From the TCJ Archives

An Interview with Victor Moscoso


GROTH: Your approach to comics is more visually playful than strictly narrative, and I assume that’s a deliberate decision on your part.

MOSCOSO: Well, it’s a decision, but it’s also the way I think, and the way it seems to come natural to me. I finally did get absolutely linear in “Artist and Elves.” That’s in #12, where I actually wrote the story outline first. It was based obviously on the shoemaker and the elves. Why the shoemaker? Why not the artists? Why can’t I go to sleep at night, wake up the next morning and the elves have finished my work, the way the elves had finished the shoemaker’s work? And that was like the furthest from the beginning of my development. In other words, one picture follows another picture. After all, in music, one note follows another note. That’s the melody. So in a way, I was being very musical, in that sense, in that I was creating a melody in a succession of images, in the way a musician creates a melody by a succession of notes and of chords.

GROTH: It looks like you used a dry-brush technique on that story.

MOSCOSO: I use all techniques. In “Artist and Elves” I’m using a brush, but I use it pretty quick. I do my pencils first, and then I trace over my pencils, and I can go pretty fast. I like that speed. It’s not really a dry brush, but because you can see the individual hairs, it takes on that look.

GROTH: It looks spontaneous.

MOSCOSO: Yeah, that’s what I wanted. So, I would do them pretty fast, but there was a lot of preparation leading up to that to make it spontaneous. It takes a lot of work to be spontaneous. Sometimes I do my spontaneous drawings, it’s not a lot of work but then they’re not done for a job; they’re done for no reason other than to please me. When I’m doing a comic strip that’s going to get published, the audience comes into effect, and then, in order to make it spontaneous looking, it takes a certain plan, and that is you get it to the point where you submit it almost to your subconscious. In “The Artist and the Elves,” it’s tracing. I work out all my drawings in pencil on index cards. I then get another index card, a blank one, put it on top, and after everything was worked out in pencil I just go right down with my ink, and I just trace. I try to trace at least a page a sitting.

GROTH: How tight are your pencils?

MOSCOSO: Pretty tight. They’re linear and pretty tight, I’ll even do the hatching sometimes. Then I will trace the hatching with my brush.

GROTH: Do you design the page as a whole?

MOSCOSO: Yes, and I design them as a spread. You see the right hand first. I don’t care if number two comes before number three; you see number three first when you turn the page, then you read number two. The even numbers, although they come ahead, are seen later, but you have to read them first. So I plan spreads. If I want to surprise somebody with a particular image, I try to put it on the next spread, not at the end because it won’t be a surprise; you’ll see it. Then you’ll turn over the page, and there’s the surprise. If there’s going to be a surprise, like when my studio gets wrecked in “The Artist and the Elves,” it’s on the right-hand side, so that when you turn the page, “Oops! Holy shit! How did that happen?” and then you read as to how that happened. I think I improved on “The Shoemaker and the Elves” because I always thought the ending sucked; after the couple stays up and they see these naked elves come in and make shoes for them. So, to return the favor, they make them clothes. Once the elves get the clothes, they split and never come back. I said, “Wait a minute. First of all, the elves can make shoes, they can certainly make clothes. What kind of an ending is that?” So, in my story I have them destroy my studio.

Taking Care of Business

GROTH: I understand that you became a de facto business manager at Zap; were you incorporated?

MOSCOSO: Oh, no, we didn’t incorporate the magazine. What I did is I made sure that we got the copyright certificates on the comics, plus trademarked Zap Comix, otherwise there would now be a Zap children’s show on Saturday morning TV, which we would get shit for because they wouldn’t use our characters, but they would use the name Zap. I was thinking, how can we keep somebody else from stealing the Zap name — it wouldn’t be stealing; they wouldn’t be doing anything illegal — or coming out with a Zap movie. You can’t copyright a name, but you can trademark a name. So, I took the trouble, and I organized the guys; we did a jam and sold it, for which we paid for the film for the next Zap and also paid for the trademark: a couple grand. It takes a couple grand, probably more now, to trademark a name. Having done my own business, having been burned in the poster business, I carried that over into the comics. As a result, we have not been as ripped off with the comics. Probably my greatest contribution to Zap Comix has been that of business.

GROTH: [Laughter.] How do you feel about that?

MOSCOSO: Fine. That’s fine with me.

GROTH: You were probably the oldest artist of the group.

MOSCOSO: I’m the old man. I turned 30 when the kids came around saying “Don’t trust anyone over thirty.” I was the oldest poster artist and the oldest comic-book artist of our immediate group.

GROTH: Do you think you were also the most savvy in terms of practical matters?

MOSCOSO: Well, age doesn’t have much to do with that. I know a lot of guys older than me that are schmucks when it comes to business.

GROTH: Well, that’s true. But it seems that you may well have been the most practical of the Zap bunch.

MOSCOSO: I think it helped, because being older, I’ve been burned more. The more you get burned, the more you learn as long as you learn from the mistakes that you make. If you keep repeating your mistakes, then you enter into a neurotic cycle. However, if you learn from your mistakes — and you’re guaranteed to make mistakes — then eventually you will become wise.

GROTH: Well, it sounded like you were a bit more grounded than most of them.

MOSCOSO: In business, certainly. Most of the guys, even today, don’t want to talk about business. Business is a nuisance. Just give me the contract; I’ll sign it without even reading it. And I think, “You fool. You fool. This is your work, man.” So what I did to help myself out was I pretended I was a plumber. And I figured well, I got a craft equal to that of a plumber. Plumbers don’t have to go seven years to school. Actually, neither do artists. I’m one of the weirdoes. But I have a craft equal to that of a plumber, so I think like a plumber, and expect to be paid like a plumber. That’s why, again, when people come up to me and ask for a free sketch, I say, “Well, would you ask a plumber for a free toilet?” People aren’t even aware of it. Some are. There are some scoundrels out there that know exactly what they’re doing. But most people aren’t. They just say, “Hey, it looks like fun what he’s doing. Therefore, if you do something for free for me, it’s not like I’m asking you for much.”

GROTH: See, this is the kind of professional ethos that I don’t think most of the underground cartoonists had at that time.

MOSCOSO: No they didn’t, and a lot of them still don’t. It’s something that they’d prefer not to deal with. But I figure this: If you don’t deal with it, it will deal with you. I don’t like the idea of somebody making a lot of money off of my work, whereas I don’t make any money. When I did that work for Rick, Bill Graham ended up putting that onto a T-shirt, selling who-knows-how-many copies of it. Not only did he not give us a penny for it, but he took Griffin and Moscoso’s signatures off. Now that’s a moral violation of copyright.

GROTH: That wouldn’t have been tolerated in Europe.

MOSCOSO: No. But this is a different place. This is the United States, where artists are not seen the way they are in Europe.

GROTH: Art isn’t held in as high esteem as commerce.

MOSCOSO: Yeah, money is important. If you can make money, if you have money, you’re therefore more valuable than an artist, which may or may not be true. In fact, the only artists that are really respected in this culture are the ones that make a lot of money: Michael Jackson, Madonna. These are the respected artists. The movie artists. The Arnold Schwarzeneggers. Why? They are respected by some people, by their fans, because of their craft, but really they’re not respected unless they make a lot of money. Money is what counts. We don’t live in a democracy, come on. We live in an oligarchy, the rule by money.