Mike Reger has been self-publishing comics for decades, mostly under pseudonyms, and extremely under the radar. Reger is a steady force of art that proves there is still a strong underground cartooning scene in San Francisco - one that too often goes unnoticed. Along with his friend from high school, Rio Coffelt Roth-Barreiro, Mike founded the Mission Mini-Comix collective, a group that meets up every week and draws minicomics that cover a wide range of topics from harm reduction–which is one of the group's main focuses–to advocating on other local political issues, while also putting out a lot of whimsical and ridiculous comics too.
Although the group’s activities have been halted by COVID, Reger is still a very influential force. He is also a muralist and the unofficial “on-site manager” of the Clarion Alley Mural Project, concerning an alley in San Francisco rooted in graffiti and anarchistic ideologies yet also hailed as being one of the best locations of public art in San Francisco. I walked around with Mike on two different occasions to talk with him about his life, Mission Mini-Comix, drugs, graffiti, manga, harm reduction, and patron saints of death. The following interview is patched together from these conversations.
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FLOYD TANGEMAN: When did you get into underground comics?
MIKE REGER: Around high school. I went to the bookstore near Big Al’s with my dad, and I remember asking him for R. Crumb’s Carload O’ Comics.
And did you get it?
Yeah. My dad was like, “I don't know, that stuff is kind of racy.” But the truth of the matter is that like, back in the late '60s and early '70s, when he and my mom moved out here, they went to parties that S. Clay Wilson was at.
Yeah. He apparently didn't like my dad.
Oh really! Why not?
Because he was a corporate guy, and he considered him a square, so [laughs] he actually made my dad the butt of his jokes a lot. [Floyd laughs] People are always like, don't mention that shit if you see S. Clay, but it's not like I’m gonna start a funk over him with that. For all intents and purposes, he was sort of right in a way. That's why, you know, some of the difficulties-- I mean, you know. I would say that most of my difficulties with my old man actually had more to do with me being a difficult teenager and a drug addict. In a way, it's easier for parents to take that, in some cases, depending on their attitude. So, my dad, basically, knew some guys from college. And one of them knew [Richard] Brautigan.
Really! I love Brautigan.
A lot of people don't know who the fuck Brautigan is. But, uh, I guess for anyone that would hear this that didn't know, his most well-known thing is Trout Fishing in America.
You know, Spain Rodriguez painted one of the first murals in the Mission.
Yeah, on 17th and Folsom, right?
I don't actually know where it was, but Rio [Coffelt Roth-Barreiro]'s mom was friends with her neighbor who was with him in his final months because he died of cancer, you know.
I think Robert Crumb had a mural on the same building, it was an auto body shop on 17th and Folsom or South Van Ness.
But before that, there were no murals in the Mission?
I guess not. It used to be an Irish neighborhood. People totally don't know that either. So it just shows how things change hands. Around the time-- well, a little before I was born, there was a group of SRO [single room occupancy] tenants who banded together to prevent their SRO from being torn down and projects built there, so the developers hired some goons and started a fire there. Twelve souls are there in Valencia Gardens.
The developers actually did that shit? And got away with it?
Yeah, of course they did. Erica Lyle writes about it in her book [On the Lower Frequencies; Soft Skull, 2008], which-- I’ll plug, because they were one of the donut shop crew.
What's the donut shop crew?
It was a group of people that used to draw at Hunt's Donuts, at 20th and Mission or something, I can never remember, but it was basically open 25 hours a day. And it was also known as the epicenter of crime in San Francisco. It was like where all the pimps would bring prostitutes that ran the Capp Street track to chill out, which led to some conflicts sometimes. Or even like friendly conversation, because they were open 24 hours.... Monday nights we would have a meeting. And it was like, Iggy Scam, aka Erica Lyle, and also like Ivy McClelland, who came here from Florida with the [punk band] Hickey guys. It was like Evan, and Antonio, and Brendan, their [graffiti] crew used to be AWE.
I really don’t know how people can have a good conscience. But you know, it's no fucking coincidence that tech invasion and cruelty go hand in hand, because the whole idea behind big tech is blocking everything out.
You don't have to interact with any people whose lives you're helping destroy.
Yeah, exactly. Like fucking AirPods, right? It’s crazy. There's no point in escapism in that aspect, you can escape however long you want. I mean, a lot of comics are escapism too, but it's a different kind of escapism. Tech escapism is about denying the reality in front of you so you can appease your conscience. I think with cartooning as escapism, it's more about being able to escape from society.
I totally agree. Like, I guess I’m an escapist, I used to be like kind of whatever about it, but…. Basically it’s like this. Cartoonists that have their acts together can make comics about stuff that are like gritty, you know, but like-- cartoonists that don't have their acts together are too fucked up to like, get it together, you know? But, if you're somewhere in between, like you're gonna be able to hopefully tell people about the underground, and let them know about it as a life experience. There's all this secret hidden stuff that's under the surface.
Right, like that's one of the reasons why I'm really attracted to graffiti and cartooning at the same time. But also, it’s multi-faceted, right? Like you validate your own experiences about the underground, and you let people in the overground know that the underground exists, but you also validate people in the underground, and let them know that their experiences matter.
Yeah, that's a big part of it.
Cuz, like a lot of mainstream culture, the only way they can validate the underground, because they are so detached from it-- they want to acknowledge that the underground exists, but all they can do is fetishize it without actually acknowledging it, you know?
There was an incident, like a year or two ago, where basically this guy-- I think his name was Blu? He was an Italian [graffiti] writer, or a European writer, but his work had become well-known enough that they wanted to collect his pieces and put them in a museum. But the whole point was that these pieces had been running for like 20 years...
I mean that's funny too because I think the idea of them putting him in the gallery in the first place it’s-- they're trying to replicate Banksy, right? They're trying to replicate the success that Banksy has had in the gallery world, which is funny because Banksy is someone who actually doesn't care about the underground.
There's this thing called “indiewashing”, where like, developers hire art school people who never learned their [graffiti] letters-- or they’re not even letters, it’s just like a style that looks quasi-graff. Basically to say, you know, we’re okay with artists, and like, a hip lifestyle, but we’re about to build a place that none of them could ever afford to live, and price you out of the city. You know?
Megan [Wilson] had an issue with Apexer over that sort of stuff. He was like repping PA [a graffiti crew] at the time. But he engaged in some-- like, you know. Well, it's complicated, but-- like, just because somebody does one thing for a tech group, it’s not the same thing as selling your soul to the devil. You sell your soul to the devil, that's a done deal. No backsies.
What do you think about Barry McGee, doing art for the Lyft Bikes?
Yikes. But he also did stuff for both the Drug Users' Union and Clarion Alley, when requested, like pro bono. So he didn't turn his back on his community, so I think we can forgive that.
In any case, it’s a tough topic, because there's a lot of old-school writers that are just tired of people threatening to kill them all the time, and they wanted to make a living off their art. Ex-vandals, they get contracted by the Department of Public Works all the time.
