The comics of Rory Blank are at once deeply personal and deeply unsettling. They are also deeply funny. In his work, Blank projects issues of loneliness, isolation, existential dread, and inevitability through his distinctively absurdist, surrealist lens. His comics enter the world by way of his website, kingofblood.com, and various social media platforms where they take on a life of their own, depending on the platform and its demographics. Given their unique tone, it feels very appropriate that they appear on the timeline with little fanfare, another post subject to the same constraints as every other post. As he puts it, they are ephemeral. Like all social media, reception is unpredictable and an off-the-cuff gag can resonate deeply, while a deeply considered and carefully calculated observation might not travel far from its initial entry point on the timeline if it doesn’t click. It may be tempting to chalk Blank's comics up to irony or nihilism, writing them off as another product of life online and the accompanying constant, casual exposure to deeply disturbing news and imagery. Blank knows the repercussions of such exposure all too well, given some of his career experience. A closer read of Blank’s work, however, reveals a rare humanity; a voice willing to parse the humor embedded within the myriad horrors of modern life.
After beginning to create comics in earnest in 2010, Rory Blank was able to start making them full time in 2020, after building a subscriber base on Patreon. Ian Thomas interviewed Blank by phone and email in late 2020.
Ian Thomas: So, thanks for taking the time to let me interview you. I came across your comics on Twitter, I believe. Then was looking at the the circles you moved in and I was kind of surprised that I hadn't seen your work sooner. Your comics seem to circulate within Left Twitter and I've been in following along there for a while. So to start off how has 2020 been for you?
Rory Blank: Oh, boy. It’s weird. So, I quit my job in February, like I had a full time job for three years before that, or before this time February and I was doing my comics in my free time, which basically only ends up being like I had no free time. I wasn't going outside. I wasn’t hanging out with people and I was really excited when I quit my job to have time to go out and do stuff. [Laughs] I haven't spent any of the holidays with anybody in my family in about five years.
When I was in my early twenties, I used to go to a lot of punk shows and go to the movies and stuff like that. The last three years, I have just been staying at home working on shit. And on top of that until I was in the ninth grade I was homeschooled, so I also was not going outside much then. So like really nothing has changed much.
So has it been kind of a long year for you or has it seemed like it just was more of the same for you?
I mean it's still pretty difficult honestly. I miss my friends. I haven’t been able to see anybody. At once, it’s felt like a weird smudge in time and also interminably long. I’d just gotten some of my free time back to be able to spend time with my friends and it just went away again.
I know what you mean. It’s one of those things that when we look back on it, we’re going to see it in a warped way, I think. I also think we don’t know how it’s going to affect us. It’s been this weird non-year.
Yeah, the big thing is that, ultimately, nothing has happened. A lot of stuff has happened, like, you know, over the summer there was a huge uprising of people, which was amazing, but at the same time, on a day to day level, nothing has happened. I’ve been looking at the same wall for months now.
Exactly. Same people, same walls, yeah. Can you tell me about where you’re from, where you grew up, all that stuff?
So, let's see. On a very granular level, I was born in Carrollton, Georgia, which is a small town in Georgia that I don't imagine most people find particularly notable. Then, I moved to El Paso, Texas when I was eleven and I lived in El Paso until I was nineteen. When I was nineteen, I lived in San Antonio for a year and then I’ve been living in Austin since 2009.
What brought you to Austin?
I moved to El Paso, or my family moved to El Paso, I didn’t make a decision to move to El Paso as an eleven year old, because my mother was pursuing an apprenticeship as a midwife. El Paso is also really weird to the end that, when I was in Georgia, is a small town, so even though I wasn't going to school I still had friends, ostensibly. Like, there were other kids on the block. Living in El Paso, everything was very far apart and there were literally no kids in my neighborhood. And then I moved to Austin for college. I do like it here. There are a lot of things I do like about this city. I thought about moving a lot and the main reason I haven’t done that is I don’t know how to drive. Literally, I can’t leave Austin of my own volition, without having someone to facilitate that or just jettisoning all of my belongings. [Laughs]
At what point in your life did you find comics and which ones initially interested you?
