From the TCJ Archives

Alchemy, Comics, and Ron Regé, Jr


NADEL: Where were you born?

REGÉ: Quincy, Mass.

NADEL: Any siblings?

REGÉ: I have one sister who’s four years younger than me. I was in Quincy until I was 5, when we moved to Plymouth, where I grew up and went to Catholic school. Middle middle class, like right in the middle. My generation was pretty much the first to go to college. I guess on my dad’s side more people had gone, for engineering and stuff like that. So I don’t come from any kind of lofty academic background at all.

NADEL: You’ve said that you’ve known for a long time that you wanted to be an artist.

REGÉ: I think I always did. I think my parents always knew. I don’t think it was ever questioned at all.

NADEL: And they encouraged it?

REGÉ: Yeah, for the most part. I’m lucky because they never said, “You need to do this!” or “You need to get a job!” They were always like, “Whatever is going to make you happy.” And sure, they didn’t want me to be destitute, and I’ve never had to live off them. Even at this point, they would rather see me not making much money and struggling as opposed to working some job that I hate, because they watched me do that too. I was very lucky. They were happy to send me to art school. They were excited about it. They probably had delusions, as probably every parent does that sends their kid to art school, that there’s some sort of career. “Well they wouldn’t have a college for it!” Otherwise, it wouldn’t make sense. But yeah, they always encouraged it.

NADEL: Did you have a lot of exposure to art growing up?

REGÉ: Yes, but I discovered it myself.

NADEL: In museums? How close is Plymouth to Boston?

REGÉ: It’s about 40 miles away. I went to Mass Art for their weekend programs for high schoolers, and I was into going to museums and stuff like that. I was always looking at everything. I’d pick up a matchbook and be like “How did they print this?” Because I was always interested in printing and books and I guess that’s just design stuff, but more on the cartoony side of that.

NADEL: When did the comics hit?

REGÉ: I remember being interested in comic books and not being able to find them and wondering what comic books were. Because people were like, “Kids read comic books!” There was an old newsstand in Plymouth, like a smoke shop, and they had all the Marvels and DCs. It looks like they had had the same rack and way of presenting it from like the ’30s or something. So I went there and that’s how I got into X-Men and Marvel and stuff like that.

NADEL: This was when?

REGÉ: Probably like junior high or a little bit younger. But I was into science fiction and I was into Star Wars and Dr. Who and all that dreadful shit. I was never into the D&D side of it; just the science fiction. I would get comics that way. But I do remember enjoying Archie. Enjoying, not that I knew what the hell Carl Barks was, but reading Donald Duck and thinking the format was cool. I think a big difference, that I realize now, is that a lot of kids actually understood what Tintin was. I didn’t. There was no exposure to Tintin books. That was, I don’t know, more of a yuppie, or more … I guess your parents would have to bring you somewhere and give them to you. You weren’t going to just bump into it, “Oh what’s this? This is Tintin.” You’re not just like going to run into it in the Bradlee’s toy department. I guess you would have to go to an actual bookstore, which we only had in the city. I did discover Tintin in, I think, Cricket magazine. It was printed in two colors, in green and black. I thought, “This is the fucking best thing I’ve ever read! What the hell is this comic?” I was just a little kid. I hadn’t discovered anything else. I read Mad; I always liked the early Mads more than the ’80s one they’d come with — Do you remember they used to print them as comic books and bind them inside the summer specials? You couldn’t rip them out without destroying them.

NADEL: When did you discover punk rock?

REGÉ: Probably when I was around 15. Right when I was getting sick of reading X-Men, so I was reading American Flagg. I was into Judge Dredd. I loved that kind of stuff, but I knew there must’ve been something else. I remember the day, I think it’s issue 11 of Love and Rockets, with just Errata Stigmata’s face on the cover. I remember walking into the store, seeing it, opening it up and thinking, “This is a violent, crazy comic book with cute punk rock girls.” And that was it; everything changed. Neat Stuff with Girly Girl on the cover was on the other shelf and I thought, “Who is this publisher?” The other thing I remember was there being an ad in Mister X for the first issue of Yummy Fur. Looking at just an ad for Yummy Fur thinking, “That’s how I draw.” I think it had a woman’s face and there’s a vial being poured. I remember just looking at it and thinking “I kind of draw like that.” My very earliest comics look like Chester Brown. Everyone was skinny. I was into Egon Schiele at the time. “Awww my bones are brittle and I’m scratching my face!” I didn’t know anything about minicomics. I didn’t know you could make minicomics. I got Yummy Fur and on the pages inside, between the stories, were the covers for the previous minis. They said, “issue number 1, 2, etc …” They were 50 cents! I’m like, “He just made these?”