On another note, maybe you could talk about the history of Mission Mini-Comix, and its role in a cacophonous ecosystem.
Basically, me and Rio met in high school, and he was older than me, so he graduated two years earlier.
What high school did you go to?
Urban [School of San Francisco].
Not really. [Laughs] And it’s not to be mistaken with UP [Urban Pioneer Experiential Academy], the outdoors place where my ex-roommate went. They got shut down because some kids got murdered on an outdoors event that they planned. Probably by some gnarly tweakers in the Santa Cruz mountains. I’m serious. Someone pushed them over a cliff-- it was a whole thing. And it screwed an entire generation of kids out of a school, and their GEDs. Urban was the rich-kids private high school, I might as well be honest. I went to a high school reunion. I had been up for two or three days, and my friend called me, one of my other friends I still talk to that went there, and was like, "yeah, high school reunion, you wanna check it out?" Been 20 years. And, basically, my high school experience ended with me and my dad finding my mom dead one morning. And my high school sweetheart-- I mean, it probably sounds gross to say, but what the hell else do you say when you're trying to explain what someone meant to you? They ducked out on me and cheated on me with some guy that really got on my nerves, and hung out with them in front of me, during school hours... I mean the whole thing was that they just did what was easiest for them. Because it’s really hard to want to support someone through grief like that. Basically, what happened was-- I didn't go to college. And at the high school reunion, they had pictures of Becca and stuff--
That was your ex, Becca?
Yeah. And I remember thinking, when I first got into hard drugs, like, “oh wow, she’s going to college and stuff, what a loser I am, if only she saw me now, she wouldn’t have anything to do with me.” But it turned out that she ended up going out with my best friend, dating another dude in college, not telling each other about them, then telling each other about them, then coming out and dating a woman for two years, who found her dead one morning of drug-related causes. And that’s one of many people that I’ve lost to drug-related causes. I mean, I’ve died too.
But you were Narcaned?
Yeah, I was resurrected. On another occasion, I had a weird, quasi-religious experience with Santa Muerte--
Santa Muerte is sort of like Santeria, only its basically-- Death is a saint. But a patron saint of like coyotes, cartel people, and criminals, and can grant requests that are too extreme for other saints to grant, like-- strike down this enemy. Or, you know, bring my ex-girlfriend back to me. Stuff you wouldn't ask most saints for, except maybe Papa Legba. [Laughs]
Were you raised Catholic?
Episcopalian. I went to Grace Cathedral grade school, at the top of Nob Hill. I used to go through there every day. I would go through Chinatown, so Big Trouble in Little China had a very big impact on me as a kid. It always seemed all mystical and cutty, it was a place where a youngster could buy weapons, firecrackers and porn. There was a rumor about the guy at the newsstand, who would sell you a Penthouse or a Hustler for six bucks. And, the other kid was too scared to do it, so--
You did it for him?
Yeah. I’d help a guy out. It was an all-boys school. But then one kid got a hold of the magazines, and started photocopying and selling them. They called them Porno King, or PK, until he got busted. It was all kind of hilarious. But, I think that high school and grade school is a formative time, where people fall into ideas of who they are going to be. When I was in high school, I was friends with people from other high schools, cuz most of the rich kids I went to high school with, I had nothing in common with. When I went to the reunion, it was the same way. I could hear them saying stuff like “he still dresses like a kid,” because I was wearing a DOPE Project hoodie. It was something I was proud of. Me and Erin Ruch designed it.
The DOPE Project is amazing, maybe you could talk a little about your work with them and how you got involved with them?
Well, first I had-- you know, a lot of it started with the punk scene, with Hickey and [Hickey's guitarist and singer] Matty Luv. It seems unrelated, but the fact of the matter is him and Ivy McClelland, and a few other people-- Ro, I think their last name is Giuliano? They modernized needle exchange. They started making the things that told people where the sites were look like punk flyers. So the cops couldn't use them as probable cause to search people when they found them on them.
Basically, Matty Luv put his money where his mouth was, and tried to help all these people. He also started this thing that became the HYA, the Homeless Youth Alliance, that Mary Howe runs now. The work they do is amazing. The mayor, London Breed, did everything in her power to prevent them from reopening a physical space. I don’t mean to start a beef or anything, but basically that was all happening in the punk scene. Matty had a fall from grace. He came back, and then things got better for a minute... and then he died. There’s different rumors about it, but basically, it was Klonopin. You can’t actually OD on benzos, but you can have sleep apnea.
Then, in my early 20s-- I had gotten into hard drugs. I had problems my whole life, starting with drinking my parents' alcohol, smoking weed, taking doses and stuff, picking mushrooms around the city and eating them, just whatever. But then I got into hard drugs, and somebody Narcaned me and-- they saved my life. It really made me feel like this might be borrowed time. But, that every day is a blessing in that sense. But then I started thinking, like, does it end there? I’m a cartoonist, I make comics. So why don’t I make comics telling people about this shit? Because in other parts of America, you can be harassed or even arrested for having Narcan. The DEA was [alleging] that people were having Narcan parties--
Which is crazy. [Laughs]
Basically, the premise is something like Flatliners, which was a popular movie in [the early '90s].
I don’t know that movie.
It was about these medical students, where they would bring each other back to life from the other side. But if you know anything about long-term opiate addiction, you would know that the last thing an opiate user wants is to be Narcaned. I mean, a lot of them would rather die. At CBHS [Community Behavioral Health Services], you can get nasal Narcan. I walked through the process myself, just to see how difficult it would be. The woman there was a little overzealous-- I mean, I watched two Sheriff's deputies trying to reup on Narcan, and she had already done the training with them, and she felt that she had to redo the training. I mean, they know how to use it. When you're distributing Narcan, they used to want us to do the paperwork so you could get the numbers and stuff and they could do some tracking, not for any creepy government reason, but to prove to the health department that they were helping people in a real way. They did accomplish that.
But, basically, we started making these minicomics, about overdose prevention.
Which was-- what year?
Around 2012 or 2011. I mean, that's when we started being a little more proactive with it. And then, I kept on making more of them with different themes, and I wanted to make more. Eventually, I wanted to make a no-win guide to harm reduction, which is about all the gray areas that are not covered. Which is, for instance-- if someone is ODing, they advise you not to give them drugs, but in certain cases, there might be a good reason to do it.
Certain situations-- like what if you have to use a dirty needle? Or what if you're going to do something stupid, what's the least stupid way to do it? Things that people would never necessarily advise, like how to get off methadone on to Suboxone in less than six months by using heroin. And that might sound insane, but really it isn't. All the minicomics we did, we checked with the HRC [Human Rights Commission] affiliate, to make sure that they toed the company line. We didn't want to spread misinformation, or bad information.