I've always been interested in comics like pretty much as far back as I can remember. When I was four or five even, my parents had Calvin and Hobbes collections, Doonesbury, which I read for some reason, even though, like, I don’t know what—A lot of the comics I had access to then, I read Doonesbury and Dilbert and Bloom County and I don’t know what was appealing to me as a five year old in the mid-nineties about jokes about the Reagan administration or office culture.
I feel like kids have an instinct to want to like a comic when they see one. Doonesbury was always something that caught my eye as a kind, but I never really understood what the Hell it was.
Yeah, but there’s a cigarette that talks in it. That made sense to me.
Yeah, exactly. [Laughs]
Dilbert, particularly, I’ve gone back and looked at and it’s not funny to me now. [Laughs] I cannot fathom what I thought was funny about it. I even read Scott Adams’ business advice books. Well, as a seven year old, I didn’t read them. I got them as audiobooks from the library and listened to them from start to finish and I can’t fathom what I got from that other than I learned the word “masturbate” from one of them and I said it in front of my parents and they got very mad at me.
For the last ten years or so, I’ve given my dad a Dilbert collection every year for Christmas and I don’t have the heart to tell him what a creep Scott Adams is, but he sits on the couch every year on Christmas and chuckles at the stupid Dilbert book.
Yeah. [Laughs] That’s actually really charming and sweet. If you don’t mind my asking, what does your dad do? Does he have an office job?
Oh, wow. That’s cool. Returning to the question you asked, what really got me interested in comics, though, was when I was seven or eight, I picked up a copy of Disney Adventures magazine was the title, I believe. [It was] the Disney magazine or the Nickelodeon magazine, whichever briefly serialized Bone in it. For a little while, they were running a colorized version of Bone by Jeff Smith and it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. I went to the comic book store and immediately asked owner of the comic book store to show me where every issue of it was and convinced my parents to buy it for me and read all of it.
And it was my favorite thing. When I was eleven or twelve, I really wanted to be a cartoonist and I spent a lot of time trying to draw, but also my drawings were terrible and I recognized that and instead of pursuing it further I gave up. For about a decade. [Laughs] I continued to draw, but I was not really trying to make anything. I was just doing it for fun, as a means to entertain myself.
Were those initial comics - or attempts at comics - were those of the comic strip variety, like set-up, gag, punchline, or were they more focused on storytelling?
Very early on, the stuff that I was doing was pretty formless. I was just trying to teach myself to draw, but, at the same time, [I was] too energetic and impatient a person to do well at it, which is horrible because with any skill, if you want to do it you have to be bad at it and accept that you’re bad at it and keep trying to do it, even though you’re very bad at it, and not believe that it’s a permanent and immutable fact.
Which is what people do, constantly. [Laughs] I don’t believe that anybody is actually innately good at anything. You just kind of have to be interested enough in whatever that thing is to keep doing it until you stop sucking at it or be willing to forgive yourself for sucking at it enough to keep doing it. People mostly give up on stuff because they convince themselves that, because they’re not good at it right now, they’re never going to be good at it and it’s not worth continuing to pursue.
In those initial attempts when you were learning to draw, were you copying things, were you going through instructional books, what did that look like?
I think the earliest time I made a concerted effort to draw something, which also probably was to my detriment was that I had a ‘How to Draw the Simpsons’ book that I got at the mall when I was like nine. I studiously tried to follow the instructions in the book to draw Homer Simpson and honestly that probably was a big impediment to me, more than anything, because if I had, say, traced Homer Simpson four or five times, I probably would have gotten it eventually, but if you’re just looking at instructions, saying “Do it in this order, then it will look like this,” but it doesn’t look right—
There was nothing reflexive or natural about it.
Yeah, so if you’re nine and you have a book saying ‘If you follow these instructions and it’s going to look like this’ and it doesn’t, you think “Well, maybe I’m just bad at doing this.”
And that kind of put you off of it.
Yeah. It’s discouraging if you’re trying to follow instructions, but it’s like the same with baking. If you’re trying to bake a cake and you’re following instructions on the internet and you’re looking at this beautiful finished cake and then your cake looks like shit, it doesn’t matter if your cake tastes good or not, you’ve still convinced yourself “I’m not very good at this.” And, on top of that, at some point my mom told me “Don’t trace things because that makes you a plagiarist.” [Laughs] I feel bad about that in hindsight because I think it’s actually very good to trace things if you’re not going to try to pass that work off as your own, if you’re it as an explicitly educational practice.
