From the TCJ Archives

Alchemy, Comics, and Ron Regé, Jr


NADEL: You were playing in bands this entire time, right? Going through college and playing the rock-and-roll music the kids like, right?

REGÉ: Mmm-hmm. I had these friends who had this indy-rock band that got signed to a label. They were just like my friends forever and I have always worked on their album covers, whether I would just be designing them or like sneaking a little bit of my art onto it. I wasn’t really in that band, but that’s how I got all my touring experience; being their roadie. I was also in this band that had four seven inches. It was kind of like outsider music. I was friends with this guy, and he was a really difficult person to deal with. Whether it was schizophrenia or drugs or whatever. He lived on the streets a lot. He was a junkie for a while. He would keep a notebook. I guess it’s rap. He would play acoustic guitar and tell these abstract stories. He would never have done this stuff outside of just hanging out with people, getting high and being like “Oh, listen to this thing that I’m doing!” I’m the one who made the “band” and therefore the records come about. I’m the one who made us play shows. If we had kept doing it … I don’t know. People were starting to like us more and more. I just stopped because I couldn’t deal with him anymore. After that, I was in Tactic, this new wave/now wave kind of band. I played drums. I play drums and I do make my own music. I made my own four-track music. With music, I feel like I can actually let my hair down artistically, because I don’t know how to play anything. I’ll play guitar and keyboards and I don’t know any notes. I approach every instrument as if it’s a drum. I’m just hitting [makes beeping sound]. So, I’ve done a whole bunch of recording and I do have a CD, and I do want there to be more music involved in future comics.

NADEL: You had recorded a soundtrack for Skibber, right?

REGÉ: The front and back pieces in Skibber are lyrics from a Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 song. So I was thinking maybe — it seems silly now two years later — I was going to make a three-inch CD and maybe silkscreen little covers. It’d have that song, an instrumental by me and an instrumental by a friend of mine whose music is kind of squeaky, so it might sound like Lik Lik music. I’ve always had this fantasy of doing more comics of the Lik Liks playing things. The thing I did for The Ganzfeld #3 was like an instruction on how to play a song. I have this bizarre idea that is something I might want to do; conceptual-art comics, comics that are instructions on how to make stuff. I think I might want to do bizarre instructional comics. Like, “Here’s how to make …” The thing I did for The Ganzfeld was about sounds I would like to make. I would like to hear someone play that Ruby song, not exactly the way the Silver Apples did it, but with these instruments and droning in this way. I might want to do that more. I have one idea now, of doing a comic that’s completely conceptual, explained in autobiographical form, as if I’m actually making the art.

NADEL: Is the way you think about songs related to the way you think about comics?

Trollin Withdrawll 7" Cover by Rege.

REGÉ: I don’t really think so. Comics I can work out beforehand. I’ve never played any of my songs twice; I sit down with a recorder and I invent them track-by-track. Skibber was going to come with a different CD originally, actually. I had the CDs made. I have a thousand of them at my house. It just didn’t end up the way I thought it would. The CD is called “Discombobulated Ventriloquist,” which I guess is my musical “pen name.” It’s a collection of stuff I recorded alone from ’86-’96. I originally wanted to do two- or three- or four- or five- or ten-page stories about each track, explaining how I made them. Like, there’s one track where I’m playing a trumpet and it was two in the morning and I didn’t want to wake my roommates up and I had a pillow over it — stuff like that. I was going to combine the Skibber story and that project into the same book. Skibber got too big and too important as I worked on it. It needed to be on its own. I’m thinking now I’ll put the CD out with a book that has comics about the sounds, but also include a collection of comics from anthologies and minicomics I’ve done. It could end up being another 300-page book that also comes with a CD. I might want to work on that in the next year.



NADEL: Let’s circle back now to getting out of college; you had done some comics —

REGÉ: I had done really small minicomics.

NADEL: When were you first published and where? You were in Real Stuff in 1994 and then —

REGÉ: That would have been the first thing, and I guess the Duplex Planet work was running at the same time. I was always doing stuff for Don’t Shoot It’s Only Comics, which was coming out every couple months in Boston. But I was concentrating on self-publishing.

NADEL: How did you wind up in Duplex Planet and Real Stuff?

REGÉ: I guess because I had sent stuff to those people.

NADEL: Pre-Yeast Hoist?

REGÉ: Around the time of maybe some of the earliest Yeast Hoist issues and Andy Remembers. I guess Dennis Eichhorn called me to do that illustration for Real Stuff because he must have liked the way I drew. I have no idea. When Greenberger sent me stuff to do, I was blown away. I was really into Duplex Planet. He went to the same art school as me. At Mass. Art, everyone knew who Greenberger was. He was a big presence.

NADEL: You went to Los Angeles when you got out of school?

REGÉ: No, that was my junior year. When I got out, I was working at a copy-store chain in Boston. I was just a copy jock for the years I was in college, but after I graduated, I went full-time to the digital department. I ran Iris printers and stuff like that. Made transparencies for offset. I didn’t have to be on the floor, and I could play with my books. I taught myself Photoshop, Quark, Illustrator, Pagemaker, Corel Draw, all this stuff I never learned at school. I had to learn it all! I had to work with designers. Designers were calling me up and sending me Pagemaker files, and they wouldn’t include their links or fonts and I would have to know how to fix all this shit for them. My disdain for graphic design comes from this time. The fact that these fucking people didn’t know what they were doing and I had to fix stuff for them! I’m there making shitty pay while they’ve got offices, and they have no idea how either traditional printing or desktop stuff is really done! It’s only gotten worse, I’m sure. I was dealing with a lot of people who were crossing over, too. I ran a stat machine for a while. I went from the Xerox to running the stat machine before it got thrown away, and then I was working in the digital department. I had to deal with people who I would have to explain how to use Adobe Type Manager to, for example. So I taught myself to do all that stuff, and was saving money at the same time. Then I went backpacking in Europe with my girlfriend for almost a year. So I worked for a while to save up for that. So it wasn’t so great as a job, but in the back of a copy shop, I could do anything I wanted.