Pulp Fiction would be a prime example of bad information. They way they resuscitated [Uma Thurman's character] for instance-- they stabbed her in the heart with a needle full of adrenaline. I’m not saying it wouldn't work, but we have Narcan now. It doesn’t have to be dramatic, although it does get dramatic sometimes. The act itself-- you put the nasal inhaler in or something and be like “doot!” And then nothing happens for four or five minutes, and then the person starts waking up, acting agitated-- I’ve seen people literally going from being catatonic to saying, like, "I WANNA DIE!!" I mean, other times they’ll come out swinging, you know, so it’s not necessarily a picture-perfect thing, where someone's A) gonna thank you for saving their life, or B) it’s gonna be a beautiful moment. It might be kind of ugly. Like they might insist that you owe them 20 bucks, but: you will have saved a life. Then they can do what they want with it. That’s the important thing, you know. It really is a big deal, to try to save a life if you can.
There’s other stuff, like people don’t know that much about overamping, which is stimulants or benzos, like how an overdose on that would work. You can’t really overdose-- there's a cap for how high you can get by taking them. I’ve literally watched a person-- I mean, I didn’t see them ingest the bottle, but they told me they were committing suicide, so they took a bottle of 100mg Klonopin, a bottle of sleeping pills, and put two fentanyl patches on themselves. But then, when the drugs started affecting them, they started messaging everyone on Facebook and saying that they were doing themselves in. I showed up first, and then two other people came along. I distracted them while they pulled the fentanyl patches off of them, and then the police came and I obfuscated because I’ve been beaten up by the police, and I don’t have a great trust of them, so I basically ran interference until the EMTs showed up, [at which time] I was 100% straightforward with them. I didn’t want them putting her in the back of a cop car when she was dying and time was of the essence.
And recently-- I think it was near Taraval Station, during a complaint where a woman was threatening to kill herself in a bathroom-- the police officers handled the situation by shooting her through a closed door. But, you know, the officer stopped the ambulance while it was taking off to tell me that I almost cost my friend their life, by not being real with them. Do you mean, because you would have made it a point to have made sure that she did die? By using your power? Or what, dude? What are you gonna do? Are you an ambulance driver? I mean, I mean-- I’m sure he had his reasons, but he just seemed like another bully to me.
I mean, all the cops in the city went to like St. Ignatius, Sacred Heart, fucking rich Catholic schools--
If they went to school in the city at all. I would prefer an SF native to be a cop rather than a non-native, because cops should be from the communities they’re policing. That alone would help a little. Sometimes it gets nasty though, the way some of the Irish cops in the Sunset [District] get...
I remember being [at] the 7/11 on 46th and Judah, and the person running it had called the police there, and of course they were there, because they were always hanging out there. This guy was like, “what the fuck did I do?!” They wouldn't answer him, so he kept getting more agitated and yelling “what the fuck did I do?” So they took him into the back of the–if you'll excuse my phrasing it–paddy wagon, and it just started rocking-- at the same time, on the speakers, Louis Armstrong began to sing “What a Wonderful World”. And the paddy wagon rocking along to the tune of the music started making me feel sick to my stomach. Cuz you knew they were beating the shit out of them inside that thing. That’s how San Francisco used to be.
Really though, I’ve talked to a lot of people, and they say that police here are a lot better than other places. Much better. I gotta at least say that. But, you know, I was beaten by them, and it made me feel really suicidal for a week or two.... You aren't really aware of your white privilege until it’s unceremoniously removed from you. When you become classified as poor, a derelict, a drug addict, or some other undesirable, and therefore fair game. I remember my best friend who died, his brother bullied us when growing up, and later on went on to be a cop, and worked the Mission-- he was bragging about beating up a prostitute, with his partner and stuff. All the cops are like that. If you think that it’s not that way, look at the situation in Oakland, where they all fucked this... she was really young. Like, the dispatcher's daughter. All of them did it, I think it was like 20 cops. And they made jokes about it, and that was one of their own. That whole situation, every situation like that, it's-- “It’s an isolated incident, da da da da da.” Well, there's a lot of isolated incidents, aren’t there? Isn't it not isolated if there's a lot of a thing? Just saying.
I think a lot of them get into it originally for the right reasons, and then become corrupted over time. Some just are demented. It depends on your perspective. Security guards are much worse, because they're usually ones who failed the psych eval test.... The guy that killed Hill, the drunk hippie at Civic Center Station, they shot him-- my friend was there. He said he had a pocket knife that was smaller than four inches. It was one of the things he was brandishing. But, once they had shot this guy, for a moment they panicked, when the crowd moved in to be like, “hey, what are you doing,” and they turned their guns on the crowd. Then they realized what they were doing-- I mean, I’m sure that footage is gone, they realized what they were doing and stopped. Well, what happened to the guy that killed that guy? He got promoted to the FBI. I mean, this is all a little off-topic, but then again it’s not, because this is what everything's about. The power of authority, and the abuse of it. Charles Hill! That was the guy that got killed at the BART station. That year, another kid got killed for fare evasion. They claimed he had a gun. It's like [Dave] Chappelle says, maybe pulling a gun on him, sprinkle a little crack, and let’s go. And that like, makes it right, when the police shoot someone.
How do you think that small press, and comics specifically, fit into the whole hierarchical power structure?
Well, I consider myself a propagandist. We had always been making political minicomics, and there have always been political cartoonists, it's a long-standing tradition dating back to ancient times. But well, we really started getting into it during Occupy [Wall Street]. There was all the hope in the world that things could change. That the people could be united in a common cause of the pursuit of money, of course, but mainly getting their money back from the banks. It was systematically uprooted and disbanded. I heard that they had a dossier of all the leaders of the different campsites, and a plan to kill them in a massive catastrophe scenario where Occupy attempted to overthrow the government.
Are there any political cartoonists that inspire you as well that you look up to that inform your work at all? Or political image makers?
I mean, man, it's rough like, you know-- like, I guess a lot of the stuff that I think is relevant would be Keith Knight and Aaron McGruder, but they tackled race issues in America, and that's one form of politics, you know?
Sometimes I wonder what the hell happened with some people. I mean, I’ve seen anarchists become yuppies, activists become conservatives-- and I’ve seen the other shit happen too. I've seen kind of uptight people lighten up, and straight-laced people get strung out, just get turned out by the city. It's a sink-or-swim environment. They used to call it "the city where people die over crumbs." I don't know if [rapper/producer] Cellski coined that term or what, but that's where I heard it. He's a personal favorite of mine. I only got to see him play once, at a benefit for Mario Woods' mom, and he was like, “I feel you Mama Woods.” The DJs fucked up his set. A lot of times they don't have the instrumental version of a song, so a lot of times the artists are either lip syncing or singing over themselves, you know. And he was giving a good performance, but the guy kept fucking up his songs. I kind of wanted to strangle him. And then there was like, you know, this hipster white kid in the front row, who was feeling it a little too hard, and like, yes, it's awesome, but like-- well, I don't know. At metal shows sometimes, the guys just sit there with their arms folded looking tough. And you're like, doesn't the music move you? Or are you, like, eyeing each other? I don't know, sometimes it's hard to really tell how people should be acting. I remember my ex punched some white guy for interpretive dancing at a metal show-- that was her friend's band.
Yeah. I think that was the fifth guy that year that she socked.