Early this year, I re-drew an entire panel from a Junji Ito comic. Like, I drew the entire thing, line for line, and I think that it was probably one of the most important instructive experiences that I ever had. It took me hours to do and it was just time that I spent looking at and deliberately thinking about every line that he made in that drawing.
What did you take away from that?
I learned stuff about shading from doing that I continue to do to this day. Just small things about how he shades a line that was stuff that I wouldn't have thought about in the same detail if I just looked at the picture. You know?
Yeah, you kind of got you kind of got into the weeds of the of the textures of it?
Yeah, so the image I'm talking about - this is a goofy story, also. The particular image that I am talking about is the panel from Uzumaki where the girl's face is just collapsing into a spiral and she’s grinning.
And the reason why I traced it was because I, as a joke, I was sitting in the shower at three AM, I was thinking about that image, and then thinking about, you know, the end of Looney Tunes cartoons were Porky Pig comes out of a background of concentric circles and says “That’s all folks!” and then thinking about transposing Porky Pig to be inside of the spiral inside of the woman’s head. And I did that in Photoshop in five minutes because I thought that was very funny. And then people started asking me to put it on a T-shirt and I didn't want to do that because literally I just Photoshopped something in five minutes that is theft and I would feel terrible about doing that, but people kept asking me about it and somebody asked me if they could put it on Redbubble because I wasn’t going to do it. I thought well, at this point, I’ve done the work of having this idea. I thought of this thing. If I don’t do it, somebody else is going to take it and they would profit off of it, so, at the very least, if I would just re-draw the entire image, I could kind of feel okay about it and donate the proceeds from it to something, which I did. I did not hold onto the money that I made from that. I ended up giving a big chunk of it to various community bail funds in different towns and the National Lawyers Guild Mass Defense Fund.
That's all I'm saying. In doing that, you notice at the edges of her face these little tiny hash marks that, if you’re just looking at the image on the page, you probably won’t notice as much as if you’re really going through it. You notice the way that he draws the individual hairs on her head, combining with like the spiral and the background or like what gives the spiral inside of her head the shape that it has if you’re just looking at it, unless you’re looking at very intensely. [Laughs]
Is Junji Ito one of your favorites?
Uh, yes and no. Yes to the end that like I do like his work a lot and no to the end that he's very good at unsettling me, like it seems almost precision-designed to make me, personally, upset.
So, I have several books of his work, but I keep them in my garage because they unnerve me enough that I don't like having them near me when I’m sleeping.
Wow, yeah. Yeah, I mean I can certainly see that.
Yeah, I have a copy of Uzumaki, but I don't keep it near my bed because I'm afraid that if I look at it when I'm trying to go to sleep, I’ll have a panic attack because the entire book seems to have been very precisely designed to make me have a panic attack.
Yes, like it's made of menace.
But, at the same time, I love his work and I think a lot of it is a lot funnier than people give it credit for.
So, I’d like to go into process stuff a little bit. You started making comics full time this year. What does a work day look like? Also, I guess I’d like to know what it looked like when you were splitting your time up and sharing your time with a full time job?
So, when I very first started doing it regularly—To go back a little bit further than that, when I was in college was the first time that I really started actually trying to do it and my comics from the time look horrible. Like, you can find them if you really wanted to, but they were under a different name than the name I use now. Whatever, I wouldn't recommend reading them, but you could if you can find them. I'm not going to remove them from the internet, but when I started doing it, originally, it was mostly because I had given up on the idea of being good at drawing and I was just drawing comics for my college newspaper because I wanted to be able to write something, I wanted to make something that would make me laugh regularly. And people kind of liked it and that was exciting to me, but it was kind of hard to convince myself to keep going because I am very good at talking myself out of stuff.
So, I started really seriously trying to make a concerted effort to do it two jobs before the last one I had. At some point, I realized that—I hated every day job I had, but I also had no other real means of escape, so I just started trying to really focus on making stuff. The first big office job that I had was actually very easy to balance work and life stuff for the first few months of that because it was working for the state legislative agency and at the beginning of the legislative session there was nothing to do and I could literally just openly work on other stuff at my desk. Everyone knew that I was doing it, nobody cared.
