan [Laughs] of alternative comics that he wants all of us to be in the poorhouse. This is the one thing where I disagree with most libertarians. I tell them that this is something that’s hitting me in my pocket book. They basically don’t believe in copyright laws, and they would say to me, “Well, wouldn’t you say because of the internet, and file sharing, and modern technology, wouldn’t you say that copyright laws are meaningless?” And my answer to that is, “Yes, it is.” But I still hate it, for obvious reasons. As a producer, that is. Not as a consumer, ha ha.
But is it meaningless morally, or is it just-
No, it’s meaningless in the practical sense. Because it’s reaching a point where, if I draw something, it’ll be solely because I want to. This is something everyone likes to pretend isn’t true, but it is true. If I’m just drawing to indulge myself, if I have a notion in my noggin, and I want to get it on paper, and then I want to share it with the world, I’m going to upload it to the internet. From that point on people can do whatever the fuck they want with it—that’s fine. But that piece of artwork, that thing that I created and I shared for free with everybody will never be anywhere as good as something where I thought I could potentially make a lot of money off of it. I mean, why are there still publishers? The last time I saw my editors from Reason, they were saying, “Do you still really believe in copyright law?” And I go, “Well, yeah.” But it’s wishful thinking, it’s all a moot point, a lost cause. Be prepared for the rest of history not having comics as good as what you’ve grown up on. You’re not going to see it. And you already are not seeing it. The profit motive is evaporating, and we’ve already seen it with music.
Think about music ever since Napster.
I don’t have to. [Laughs]
And I’m not saying I’m against Napster. It was inevitable. But think of music, since file sharing’s come along. And compare that to the 1960s. Or even the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. The last time there was this huge blast of music the likes of which you’ve never heard before, was in the early nineties, when indie rock suddenly became massively popular. After that these was a lot of good pop music for a while, which may not have been totally original but it was lively and interesting, where producers where doing new things with new digital technology. A lot of this was targeted towards pre-teens, but then they were the last demographic who still paid money for new music. They and their parents hadn’t quite gotten onto the file-sharing thing yet. Now that we’re all downloading music for free there’s not going to be any music that will thrill and excite you, it’s all going to sound like something that came before. Music has gotten really boring, and comics now are starting to get really boring, and it has everything to do with this new technology.