Do you think there's room for underground artists in San Francisco?
I mean, I think it's like sink-or-swim, you gotta make room. But that's easy for me to say. To be fair, I've been doing it for the past 20 years, with mixed results, and at great personal cost to myself. It's pretty tragic, you know? Some people really came up from it, like the Mission School people, and other people lost their lives from it, like Tie, you know?
I mean, ha, I remember they were going to protest PG&E because they were going to show the man who had [shot] him’s photography, in the entry room in one of the PG&E places. Because he's like a photographer in his spare time, when he's not killing [people] for committing misdemeanors. He was a Vietnam vet... I'm sure he heard the cans rattle in his bag and knew that he wasn't a burglar. But, you know, he got away with it. Tie’s parents were poor immigrants who didn't speak a lick of English, and they just didn't have the wherewithal to even file a civil suit against it, or, in the olden days it would be called weregild or something, but you know-- the guy should have paid them something for [killing] their son like that. I-- believe in true evil. It's like the movie The Bad Seed, and then later, The Good Son, with Macaulay Culkin. If you've ever seen it, oh wow...
I saw your comic in Vision Quest about fentanyl, and it was actually really informative; I didn't know a lot of the stuff you were talking about. And I think a lot of the stuff you do with Mission Mini-Comix is perfect, because it's kind of like an informal drug lesson; a lesson that can be passed around easily on the street. I think it’s an important thing. And I guess what I want to know in that aspect is - how do you distribute the comics that you make, and how many do you normally make?
Well, we’ve hit an s-n-a-g where COVID really put the kibosh on our group meetings, because we used to meet up every week and draw comics. If we were lucky, we would be putting them out between every week and a month. I used to rack my copies, and then I had this deal where this person was a patron, and they let me make free copies every month, and we helped each other assemble and compile our zines. They really supported me. Harm reduction stuff is probably the stuff that has gotten around the most, and if anyone asks, I can send them PDFs that they can print, assemble and distribute. Because it's information that I want to make as public as possible. The whole idea was if we could create a culture-- drug culture is one thing, but harm reduction culture is another thing. Drug culture is like, “BLEHH! Drugs! I’mma bite the head off a bat!” [Tangeman laughs] And it's like, that's cool, Ozzy, but…
Then you've got harm reduction, which is like, ok, you're gonna do this and you're gonna do that, but you don't have to do it in a way which might permanently impact your life if you manage to change your life later. Or, you could live with an addiction that would otherwise kill you. Which some people think isn't the goal. But that's because it's hard to realize that some people can't stop, or they would. You think people like being that way? So, you know, the idea is to help people in that sense...
In my high school there was a guy who came in for our health class and was talking about drugs, and was saying he was addicted to cocaine and all this stuff, and you know, "drugs are bad," but then a kid asked him: well, what do you think about harm reduction, because that can be beneficial too? And he was like, fuck harm reduction, harm reduction is what got me here because harm reduction still means doing drugs. I don't know, it was kinda weird how against harm reduction he was.
Well like, okay, there's some people with that kinda attitude in NA [Narcotics Anonymous] and AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] but-- most of the time, if someone comes at me and says I'm into NA and AA, I don't make fun of them anymore. When I was younger I might've copped a 'tude, but now that I'm older, whatever like helps you do your thing and help you be clean, just do it! It doesn't matter! Whatever your talisman is, never mind that there's a 98% recidivism rate for opiates and drugs in general. Penn and Teller did a thing on Bullshit! about NA and AA, and they found that people quitting alone had the same odds.
Yeah, so it's more like a cult.
Yeah, I read your cult minicomic you guys did where Spencer Gray [an artist and harm-reduction proponent] is talking about AA and he says, "God, these people make me want to get loaded."
Well, he actually tried to work the program at points. That's what I mean, another person I knew went to Walden House [a mental health and substance use disorder agency], you know. But like AA says, you have to embrace a higher power, and a lot of the time that means Jesus Christ. There's other groups like LifeRing that are secular. I think a lot of the time people need a leg up, they need someone to support them and get through the first few steps, but if you don't learn to rely on your own personal power you're never gonna be able to-- you know, I'm not exactly the poster boy for sobriety, but between having very serious drug problems, I was clean for like a five- to seven-year period, so I've tried all that. I was married, common law, lived with someone, tried to straighten my act up and do what everyone else wanted me to do, and sometimes there isn't anything there for you. I mean, of course, nobody's gonna give you a pat on the back and a gold star, and a bunch of other stuff. I mean, a lot of the times people just trade one addiction for the other, like "I found Jesus, I found gambling."
Well, yeah, but there's something a little bit healthier about graffiti.
No, totally, some addictions are healthier than others.
You'd think that's a screwball thing for me to say, but it has to do with people A) finding their own power, B) being creative, and C) well-- it's just not as harmful in a lot of ways personally, you know-- like that's to say it can be. It can be totally detrimental to certain individuals, depending on how they do it, but so can religion or any of those other things. I mean, in some cases I've seen graffiti or even hard drugs save people's lives.
I've had people tell me "heroin saved my life" and I mean to explain that a little bit. There are a lot of people who are medication-resistant, that have a chemical imbalance in the brain, have experienced terrible traumas, or a combination of the two, and even the SSRI reuptake inhibitors don't work on them, not the way they're supposed to. The only thing that shifts their life into a bearable thing is drug use. And not that I'm advocating it, I'm just saying that for some people it's consolidation. You trade in all your other problems for one problem. A lot of times people go into sex, AA used to be like a sex cult in the '80s-- kind of.
Well, maybe now we can talk about Clarion Alley, because I feel that it fits well into the larger schema of what we are talking about. You have two murals there, right?
I mean, sorta. I’ve got little bits, and odds and ends. I'm gonna change the one mural that's the Terminator Cop mural.
How did you get involved with Clarion Alley?
Well, originally, I was asked in there to paint. And nobody explained to me that I had to maintain my own wall.
I didn't know that.
It’s pretty idiotic of me, to not have thought that I could just have gone back and fix my shit whenever, but it wasn't like an organized group of people reaching out to each other at that point. I mean, like-- really, things fell apart right before I got involved. There was a year or two when the block party didn't happen-- I mean, this year it was COVID, but there was this one [cop] that really had it out for the whole Clarion Alley group, and she blocked the permits, and she didn't really have the right to, but they should have taken it up with the [Board of Supervisors] and fought it, but they got really lazy about it.
Well, it's fuckin' tough.
Essentially, I started going in there and painting, and my samurai buddy, that-- I guess we're not friends anymore, you know, cuz like-- well, he says it's because I'm a drug addict, and I say it's because he's an asshole! [Laughs]
What I wanted to do when we were here is just kinda walk through Clarion Alley and talk about the history of it and your involvement with it, because we kinda got involved with it last time, but I really wanted to delve in because it's an important thing. Do you mind telling me how it started again?
A bunch of people banded together and talked to the building owners and basically created a charter and some contracts to sign that-- basically they got the right to paint in here.