Then, at the last job that I had, the one that I had for the last three years, pretty much what it ended up turning into was I had pretty light projects for the first few months that I was there, so it was pretty easy to get the stuff that I had to do done and then just not have any work left to do and then, you know, openly work on other stuff during the downtime at the end of the day. I was doing a kind of customer support-oriented thing for a large website. I signed an NDA at some point, so I don’t think I can say what the company was.
If I can interrupt, I was catching up and researching for this on your social media. Was this the social media content moderator job?
Yeah, when I started doing that I was working in a more customer support oriented thing, like helping people log back into their accounts. That was something where you would run out of stuff to do and have downtime and the general consensus was, as long as you were doing the work that you were assigned to do, if there was nothing else to do, then you could just do whatever you want during the down time. I got moved to a content moderation team and once I was on that, that work never ends. There's no end to it most of the time. There's just a constant torrent of things, you know? You will never get rid of all the bad content on the platform.
Was that it a traumatizing experience? It seems like staring at questionable content could have a negative effect.
Uh, yes? We could talk about that more in a second. I wanted to finish answering the other question first. I meander a lot.
So, yeah, I kind of did time theft. I got very good towards the end of the times I was there at finding a corner to work on and then doing the bare minimum amount of stuff I could do in an hour to not be counted by the machines that watched my productivity numbers as having been inactive because everything we did was monitored by a machine that would pay attention to how many times you clicked on stuff and the work you’d do in an hour. And if you didn't do anything for eight minutes straight, it would kick you out and say that you had walked away from your computer. So, I would just like keep an eye on my time and just try to draw for five minutes straight and then try to work for three and then try to draw for five minutes. And when that didn't work, or when I couldn't get the time to do that, because that was kind of exhausting to do I would just come home from work and then just immediately start drawing and then draw until eight or nine p.m. Now, I wake up at noon and go for like a two hour bike ride and then draw whatever ideas that I have and if I don’t have any ideas, then I’ll just lay down for a little bit and think about it and then just have the rest of my day.
After the college newspaper, was posting your comics online your sole output?
And was this on Twitter?
No, it's on my old Facebook account and on Tumblr, although I think I've removed most of the stuff that was on Tumblr. I've had a Twitter since like 2011, I think, because a college professor made me get one for a class and then I just never used it until late 2016 or 2017. The first, like, 50 tweets I sent, which are now deleted, were just tweeting at my professor who told me to join Twitter, asking him questions about the class. [Laughs] Then, after I remembered I had a Twitter account, I realized it was a good vehicle for insulting people, so just saying insults to celebrities, which they would never respond to or block me because I didn't know if you were blue check you could just not look at replies from non-blue check people.
I think the the first twenty tweets I have that are still up are from 2012 and they’re mostly at Donald Trump, who I didn’t know was going to run for President at the time, like tweeting at him about dogs and dog charities, like charities run by dogs. I remember that phrase. I was just trying to bother him. I would just send strings of words to famous people that I thought would annoy them to read. [Laughs]
Your comics feel like they might emerge in pieces or premises that need to gestate until you figure out how to bring all the elements together. Is that the case?
I would say that’s more often than not the case. A lot of what I do is kind of just stream of consciousness or tone poems more often than I have a solid joke with a punchline. It'll usually be like [when] I think one disparate image is funny and then [I’ll] hold on to it until there's something to do with it. A comic I posted recently that a lot of people seemed to like was just an argument between a group of men who are frozen into ice with their heads sticking out and just talking or having an argument between themselves about the situation that resulted in that and that was like a something that I started drawing a month ago, where I think at the time when I started it and they were going to submerged in toxic sludge or something, but then I forgot that that's what it was about and I just series of drawings that I thought were funny to look at but I could not remember what the point was supposed to be. Then, like a week ago, I added a bunch of text to it, but was entirely a stream of consciousness argument that I thought was funny. But it was very much a piecemeal thing and I think that's definitely indicative of how I work a lot of the time and kind of the goal if there really is a goal to a lot of what I want the tone to be most of the time, which is less to be funny and more to just feel like a dream, to feel like something that has happened in a dream that you vaguely remember when you wake up.