NADEL: When did you start Dum Dum Posse?

REGÉ: In ’94 or so. I did half of it before I went to Europe and half when I got back. That’s why there’s a bunch of stories in there, in the second half, of people being in Europe.

NADEL: It seems to be mostly a book about growing up.

REGÉ: Yeah, a lot of it stems from knowing the guy who was in that Trollin Withdrawal band. I knew a lot of wacky people. A lot of street punks and kids who lived on the edge. People just barely surviving. I’ve met a lot of strange characters in Boston.

NADEL: But it seems like the book is about outgrowing those people.

REGÉ: Yeah, it is. I guess I was outgrowing those people, a bit. I was just realizing that I wasn’t exactly like them. As far as comics goes, I knew I wanted to do this big book [The Dum Dum Posse Reader]. I was mostly doing these short little folded things, but at work, I could do whatever I dreamed up. So I figured out that I could Xerox the insides and silkscreen the covers. The funny thing is that I felt weird about the Xeric, which they had just started doing then. I didn’t submit Dum Dum for a Xeric because I didn’t think I needed one. I didn’t think of it as prestigious or anything like that. I thought about it being money and I didn’t need their money. Not to mention the fact that I also didn’t want to wait — you had to finish it before you sent it to them. I didn’t want to have to wait. As soon as I finished it, I made it.

NADEL: You liked the immediacy of it. You feel like you have to get it out in the world? You talked about that before —

REGÉ: Which is really hard. Skibber Bee Bye was printed right after I finished it. I was lucky that I didn’t have to wait. If I do another big book, it’ll be hard to wait. I could never wait a couple years for a book to come out.

NADEL: So, in a way, you’re drawing for a public. You want people to see it? Is that it, or is it just wanting to have a printed object in your hands?

REGÉ: It’s not so much that, I’m more worried about getting it off of my head and off of my desk in comics form. A book is on your mind and your desk every day until it actually comes out, unlike short stories. I’m completely resigned now to having to wait forever for small stuff to come out. I don’t care. When did I draw that thing for The Ganzfeld? I don’t care about when it comes out. It’s been a while since I did a book and when I do a new book, I know I’ll think “Get it out! Now!” I’m more frustrated with myself getting the comics drawn and at this point, with my own pace.

NADEL: So, you’re working in a copy shop. What next?

REGÉ: I started bringing comics to The Million Year Picnic and was being shy about it. They had a minicomics shelf and I think the first couple times I did it, I did it on consignment.

NADEL: This would have been. what. like ’92 or ’93?

REGÉ: Yeah, somewhere in that ballpark. I noticed they had a minicomic shelf. I was making them for free and bringing them in. I think that Tom [Devlin] — it’s funny because it’s very Tom, it’s very Highwater — he was like “We’re going to just pay these people! This is wrong! He works at that place down the street, he’s always doing comics. We’re not going to do his comics on consignment. I’m going to give this guy 20 bucks up front!” Eventually I had done so many, that they took me off the little minicomic shelf by the floor and gave me this top, eye-level spot. It was when Dum Dum Posse came out. I had Dum Dum Posse and they would line everything else up in front of it. And I assume that anyone buying comics in Boston would be like, “This guy’s always doing stuff and he’s always got this spot.” I had the spot and I worked to keep new things in that spot. I was doing these little comics I’d sell for 50 cents or a dollar. I’d bring them in and they would give me five bucks or whatever, and I would put 20 up in there. I’d come a week later and they’d all be gone. I’d make more.

I had a P.O. box, and the zine world was going on. I would get letters from Australia, from San Francisco —

NADEL: Was that your first recognition? You mentioned before that you grew up not knowing anybody that read comics or did comics. Was that the first time you came across enthusiasts?

REGÉ: Yeah. In the zine world. Until I had discovered Spit and a Half, it was zine people and rock-magazine people. People who are kind of into comics but at the same time they were into Sub Pop. I still didn’t get to know people who drew comics, even when I was doing that. It was all through the mail. With the exception of my friend P. Shaw, it wasn’t until right before Skibber came out that I started to actually speak to other people who made comics: the Highwater Books community and going to comic conventions changed everything about doing comics for me. The fact that we’re kind of this little community, this little posse, is really amazing. I don’t know if that’s what people should do or not — in the past few years, I’m just so happy to have all these friends to talk to about what we’re doing, because we seem to have similar goals. The Fort Thunder guys also kind of popped out of nowhere. But I didn’t really know them, initially. I knew their work. I would go over to their house and see their crazy stuff and see them put on shows but I didn’t really hang out and talk comics with them. So now because of Megan [Kelso] and Jordan [Crane] and Tom and Brian [Ralph] and Kurt Wolfgang and … we’re all at sort the same level and all going forward together and anything we do we bounce off of each other. That’s really amazing. I guess I could live without it, but I’m just really happy to have it right now.

NADEL: To have the feedback?

REGÉ: Yeah, the feedback and the support, and maybe it’s mostly so we can brave the conventions, too. When we’re at the conventions being like “Hi! It’s us! We’re a crew!” You know, it feels safer. It’s scarier to go out on your own. If I had a regular publisher — if I was with Jeff Mason or Drawn and Quarterly or Top Shelf — and just at a table with a bunch of other people, it wouldn’t be the same. We’re all friends, and we also all have the same weird attitude. Like, “We’re doing this completely different and we want to be different. Rah rah!”