And that was when?
I think 1992, I wanna say. Around then. And some people were like-- it was a gang, drug alley, and now it's better, and it's like, well, people still come in here to get high. What it is, it's supposed to be a safe space. There's been some not-so-safe things that happened here, I'm sorry to say. It's like one of those powerful areas in this city that's both positive and negative. Like its a ley line for some kind of residual spiritual energy from the city of yesteryear. Here we got the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project over [graffiti artist] Chor Boogie's old wall.
What's the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project?
They mapped all the evictions in San Francisco, especially with attention to Ellis Act evictions, which was an abused loophole that said that if you or your family was moving into a property, you had the right to evict the tenants. Because a lot of the people were ESL [English as a Second Language] and maybe didn't have citizenship status-- there were a lot of reasons they couldn't fight the Ellis Act evictions. They were out on their ass before they knew what was going on. There's supposed to be a penalty fee you pay for using it, but that doesn't suspend someone's real estate license or ability to be speculative when it comes to property...
José Guerra, this is like a parody of the American flag where each of the names in the black and white are people who were killed by police violence, local and national. I mean, I don't know... Alex Nieto, Freddie Gray, some I know the stories, some I don't, but there's plenty more, that's just the tip of the iceberg.
This was the woman who got invited into the alley, Elinor Diamond I believe. This was a little scandalous. Mission Local [an online news site] had a contest to [create] a Google bus design to put on the side of it-- to kind of indiewash it. $500 contest. She took the Google Maps pic of the lip of the alley and entered that as her contest submission and won. [However,] Jet Martinez painted most of [the image captured by Google Maps], she basically piggybacked other peoples' art. [The mural in Clarion Alley is] so-so, it's a couple flowers. It's supposed to be an RIP for Juanita Rieloff.
Your Narcania VS Death one, you did this with someone else, right?
Erin Ruch, and other people did supportive details-- I mean, I think Mandy helped out a little. I've had to restore it almost 40 times, it gets constantly vandalized. One of the last times it was, like, this guy vandalized it twice in two weeks, and I caught up to him in here and started challenging him. He put penises in the mouth of every female figure in the whole alley because he thought that all women were whores. He said that his ex-girlfriend was psychically haunting him from Facebook, and when I confronted him he called the police from across the way and started saying I was a Neo-Nazi with a gun. He was basically trying to get the police to come out and shoot me, but he got more and more irate and stormed into the station saying I was doing all this stuff. We did a 20 count, 30 count, two minutes-- we're like, he's not coming back out. He overplayed his hand a little. He was probably like "yeah, I vandalized the murals over there, but..."
How long has it been here?
Like four or five years. We got the cover of SF Weekly, which is like a great honor, I mean in a way-- not that it meant what it used to, but, like, still to be part of the discussion... [we] wanted to create a culture around harm reduction. This character, Narcania, embodies the powers of Narcan, sorta like Eliza Wheeler, ex-head of the DOPE Project, Kristen Marshall now.
I like how you wrote at the bottom, "Thanks Narcania! I don't know if there's anything worth living for but at least now I'll get the chance to find out," and it kinda sounds like what you were telling me about your own experiences with Narcan. I like how you portray it not like super-glorifying anything, but just to be able to do what it does, which is save people's lives.
No fucking junkie that's strung out is gonna wanna be Narcaned ever. It's not like a pleasant experience. If people understood that I think they'd be a little cooler with it being something that-- it should be broadly available, there's no reason it shouldn't be. It's not a narcotic, anybody that does opiates would be terrified of being dosed by it, but it will save a life, and it's one of the weapons we have in that war that's not a magic bullet, but-- the amount of overdoses prevented in San Francisco since it became promoted-- the [Department of Public Health] had to acknowledge their efforts.
Have you worked at Street Sheet?
Yeah-- I mean, I've published stuff in there before. I respect them a lot because they give homeless people a way to earn their bread.
Yeah, they're pretty awesome.
And they've been cool to me. I think if Quiver [Watts] is still the editor, they've been tolerant of me. I've sent some cracked-out emails.
I mean, he was like a close friend of mine. Like, I mean, he burned me, but then he got popped on a home invasion charge that was really overblown and went to San Bruno for a year. When he got out like I was-- I mean, yeah, I told you the other night, but he's one of these sad stories. I mean, not all of them are completely tragic, but a lot of them are pretty fucking bad.
I like how you wrote "willing to paint hearts for dead SF people, but ask please, leave contact info here." Do people leave their contact info there often?
Sometimes, but it's like [becoming] a little bit of a shit show. Like, I have a couple extras to add you know...
The idea was to take a brush and paint a heart or two and just update it real quick. I don't have to finish, just real quick I wanted to go over it. But some of the people here it's like-- Becca G. is like one of the only people I ever loved, ya know? And it's like, dead, drug-related causes. I mean, it's really sad how these things happen, you know, like-- I mean, I don't know, I've died more than once, but that's harm reduction. Like, that guy can say what he wants, like "fuck harm reduction," but that's a pretty broad and easy statement to make. The idea is that, okay, if he was capable of quitting… if he could quit and not do drugs, then more power to him, but not everyone's capable of quitting, so [harm reduction is] like teaching people to live with their addictions. I mean, people misunderstand the purpose of harm reduction a lot of the time.
Well like, maybe it's not to get people clean off drugs, but [it's] to teach them how to use drugs in a way that doesn't kill them.
Right, to reduce harm.
Yeah, and not just [cause] harm to themselves, but to their community at large. I mean, trying to stun the spread of communicable diseases like Hep C and HIV. Trying to save lives. People can make the decision to clean up completely later, ya know, but it says "we'll work with you halfway." Yeah, we'll meet you halfway, the point being that a lot of times people are like "tough love's the only way." How's that working out? How's the War on Drugs working out? How many years have we been raging it, and are drugs gone? Have people stopped using them? Oh, wait a minute, they're cheaper and more available, and the use of them is more widely spread than ever before. So I think maybe the idea of what a war on drugs is has been really misunderstood. Like, an entire generation of people fucking spent behind bars that should never have been there in the first place. I mean, it's disgusting to me.
Yeah, sorry, just seeing what everybody's up to, it's an old habit of painting here for a long time.
You're the manager of Clarion Alley, right?
I'm-- I mean, I had the self-imposed title of on-site manager, but that's a little overblown. The truth is Megan [Wilson] and Chris [Statton] are the [co-directors] of the program, and there's several people that are board members because it's a non-profit so they have a board... [graffiti artist] Rigo 23's sorta like our figurehead or mascot, you know. Like, me... I had that self-imposed title-- that was mainly for resumes, but I did a lot of restorations in here, and organized the block party for like seven or eight years in a row, and you know, did curating between what Megan and Chris are curating to try to, you know... bridge the gap with the graff community--
And the, like, mural community?
Yeah, because they're not necessarily at odds, nor should they be. In fact, you know, somebody asked Megan in an interview, I think, the difference between—what was it?—street artists, graffiti people, and muralists, and really street artists are like the worst of the three because--
It's like the capitalist name for it, or modification.