It’s an interesting thing that you bring up because one of the things that was so resonant with me with your stuff is that there is a very specific kind of tonal affect to your comics. I feel like they kind of sit at the intersection of absurdity and sadness, but obviously very funny. It’s a tone you don’t see often and I wonder how you reach those outcomes and how those ideas present themselves. It’s a vague question, I know. Do you recognize that your tone, your artistic voice, is a distinctive one?
I mean, it’s very nice to hear. I think it emerges some times more clearly than others. The flip side to that is a lot of the time I’m going more for being unsettling than being funny. I have enough of a sense of the cadence and rhythm of a joke that sometimes what I think is funny to do is to do something that has the rhythm of a joke enough that you feel like reading it should be a joke, but then not having a discernible joke, so that where you're left from that is feeling confused and disoriented because you know it's supposed to end with you with you laughing and then not being able to find that point is very disorienting thing. [Laughs] It’s the way that missing a step on the stairs feels, like if you're walking up a flight of stairs, you're not looking and you put your foot out thinking there's another step at the top and then there isn't and your foot goes further than you expect it to.
Admittedly the stuff that I do sometimes -at least once every couple weeks - it's just that I'm on a deadline and I make myself put out stuff every weekday and sometimes I just don't have anything, so I just some words together. [Laughs]
I do want to talk about kind of your consistency, but first, when you have ideas and in the process of documenting those ideas, are they written down as premises, are they visual? Do you keep an ideas notebook?
I have tried several times to keep and ideas notebook and it's the same sort of thing as having a daily planner, where the biggest pitfalls of having a daily planner is it’s supposed to help you plan to do things, but if you forget to plan to use the planner, then it doesn't work at all. Likewise, I want to say I have like 50 sketchbooks. I have like three or four of those that are completely full from start to finish and then like twenty sketchbooks that have the first five pages filled in and then are empty, next to dozens and dozens and dozens of pieces of printer paper, which is what I’m more likely to grab if I’m having an idea I’m thinking through, just a loose piece of paper, so I have a fire hazardous amount of loose pieces of paper scattered around.
Does grabbing the printer paper feel less loaded to you than putting it in a sketchbook?
Yeah, I think that’s a really big thing. Sketchbooks are a lot of pressure because it’s going to be in the book forever. You want everything that you draw in the sketchbook to be like an important page, so that if somebody is looking at the sketchbook in its totality later, they’re going to say ‘Ah, another great page!’ and if you fuck it up then you feel like you ruined the entire sketch book or you have to rip out page. If you have a single piece of printer paper that looks good, you hold onto it. I'm holding a full piece of printer paper right now that has the entirety of the comic strip that I posted today on it in loose drawings. But if I’d done this whole page and it turned out I didn't like it, I could very easily crumple it up and throw it away and then not worry about it. [Laughs]
How I keep ideas in general is mostly that, if I'm at home, I write down premises on Post-It notes and put them on the cork board in front of me. I'm if out on my bike or when I was still going out, like leaving my house, I would type them out on my phone or write them down on any loose pieces of paper that I have and then, when I get home, transfer them onto a Post-It note that goes on to the cork board. The biggest advantage to me of doing that is it’s a lot easier to figure out where to go if I can look at the stuff I have to do, like not have to sort through the book and look for notes and just be able to look up from my drawing table and see. For instance, a note that I should have already taken down says “a makeover show where the makeover is just stapling a new face onto the person” on a piece of paper. That was a comic strip I drew a month and a half ago, but the Post-It note is still up. Also, I really like putting stuff on Post-it notes because then when I'm done with it, as I should’ve done with this one, I can tear it up into small pieces and have, more than the catharsis of seeing people respond well to something, to take an idea and and know “Yes, I'm done with this one. This one is complete.” I can tear up this Post-It note and not feel bad about it.
Given the unorthodox tone of your stuff, are you generally able to predict what people will respond to or do you tend to be surprised by that?
No, absolutely not. I try more than anything to not think about that. Some of the worst comic strips that I've ever done I think were ones that I made where I was thinking oh people are going to love this. This is going to be a joke that people will really resonate with. This is going to be a meme format, or something and usually those are things that people don't react to it all and then I feel bad about having tried to make what I think other people want, rather than making something that is just funny to me. Then, the stuff that does do well is typically not the stuff that I expect to do well. The last comic strip that I did that really garnered a substantial amount of attention, got a huge amount of interactions online, was a series of drawings of people harassing a pig.