NADEL: And you started making comics even before that, I suppose?

REGÉ: I guess I started making comics at that time, but not really. Even after that terrible thing I showed you from art school — not really even taking it seriously. When I got heavily into art school I needed to pick a major, so I went to this performance-art major that they have there. It’s called a studio for interrelated media, which means basically they’ll give you a degree in anything. You can drink a beer and get a degree, just so long as you showed up. I did that for a year. I went in wanting to make videos, do sound production and make music and sound, but I ended up drawing, just doing drawings and kind of starting to do comics. They were like “Yeah, yeah, that’s cool, you can do comics. I don’t know why you would want to be in this department and do comics, though.” I remember being really distraught over the summer and changing my major to illustration. I said “Fuck it, I’ll do illustration.” I’m not going to do performance art and I’m not going to make videos. I’m not good enough at it.

NADEL: What college is this?

REGÉ: Massachusetts College of Art, which is the only state art school in the country. It was $500 a semester when I started there in 1988. And when I left there in ’93 it was, I think, $3,000 a semester. I don’t know how much it is now. It’s a state school. Because of that, I was able to go to art school. I’ve kind of always had this weird attitude about it, because, there was a museum school right across the street. Those kids would make these things with fancy lights and installations and stuff. You just had to be so rich to go to that art school, and as I later discovered, every other art school besides Mass Art. You have to be wealthy. Not only do your parents have to be crazy, they have to be rich. Or you have to get some insane loan. I do know people who didn’t have any money who had scholarships. There were also tons of people in their late 20s and 30s at Mass Art, who had never gone to school and decided to later. I don’t think you see that as much at other art schools. I thought it was really interesting.

NADEL: Did illustration allow you to just draw?

REGÉ: I just drew, and tried to draw in a cartoony fashion. The weird thing about that department was that most of the instructors wanted to teach you how to like to draw like N.C. Wyeth. We had to do egg-tempera paintings. I forget all those classic illustrators now. The instructors looked at my stuff, and said, “I don’t know how far you’re going to get with this cartoony style …” The people in Raw hadn’t become successful illustrators at that time yet, really. I didn’t know what to point to, to show them a legitimate example of what I was trying to do. I couldn’t show them a comic book! They do this degree project there where you do artwork about a subject for your entire junior year outside of class. And people picked things like … “firefighters!” I guess it’s a way of getting people to concentrate on something and notice details. You would have to write out a whole thesis. I did stuff about my friend Andy, a lot of it in comic form. The Andy Remembers book is from that. I did lots of different things for that project. I did interviews with all of his friends. So it was this kind of like narrative thing. I was not really doing comics but I was figuring out my own weird way of doing them.

I did a semester at Otis Parsons L.A. because you could pay your tuition at Mass Art. It was a semester exchange. There were all these art schools you could pick on the East coast. I had never left Massachusetts much. I had been to New York once when I was 19 or 20 years old. I had gone to Mexico in junior high, but as far as the rest of the USA was concerned, I had barely ever left New England. I looked at the list and it had Parsons, and some other ones in the South. At that point, Otis Parsons in L.A. was renting the name “Parsons” — now it’s just called “Otis” again. My finger just ran down the list of names, and stopped on the only one that was far, far away. I went to Otis for a semester and it blew my mind. I had a great time there. I met these two guys: a guy who was doing comics, his stuff looked a lot like Adrian Tomine’s, and some guy from northern Europe who was really into Raw. I had never really been into Raw. I was into Weirdo and Crumb and the old stuff, but I would look at Raw and I thought it was really pretentious and art-schooly. At that point, I was kind of rebelling against pretension and art school and fine-arts pretension. It was being so overblown by people taking photographs and covering themselves in ketchup and talking about it for an hour and a half. I felt at that time that Raw was kind of doing comics in that way. I was like, “Get that shit away from me.” I really disliked it. But, that kid sat me down and said “No, you have to look at it. Look at Jimbo.” Those guys asked me what I did for a job back in Boston. I worked in a Xerox shop. They were like, “Can’t you make comics for free? Why don’t you just start making comics?” I thought, “Oh yeah … duh.” When I got back to Boston, one of the guys sent me a bunch of his comics. I did a bunch of my own, and that was the first comic I made! [Nib Comics #1] I thought, “Oh! I can make comics.” And it slowly went from there.