Well, in some cases that is it, and then others, like-- it's like older people that want to break into something that they don't really understand. And remember the guy that does the honey bears? He did a stencil over somebody's tag, and then was surprised to see that somebody came and hacked out his thing. It's like, bro, you think respect isn't a two-way street? You didn't learn those unspoken rules, like... stand on the right on the escalator going up from BART so people on the left can walk up if they want. You know, it's an unspoken rule, but it's generally one of those social contracts that we all know about, and graffiti has similar unspoken rules like: don't hack people unless you're trying to start a beef... and, I mean, in walls where eventually burners [i.e. large pieces] are gonna be painted, its like, [per the unspoken rules] you go over people's tags [simple signatures] with like a throw-up [bulbous letters], and then you go over a throw-up with like a fill-in [interior coloring] or a burner, it's like [you're adding] a little more detail.
You go over fill-ins with burners too, or pieces.
Yeah that kinda thing, and like, you know, generally speaking you leave RIP shit alone--
Right, or dead writers.
Or dead writers-- especially dead writers! I mean, I always considered it bad luck, but also it's, like-- have a little fucking respect! But then some cynical kids in the '90s started running dead writers' names just so that they could have a reason to fuck with people. Like, if you come in here and tag a dead writer's name on a mural, its like you're gonna take somebody who you honestly didn't even know, use their name, to try and start a fuck with people? It's like-- come on man, we're all in this together...
I mean that's-- [what] people don't understand about San Francisco is that it's rife with tragedy.
Why do you think that is?
Some people think that it was a cursed land before it was ever settled.
Do you think that?
Well I know that the Ohlone were a little bit sketched out about it. I think that there's some powerful energies here, both good and bad... it's a little Twin Peaks-y. I'm not saying there's an entrance to the Black Lodge anywhere here, but--
People say that the three most haunted areas are Coit Tower, the Marina, and Lands End.
What about, fucking-- Silver Crest?
Silver Crest... I don't know, that's outside my scope of knowledge.
It's in the Bayshore. They say the people who run it are ghosts and they haunt it, and it's open 24 hours a day.
Really? Let's go there and check it out, I'm curious. Maybe not in a gnarly internet video way, but maybe! Why not? That's what everything is nowadays, whether I like it or not.
Yeah, me too.
My best friend, JP-- knew him since kindergarten, grew up with him my whole life. He died in a no-fault auto accident. That was like one of those life-changing moments. One of those calls you never forget, ever, you know what I mean? It was almost-- it was as bad or worse than my mom dying, because you don't choose your family, you choose your friends, and he was a brother for life. I just keep thinking... there's nothing I could do... there's no sense, rhyme, or reason. It was just so, so bad. I mean, I tried to be strong for a real long time, and I guess I was for a while, but then I just got sick of trying to keep my upper lip up. It made me a little weaker in areas where I could've been stronger... I don't know, be a little bit more decisive in like-- uh, well, my first relationship I think I'd really had in years and years and years... I don't know, maybe if I'd have been decisive things might've ended differently, but I doubt it, ya know?
I also wanted to ask you about the role of collaboration in your work with comics, specifically because when I think of Mission Mini-Comix, I think almost every single comic is a collaboration, you know? It's a big part of graffiti and a lot of different things too, but especially with Mission Mini-Comix.
There's a lot of jam comics, like--
In the '70s and stuff, and--
Yeah, like they kinda went there, but then it just sorta-- it fell off, ya know, they weren't into that, and we were so into the idea of collaborating because we wanted it to be like kind of a community thing. The more people that are involved, that collaborate, the more sense of ownership people are gonna have.
Were you inspired by the '70s jam comics when you had that in mind, of wanting to get people into it?
Oh, I think just in general you could say I was inspired by them.
Did you read comics in high school?
Oh yeah. In fact, I wanted to be a cartoonist since I was six years old. I read a lot of manga. My favorite was-- you know, there was this one school there, they must have just had the best teacher, or a class that was like the Mission School students. Cuz, it was like, Ryōichi Ikegami, who illustrated Crying Freeman, uh, Tetsuo Hara, who illustrated Fist of the North Star, and Rumiko Takahashi--
Who did Ranma ½ and Inuyasha.
Yeah, yeah. And Lum [Urusei Yatsura] basically popularized harem anime. [Laughs] But you know, she was a female cartoonist who made it in a really tough environment, so. I also like Jōji Manabe, who did Outlanders, and Hideshi Hino...
How did you get access to these comics, the library?
Kinokuniya usually. [I'd] go to Japantown, I love that place.
What attracted you to Japanese comics, rather than the American stuff?
Um, I didn't like American mainstream comics that much. I’ve read up now, because I think you should know about anything you're going to talk about extensively. But I was never a big fan of superhero comics. If I had to say, now, Spider-Man, the X-Men and Batman would be my favorite comics.
Yeah, and so going back to what you were saying earlier, R. Crumb was your first introduction to underground comics, but how did that manifest itself? When you first read Carload O’ Comics, what was the impression that it left on you, as opposed to the other things that you had been reading at the time, i.e., manga?
I was like-- wow, one cartoonist could do all this? Although to be fair, [manga] has a lot of like-minded artists-- mostly one artist [does] their thing, not like American comics, where you got your whole team of inkers.
Right-- I mean, they have people doing like backgrounds and stuff.
Yeah, yeah they got-- I mean, like, Junji Itō, I think his wife and mother-in-law help him out with the background work and some ink stuff, and... Sam Kieth, somebody I really look up to-- I mean, [William] Messner-Loebs did his dialogue, but he had like a cast of two or three inkers to help him with the busywork, when he pressed from Image.
What other types of underground comics did you read after Crumb?
Well, all the Zap guys for sure. Zap and Bijou. Basically, I was lucky, like I had a friend whose parents were the most generous people you could ever hope to meet. Her father had been collecting stuff during the underground comix time. I mean, he had all the original Zap stuff, including #0, which they lost the plates for, I mean Jesus Christ! He takes this shoe box of comics in the basement and is like "here, do you want these?"
Do you still have them?
Yes. He gave them to me because he thought I could use them more than him. I mean, that's the kind of people they were.
So I guess who in particular of the underground cartoonists still inspires you the most to this day?
Well I mean that's just it-- I got [manga] inspirations and I got, you know, I was saying that one school of [manga] people--
Like Rumiko Takahashi?
Rumiko Takashi... and, uh, Ryōichi Ikegami... nowadays it's a little passé, but back then I was the only one. Like, no one else, they all liked superhero comics, and I liked Sam Kieth. He was like an inspiration to me. Phoebe Gloeckner as well, give a shout out-- all the original Zap artists, like R. Crumb, S. Clay Wilson, um, I don't know if Gilbert Shelton was like that, but he--
He's one of the Texas Rangers.
Simon Deitch might be a little higher on the list.
How about Justin Green?