I liked that one.
Yeah, I thought it was funny, too. I liked that one. It’s just the whole time I was drawing that I was thinking people are not going to like this. This is stupid. I don't know what the joke is in here that anyone's going to gravitate towards and then people liked it, but with that one, I don't even think I could tell you what other people like about it. I could tell you what I liked about it.
Mostly. I just like the phrase ‘shame pig.’ That was most of what that boiled down to to me is that I like the way that those two words sound together and I like the way the pig looked. [Laughs]
You liking the way the words sound together reminds me of your tone poem comment earlier. One thing that always makes me laugh in your comics is your use of names because they are phonetically very funny. Do you come up with those by just having phonetic sounds that you want to smash together or juxtapose? It’s a unique aesthetic that you are able to create.
jI just sit around making noises. I don't know. I can't say that I know exactly where they come from.I recently had one where there is somebody whose name was torpedo. And that's just a funny word to me. It kind of ends up being the same thing that I was saying about with intentionally following the rhythm of a joke without making a joke, as being a piece of comedy in and of itself. A lot of the names are very close to an actual name, but wrong.
Right, and they’re a hundred percent not commented upon at all.
Yeah, I think the genesis of that might actually just be that old image of - I think it was a Sega video game - where everybody had weird names. I'm looking it up. No, it was for the Nintendo. I guess that proves I'm not a real gamer, I guess. So, there was this Japanese video game about American baseball made in the 90s for the Super Nintendo that were supposed to be American names and the names were things like Sleeve McDichael, Onson Sweemey, Daryl Archideld, Willie Dustice, Jeremy Gride.
Uh huh. [Laughing]
I saw that and it imprinted on me as this endlessly enjoyable thing. So, I guess it’s kind of like trying to relive that experience for myself of seeing that list for the first time. [Laughing]
Do you generally work physically or digitally?
Ideally, I will do a rough pencil drawing of everything with the stuff that looks better, generally. The most stiff looking things I've done are stuff I did because I in a hurry and just did a digital draft. If I have the time to, what I prefer to do and always want to do is a very loose pencil sketch of the gestures or of any new things that I haven’t drawn a lot before that are going to be in it. Then I’ll do a digital pass of it. I don’t scan things, typically. I won’t try to do pencils and then digitally ink directly from the pencils. I will keep the pencil page next to me and look at it and try to redraw it entirely digitally. But, yeah, everything that Ipost is drawn entirely on a computer. Also, I draw everything in Adobe Animate, which is not a drawing software. I downloaded when I was 11 or 12 because I really liked Newgrounds and I wanted to make Newgrounds cartoons and I could never figure out how to actually do animation, but I learned how to draw in the software and I've never gotten as comfortable drawing in any other program as I am in Adobe Animate.
So, I have questions about how your work is consumed. Initially, at least, these comics are released into the wild via the feed or the timeline. Do you consider how it will look on the timeline when you make palette choices? Do you consider how it will crop and stuff like that?
I like to think that I put a lot of effort into using color palettes that I think look good. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I draw something that I think looks good because I'm in a hurry I read it again later and I think the color choices I made were terrible. As for how it's going to display on the timeline, God, that's a whole thing. I really hate the decision that Twitter made to crop like every image that you make. Every preview image now just shows a third to half of the individual image and there is no consistent way to control which half it’s going to be. As often as it crops it in a way that I think makes it appealing to look at the image on the page it will [just as often] crop to what the punchline is and I can’t control it.
I’m sure that must be frustrating.
It is, but I just just try not to think about it because there's nothing I can do about it other than complain and they're not going to respond to that because they made whatever decision they made for whatever reason. There's no lobbying those companies, they’re not ever going to respond to you. The only thing that moves them to do anything is if they think it's going to hurt their ad revenue. That's not going to happen.
You cross post your stuff on Instagram, Twitter, and a few other platforms, right? Do you find your comic strips resonate differently on the different platforms?
