From the TCJ Archives

Alchemy, Comics, and Ron Regé, Jr

Influences, Xeroxes and Art

NADEL: Let’s go back and talk about influences. You mentioned the comics stuff, Weirdo

REGÉ: I was into the Weirdo stuff and I was into Neat Stuff. Chester Brown. Love and Rockets and all the stuff that people were into. When I was a kid, I was really into Ditko’s Spider-Man. Like that thing that I did for Coober Skeber. I was into that. I was into the classic Marvel stuff, but not that much. I started to like different kinds of comics after I started to do them myself. As I started drawing, my tastes changed. I loved Nemo magazine. If it wasn’t for Nemo and all that classic stuff … man. I really liked The Yellow Kid. What’s funny is, when I was a kid, I liked Warner Bros. cartoons, I didn’t like Disney cartoons and I was like “What the hell’s up with these Betty Boop cartoons! They’re so much better!” I had no idea. But I hated Popeye! As a cheesy cartoon character, I thought his whole shtick was so tired. There are a lot of really bad Popeye cartoons. It’s funny, I was so surprised later when I read the Segar comics! Now, if I had to name one influence on me, one person, it’s Segar. He’s way above everyone else, in my opinion — both as an influence and as my favorite cartoonist.

NADEL: Right, right. When did you discover him?

REGÉ: I guess I might have done Dum Dum Posse, or maybe it was a little bit before.

NADEL: So, ’94 or so?

REGÉ: Yeah, something like that. I bought or read one of the collections and was hooked. It was just amazing. The writing. The art. The continuation of the stories. How good the stories were. I guess a lot of classic cartoonists work this way, but just the fact that he fucking had a punch line every day. He had a whole universe. He had set characters. He had set storylines that never actually began or ended. They put them into chapters, later. But when you read them, all the chapters overlap and there’s a punch line in four panels every day! Blows my mind. If there’s anything I could work toward, I wish I could be that. Is Kaz doing that with Underworld? Not really. He’s got a punch line, he’s got the continuing characters, he’s got a universe, but he doesn’t have a continuing storyline — which is the most difficult. I wish he could. If he put a continuing story like Sidetrack City into Underworld

NADEL: It would be amazing. That’s true.

REGÉ: I liked Li’l Abner too, for a little while, but I don’t think I do any more. It was a Boston thing. The Xerox shop I worked in was right in the middle of Harvard. Some bizarre and interesting stuff would come over that counter. I was David Mamet’s Xerox guy. I must’ve copied everything that he did in the ’90s. His interns would bring it all in. I guess he was just on the next block. One of Al Capp’s relatives used to bring in originals — I had never even heard of Li’l Abner. I had never seen the books. I didn’t even know what it was. I have a bootleg Xerox book that I made. I met Scott McCloud at work. I used to Xerox all the Zot pencils for him. He would Xerox the pencils before he would ink them. So I knew Scott. I said, “You have these published? What are these?” And he said, “Oh you’ve never seen Zot?” Ten years later I asked him if he remembered me. He knew me as a cartoonist at that point, so I said “I used to be your copy guy.” He was like, “Oh my God, that’s right — you were!” So I did actually “learn” a lot at that job, from reading Harvard’s garbage Xeroxes. I discovered random art people that way. That’s how I discovered Guston; came in over the counter. I had boxes and boxes and boxes of cool Xeroxes from many years of “one for you and if I like it, one or two for me.”

NADEL: Were you looking at a lot of fine art as well?

REGÉ: Yeah. I have a memory where I’m only able to only remember the stuff that I really liked, though. I liked Impressionist stuff and Francesco Clemente was somebody that I was really into. Those little Indian miniatures that he did! I also really liked certain art history, African art, Medieval art. It’s funny. It all had to do with stuff that was comics-related or narrative related. I was also really into outsider art and still am.

NADEL: Like who? Darger?

REGÉ: Darger …

NADEL: Ramirez?