Well, just because of his contribution to-- I mean, Art Spiegelman just for doing Maus, like, I mean "wooow." You know, a lot of my friends' grandparents still have the fucking numbers on their arms. And Spain Rodriguez. I was in a show with him once, you know. That was like one of the biggest moments of my young cartooning career. I never met R. Crumb, I met Maxon Crumb.
Yeah, I traded him. I fucked up his comic with a wheat paste that spilled in my bag. I mean, it was a little twisted to--
Yeah, because he's kinda a crazy weird guy.
Well, he's perverse, you know.
But with the underground cartoonists, I guess I wanted to know how you think of them less in a cartooning sense but more in terms of-- in relation to San Francisco, and how that trend is continuing now?
Spain Rodriguez. I mean, he started the first mural in the Mission.
Do you think murals and comics are inextricably linked?
Not necessarily, but I think that people were painting murals long before comics were-- or they were painting murals that were comics, kinda, you know? I think that there's a little inter-linkage between a lot of these disciplines, if you were to call any of this stuff a discipline. A lot of people think it takes no talent or discipline whatsoever, but they couldn't do it if you gave them a million years to practice.
What do you think about the relationship of what you chose to represent in your murals vs. what you chose to represent in your comics?
I think a lot of it's similar. Admittedly, I have some stuff that's just like monsters or ghosts, and that's not the same, like-- yeah, it's not the same at all as, uh-- goddamnit. Well, yeah, there's a lot of-- there's a font you know? Maybe it's the Water of Life... if you're into that. That was a personal inspiration to me, The Neverending Story-- not the Disney movie, but the book. [Laughs] Almost to the point where it was a religion, or a religious experience to read the book for me.
Why do you think you talk about your representation of monsters and ghosts in your murals and your comic work, and why do you think that is?
Well, death is a major thing that everybody tries to turn and look away from. The reality is... we've got to acknowledge that it exists. The monsters and stuff, I mean, I think they represent parts of either the human psyche or-- I mean, some of it has to do with the afterlife, some of it was just a shoutout... skulls represent, you know, death, the journey between life and death. And it's like ever since I've been a youngster, death is something that's been a constant part of my life. When I was like six years old, my childhood friend died, that was my first run in with death. It's like-- my mom died, some of the people who have mattered most to me in the world died. It's like back in the day at parties they used to hand out little coffins, memento mori or whatever. It was laugh, drink, eat and be merry, for tomorrow we die, so a lot like William Blake's poem, "The Fly". Which I could quote but--
Yeah, quote it!
What was it… little fly...
Am not I
A fly like thee?
Or art not thou
A man like me?
For I dance
And drink and sing,
Till some blind hand
Shall brush my wing.
If thought is life
And strength and breath,
And the want
Of thought is death,
Then am I
A happy fly,
If I live,
Or if I die.
It's not quite as stirring as the poem about the tiger, but--
Yeah yeah, you know, my mom gave it to me on a shirt about a month before she kicked the can, and I always-- maybe I over-identified with it. The whole point is that they would hand around these little reminders that-- eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die. I think our whole society is the opposite. The Egyptians were overly obsessed with death and the afterlife, and we're under-ly obsessed with it.
Do you think that that under-obsession contributes to our apathy for impending doom in our continued hurtling towards it?
No I think that's misdirection that's been created by a bunch of greedy people that want to get theirs now. They don't give a shit if their grandkids ever see a real-life polar bear or tiger, they don't. There's more tigers in captivity in North America than in the whole of the wild and in the rest of the world... I mean, I'm just saying, like, uh-- we've fucked things up. COVID's given us a chance to set back the clock on carbon emissions just the teensiest little bit.
Right. Do you think it'll happen?
I think it's all fine and good to have something like what Elon Musk is doing, but like-- yo, fucking get over the idea of the Mars colony bro, like come off it.
Yeah it's kinda like what we were talking about last time with the direct correlation to tech. It's just escapism in this apathetic way, right? Its kinda like thinking we can fuck up this Earth because we have Mars or something like that.
Yeah, or somewhere nearby that we can go and screw up, and its like, no you don't really. This is what we got. Pretty soon things are gonna get real hard for the human race, and I feel bad for the generations we left to inherit it. I mean that's what really tears me up the most, people fucking shit up and leaving their kids to inherit this screwed-up world, you know? Like you polluted the shit out of it, made all of these animals extinct, and-- I mean, okay, not all species being extinct is against the natural order of things, because some of that still is part of the way the world works. However, some of it-- most of it is terrible, and people are still being idiots about it.... In a way, COVID-like plagues wiping out a bunch of humanity would be the best possible outcome of things. [Floyd laughs] No, no, no hear me out, because [Thomas Robert] Malthus theorized way long ago that we were using exponentially more resources, and-- well, they ran out and our population grew, so what happens next? We run out of resources and fight wars over what's left.
Do you consider yourself a nihilist?
No, because nihilists believe in nothing. I mean there's elements of nihilism in my thought process, but nihilists believe in nothing, and I believe-- I'm not sure what exactly, but it's something, it's not nothing!
Well, you believe in Santa Muerte and you believe in certain emblems of other religions, which I think is really interesting actually. Do you think that's a result of your Episcopalian upbringing, or just from--
I've always found religions fascinating, I really do. Some of them are just myths that give us insight into the human psyche of an older age. Some of that stuff like the Navajo and the Anasazi, like the Navajo talk about coming from-- [our world] is like the fourth world, and you know they call evil magic, the way to get rich, dark witchcraft? Stuff like skin-walkers practice. I mean I don't know what trips me out, it's like the way to get rich, so-- in a way, all these Wall Street wizards are actually like evil magicians--
Do you consider yourself a magician?
I don't know. I think at some point I did, but if anything I believe in magic through art. I always thought that if you could make art, that was powerful enough it would have a physical effect in the real world, and that's a form of magic.
There's some people who did some serious political comics, that, you know, really-- I feel like Maus is that way... I mean, Matt Groening, his work was not entirely political, but it has political elements too.
But he totally sold out and I lost respect for him, because he filed a bunch of cease and desists to independent zine makers who were using his bunny characters and stuff, in Bunnyhop Magazine.
I would have to see the situation but I don't-- I'm still gonna give it up for Matt Groening, because you know he did a lot. It was like he was from this one school of comics, he went to Evergreen at the same time as Charles Burns, Lynda Barry...
How do you think your work and the work of Mission Mini-Comix fits into the other world of cartooning now and the rest of the comics world?
I think that the microcosm applies to the macrocosm. That's always been, does that sound--
Pretentious? No, not at all. I think it's true.
Like in the sense that if you look at gluons and quarks and neutrinos and stuff, you're gonna see stuff acting on a subatomic level much the way that stuff acts in the larger universe, you know? I think the same is going for cartooning, like I had some pretty local-- stuff about local issues. We were hoping that it would translate to the macro, because some of this stuff that we were talking about applies across America. You know, conservative think tanks are trying to make a unified effort to privatize public space, and basically create a new world order together with each other's help. [Doing] stuff like, basically, quality of life bullshit, which means they want to try to make homeless people's lives unlivable. Until what? Until you throw them all in jail? Like really?