Oh, yeah, absolutely and goes back, also, to the predicting what people are going to like. There are hugely different reactions. I have comics that will do phenomenally well on one platform - like disproportionately and amazingly well on one platform - and then not anywhere else, which is, if anything, a reason to not think about that stuff. I've had comic strips that I thought were really funny, that I really like, that I post on Twitter and Instagram and they don't really have much of a response to them, then I look on Tumblr, which I barely use anymore, and it had a huge resonance there and only there. Because of the fact that it’s entirely segmented by platform, I don’t know what could possibly account for that.
I’m sure it comes down to the demographics of the platform at some point.
I know that my fans on Instagram are a lot younger, on average. They have a lot more teenagers who like my stuff there. Even then, what about it is particularly appealing to teenagers I couldn’t tell you.
By the nature of the way you put your comics out, they kind of have a short life, unless they go viral. Do you know what I mean?
Yeah, it’s extremely ephemeral media.
Yes, that’s exactly it.
Each individual comic strip is something that you spend hours working on that, even if a lot of people see it, a lot of people resonate with it, it's something that they're going to spend, like, 30 seconds looking at, tops.
Do you like that or dislike that?
I think it's liberating in a way, in that if I do something, if I take a risk and people don't particularly like it, if I make one comic strip that nobody thinks is funny, that everybody thinks looks like shit other than me, it'll be gone tomorrow. I don’t have to obsess—If you fall on one day, the next day is like a complete do-over, unless I were to, say, freak out and suddenly become, like, a weird reactionary person, which I have no intention of doing, but if I were to do something like that then maybe people would leave in droves, but I’m not going to do that. The worst thing that happens on a day-to-day basis is that sometimes I'll make a typo and I'll feel really dumb for like an hour because a lot of people saw that I wrote “thore” instead of “there,” but tomorrow it won't matter anymore. [Laughs]
So that kind of brings up the the consistency I notice that you're very very good on hitting your daily strips. I assume that’s something in which you take pride, but does a deadline help you?
Most of the time, yes. Definitely something that I had to work at for a very long time [was] to get good at being consistent. When I was in my early twenties, the hardest thing, I would say, the biggest impediment to me doing anything was just making myself do it regularly. At that point in time, I was drawing comics in my early twenties, but they didn’t look good and I didn’t think I could make a career out of doing this, so it was very hard to convince myself to keep the structured time. The main thing that you have to do if you want to do anything is convince yourself to act like it's your job, which means also, like I've mentioned a few times now, that some of the stuff I put out, I’m not very happy with and some of the stuff I put out I am very happy with. I would say more of it than not, but there are definitely pieces that I put out that were things that I don't think were great, that I mostly just did because of my general belief that if you want to do something and well, you have to do it consistently and you have to keep doing it even if occasionally it's not going to work out the way you wanted it to.
You have to be willing to take the chance that it’s going to suck, if you want to make good work. You’re just going to have to keep doing it. But sometimes it’s torture. If it’s one or two or three in the morning and I still don't have something concretely enough, that I feel good enough to put out but if I know that have to do it, it feels very oppressive and I want to take time off from doing stuff, but more than anything, more often than not it’s a motivator to get in and work on stuff. Usually when I'm working on stuff, I find things that are exciting to me, that make me want to keep doing it, having moments of discovery. That's another reason why I do a lot of very stream of consciousness work because sometimes I figure out what the joke is while I'm doing it and it's something that makes me laugh while I'm doing it. When I was still drawing or making my comics at work, I would startle my co-workers because I would start laughing very loudly because I started drawing a comic, because I had an image in my mind and I figured out what the joke was and I was laughing at it because it was surprising to me.
You seem to be interested in leaving your older stuff available online, even if you are dissatisfied with it or it isn't up to your current standards. Why is that important to you?
There's some of my older stuff that I have taken down but it's pretty rare. Most of it's scrubbed enough that I don't even remember what a lot of it is. Mostly just stuff that was like, too didactic to be funny. So that's shit that I don't think really stands up, the only stuff I'm really embarrassed by. A lot of the really old stuff that's up, I'm also embarrassed by, honestly. The big reason I keep that stuff up is that every now and again I'll talk to someone who doesn't draw and they'll tell me that they like my work and, frequently, they'll start bemoaning the fact that they can't draw, or say "I wish I could draw like you", and I'll say "I'm really not very good, you could learn" and they never believe me. Well, if you'd like you can literally see most of the progression of me learning how to draw. You can see me, a decade ago, struggling and failing at like 4-5 different styles, trying desperately to figure out how to make stuff look like what I want. My bad old stuff is there because fundamentally, I don't believe that there's any such thing as like, innate artistic talent, and that anyone can learn to do what I do or better. Nobody's born being good at drawing, and if you want to draw, you can. It doesn't matter if you think you're good at it or not. If you want to do something, if you keep practicing, you'll get good, and you'll find your strengths.