REGÉ: Martin Ramirez? Yeah! No one’s ever said that to me before! Martin Ramirez was my favorite artist anywhere for a while! I’ve fallen out of following art, but I only found an article about him in a magazine. I’m assuming there must be more written by this point. I like his stuff for the same reason I like John Porcellino’s stuff; you just look at it and you know. I had that big American Self-Taught book and I could look through it and maybe pick out a few people, but … Ramirez is the one that I remember the most. I like that Rizzoli guy, too. I just so much love the idea of visionary art. Just doing art for no reason. There’s an amazing thing in the Art Brut museum in Switzerland. Some guy was chained up in a horse stall his whole life, and he carved, he obsessively carved. He broke the handle off of the pot that he crapped in or whatever. He gouged out hundreds and hundreds of square images, all basically the same. It was a horse’s head, and a wagon wheel, and a guy’s head, some combination of the three of them together, as if it were single frames of a slow fade between the three images. Hundreds of times. The idea of obsessive art like that is very interesting to me. I got interested in a lot of folk arts and music from around the globe. I have similar interests in music. The history of music, and why people play it, what music did people hear at certain times and how it both affected them and fit into the rest of their lives — sociological stuff with how things influenced each other and why different things were created. Maybe I like folk art history as opposed to fine arts history? Fine arts really never made any sense to me at all.

NADEL: Why not?

REGÉ: Because I don’t buy it. Like Cubism: I don’t buy it.

NADEL: What don’t you buy, exactly?

REGÉ: I don’t … what!? [Nadel laughs.] When I look at African masks or tons of other folk arts from places we trampled, it makes me wonder why I’m supposed to be impressed when some European dude started drawing in a similar style hundreds of years later. I can understand Dada; I can understand Surrealism and Impressionism. I understand the history, but when I go and look at a lot of art from the 20th century, and then go and look at Indian miniatures or Medieval art or decorative arts or what people have painted on their bodies? I just like that stuff better. It’s more honest. I don’t understand what they’re making the big deal about with lots of 20th century art. Picasso was great; I love to look at his stuff, but he’s not that much better than other things. Hype. It’s just the hype that I don’t understand. I don’t understand the hierarchy of the high art. I don’t know if it’s a high- or low-art thing. I don’t know if it’s design-related. I don’t know if it’s an academic-class thing, but I definitely have this equalizer when it comes to art. I’m very interested in why people create music even though I’m not a musician, but when I take it to art, I’m even more interested in bizarre reasons why people do what they do. How art and craft stuff functions. Like the Shakers! Shaker art is way more important than Picasso! You know, there’s a zillion different kinds of things like that. I guess outsider art makes the most sense because it has to do with comics not being — maybe it does all stem from this whole “comics not being accepted as serious” thing that we argue about. Kind of. But I’m not sure. I’d like to think that I came to comics because of the way that I’m interested in art stuff.

NADEL: You’ve been very forward about saying, “Look, comics are art. Let’s not bullshit around. It’s just silly.”

REGÉ: Yeah! Art is art. Outsider art is art.

NADEL: The categories are all context- and money-based.

REGÉ: Right! I feel like it’s not even an argument: it’s a really obvious thing. I think the issue is tied in with the fact of having to publish it. So I don’t know. Can a visual art that’s reproduced in book form be “art”? Photography and film had no trouble getting into the club. There should be people who are just hand-making their own comics and sewing them together. Just making them: “I did it! There’s my comic!” Maybe the next generation will work on that. I don’t know. Maybe some younger kids should just start hand-sewing their comics together in editions of one.

NADEL: They call those “Artist’s Books.” [Laughter.]

REGÉ: Yeah, artist’s books are awesome if they’re good as comics. Are they ever? Comics just seem to have a superior effect. There was this amazing show at The Drawing Center in ’92. I saw Panter, and Beyer — I didn’t talk about Beyer’s influence. Jesus! Completely obvious — Mark Beyer gave me the idea of fucking with the shapes of the panels and the pages and the word balloons and stuff. His stuff looked like an outsider artist doing comics. I want to do that. Even though I went to art school and know about all kinds of shit, I’m trying to do my comics by just channeling them. I don’t think I’m very successful at it because I’m always constraining myself.

NADEL: Constraining yourself how?

REGÉ: Because I understand, and I’ll think “I’ll make this narrative work in this way.” I’m doing these more standard things and I wish I could be more out there, but I’m not going to be able to.

NADEL: You don’t think you’re that “out there?”

REGÉ: I don’t think I’m that out there. That was one of the things I was going to ask you: Anything that I’ve ever read about myself or Skibber is always about how bizarre my comics are and how I’ve invented a brand-new language by doing them. Maybe because it’s me, but I don’t think I really have.

NADEL: It’s probably because it’s you. Although knowing you it makes a lot of sense. [Laughter.]

REGÉ: I feel like I’m doing things in pretty straightforward way.