I want to talk about something that you recently said on Twitter. You said: “Twitter is trying to be more like Instagram. Instagram is trying to be more like TikTok. Facebook is slowly prepping your grandparents to murder a publicly elected official.” It was very funny to me. Some of these sites are giving you a platform to get your work out, but I think these platforms also have a very real effect of psychological immiseration on the people who consume them regularly. How does that figure into what you do, if it does? Do you feel any conflict there?
At the very least something, it’s something that I think about a lot, that I think about wanting to approach a lot, but I’m not sure I do as much as I should, probably, because I have a lot of reservation about talking about tech stuff and the way I feel about it a lot of the time because I feel like there’s kind of a cynical resistance to that. It’s very hard to make jokes about tech without people saying “Oh ha ha ha, Black Mirror, yeah, cool, Banksy.” There’s an inclination to be dismissive of that from people who are also miserable on the platforms. [Laughs] Their immediate response to any general criticism of it is to say it’s rote and hack, but it definitely has pretty profound psychological impacts on people that are not really what they think they're going to be. People definitely exist in microcosmic bubbles of information that we've still not figured out how to surpass or how to get around. If you were to go onto, say, Right Wing Internet Spaces, some of the shit they're talking about is stuff that you've never heard of. Like, it’s so far afield, from what liberals or leftists are talking about that you probably won't understand a lot of it unless you spend a lot of time trying to study it. And it’s deadly serious to them. It's like being in a different country, you know? Like people are sucked off into and —maybe ‘sucked off’ isn't a good phrase — people are siphoned off into this little narrow field and then isolated from everybody else by this weird predatory thing.
I worked inside of that for a while, doing content moderation contract work, and it definitely fucks with your head. You asked me about this a while ago, but I never replied to it directly. I have panic attacks every single day over stuff that I looked at.
I’ve seen the private lives of fringe extremists. I’ve seen the way they talk to each other when nobody else is around and as much there's huge amount of vile shit worth condemning, if you see them like talking about planning a party and being sad because nobody showed up, just sad, mundane shit like that, it’s hard not to just feel really bad for them, you know? What they believe is abhorrent and dangerous, but they are also very often very lonely people.
Like seeing people at their most normal gets at the raw humanity of it.
Yeah, knowing that these people - who, still, I think are despicable and are worth condemning - being able to see their vulnerability and a thing that I feel sometimes is kind of lost is —I think it’s to your own peril to pretend that, as reprehensible as they are, that they are not also human beings is probably more dangerous [to] opposing that kind of extremism. That doesn’t mean you have to tolerate them or let them keep doing what they’re doing unopposed, but it feels kind of, I don’t know, deterministic the way people act like none of them can turn their lives around and come back from it, and I think it makes you less well equipped to combat that sort of stuff, if you don’t recognize them as people at all.
So, wrapping things up, I make this association between your work and a general online experience, probably because that is where it’s mostly consumed. If you could scale your work up or take it offline to go in a new or bigger or different direction, what do you think that would look like? What are your aspirations beyond what you’re doing now?
I don’t really know. I make a zine every month and that's honestly - although, I will admit some of those are rushed pieces, as well, but, by and large, I like having physical objects of the things that I make.. I really enjoy that. The biggest thing, if I was thinking of scaling up is I need to get better at managing my time, such that I could more consistently tell long-form stories in my zines because that's what I enjoy doing and don't do enough of.
Long form stuff.
Telling stories that are more than a page long. The reason why I don't do that as often as I would like to is that I get busy and then I lose track of time. I realize that the month is almost over and I have other things that on a separate deadline for production and I need to make something, so I’ll just find something that I think is funny enough to sustain itself for more than five pages, but also doesn't require as much work as it would take to make a 30 page comic book. That’s mostly just an issue of making myself find the time to do that.