Or like having systematic concentration camps essentially. I mean, it's not outside the realm of possibility.
It's not outside the realm of possibility, and what? For being poor? How is that fucking right? It's not right. It's wrong. Like they're wrong, like they need to be stopped. People like the Koch brothers and the rich. I don't know, there's a couple groups like if I had a minute I could throw together a list, but you know what I mean-- and it sounds paranoid that there's some oligarchical monarchy that controls and governs all our fates, but it's more like they have these groups of conservative think tanks that communicate and unify and, like, try to-- like when sit-lie passed, it wasn't like just sit-lie passed, it was like a bunch of--
Can you talk about what sit-lie is?
Its legislation that says that you can't sit and lie on the ground in San Francisco, basically between the hours of-- when you'd wanna fucking sleep, because they don't want people to sleep on the street. But wait a minute, you can't have tents either, you can't camp either, so you can't camp, you can't do anything, you can't be homeless here! It's like if they have that everywhere and you can't be homeless, what can you do? Like die quietly in the corner, is that cool with you guys? It's not fucking okay, like I'm disgusted. Like I get people are entitled to their opinions, and sure, like--
But people are also entitled to their opinions being challenged too, right?
Yeah, and believe me, I have to defend my viewpoints quite often because they're not what you'd consider popular either, because of my belief in harm reduction, or just my general politics, which are somewhat radical.
How do you identify politically?
I don't know, as a radical? No, I'm serious!
No, I know, that's just good! I like that because it's not inherently polarized. Instead it's just inherently action-based, right?
Like the Republicans, a lot of them are wackadoo, but the Democrats, their attitude is like "go ahead, vote for the crazy guys," and you're like oh god, they're so smug and secure in the fact that you'll be too scared by the Republicans' craziness that you're gonna fucking--
Vote for Scott Wiener or whatever.
Yeah, I definitely made some comics against him, although to my surprise he's one of the people who pushed hardest for SIF legislation.
Is that a good thing?
Uh, yeah, in my school of thought it is. I mean, a broken clock can be right twice a day. Yeah, no it's actually an incredibly good thing, and he pushed to get the votes.
What is it?
It's the safe injection facility. It's a place where people can go and, you know, in a medically-supervised environment or at least where people know how to help people experiencing drug overdoses and stuff, they can go in a medically-safe place and do their drugs so that the needles and shit don't wind up on the street, they don't transmit them to other people, and they don't die from doing them. Those reasons alone ought to be enough for people to be okay with them existing, but a lot of people are like "oh no, that's gonna make things into..." How could it fucking be worse? You know like, look at the world that you guys created, like it's not gonna get any fucking worse. Like yeah, surely something needs to be done, like-- and yeah, I believe wholeheartedly in SIFs for a number of reasons, and there's been enough data collected to show that they'd have a very positive impact on the communities they operate in. People think "oh, it's gonna bring the drugs here, and encourage people to do drugs,” but like--
The drugs are here!
Yeah, it's like-- fuck, do you guys go outside your houses? I mean, what's wrong with you? It's like they come from other places and they bring their fucking philosophies here when they've never encountered the stuff that they're trying to weigh in on, you know? They're just trying to tell us how to live our lives. They're like "were you happier before when there were dog turds all over the place?" and all that, and I'm like there's more fucking shit on the ground now then there was before you guys came, and that's the truth. I'm not saying that the yuppies are taking dumps, although, I mean--
They have! I mean fuck, my friend almost tripped over a yuppie couple screwing! I mean, I'm just saying, they're contributing to the same shit that they're complaining about.... Yeah, I mean people are usually with me when I tell them what my agenda is up to a point, and then at some point they're like "oh that's too far." It goes something like: needle exchange; legalize and promote Narcan distribution in all states and counties; SIFs; and lastly, legalize all drugs.
Legalize all drugs?
Yeah, that's the one that I've gotten in the most trouble with. Like, would there be casualties at first? Yeah, probably, but not nearly the numbers that they're imagining. What we do is break the-- you know, the hold the cartels have over entire communities in Mexico. Basically a lot of people lose a lot of money, including law enforcement in our country.
And pharmaceutical industries.
Yeah, but they're competing. They're competing with the cartels to some extent.
And that's the big tragedy, that there's too much-- like in the comics world... the more together people are, they can act like they know what underground and living life on the edge is like, but they don't.
Well, yeah, that's what you were talking about last time, like people that are put together make art about being gritty that is sometimes like a parody, fetishization.
It's like they've got some ideas about what it might be like. Unless they've lived through that whole experience and are trying to claw their way back. Phoebe Gloeckner, you can tell that she experienced that stuff in real life.
I know, that's why her work is so powerful, you know?
Whereas, like, if you're just pantomiming-- like it's one thing if you outsource it, you get someone else to tell their story, and you--
Or like Maus too, right? Like Maus is--
It's his father's testimony, yeah.
What do you think’s next for you and Mission Mini-Comix as COVID kind of comes to a close?
Time to maybe pick up some of the pieces, you know, do something to commemorate S. Clay Wilson's life. Give props to him posthumously, and like-- it sucks what happened, like... it might have been mercy, that he died. It might have been mercy, because he was, you know, brain-damaged and less than he was. I would maybe want to be put out of my misery. [Laughs] I'm serious, because I've seen what it can be like. I work with someone very closely that was both schizophrenic and had severe senile dementia. I mean, that is not-- if I had to be lesser than what I was, I might not, you know. I mean, his wife helped him but--
It's hard. I guess the last question I wanted to ask you was about the role of mainstream and underground cartooning, and just medium-making in general, and the mindsets that accompany it. Maybe you could talk a little about that, being someone who's worked prominently and primarily in the underground?
Primarily, like all in the underground. I mean, yeah, I've been published in Street Sheet--
That's still an underground newspaper.
Yeah, yeah, and I was an editorial cartoonist for El Tecolote. [Iñaki] Fernandez was the editor during the time-- well, him and Greg Zeman were the editors during the time that I was active with them, but I wouldn't consider that mainstream either, that was still kinda underground.
Yeah, still an underground newspaper, and I respect them a lot.
Yeah, no I actually respect them way more than--
Well, Mission Local, I was gonna say. Street Sheet I actually respect a lot because they give homeless people a way to earn their bread.
Yeah, Street Sheet is amazing. What do you think about that mainstream kinda mentality, specifically the mentality that accompanies it?
Well, people are like "yeah, I wanna make money, like I don't care about politics" and this and that and, okay, telling a good story doesn't have much to do with politics right?
Everything is political.
I mean, you know what I'm saying. You don't have to-- you can just tell a good story that's a good story, and it doesn't have to be involved. It's that thing where you bring your politics along all the time. I don't know, I guess I've been on the other side of the fence for so long that-- yeah, I'm a little militant. Like I'll walk into a place, like a bookstore, and you know you can see the clerk like inwardly groan. Like when you get on the bus and you can see people secretly praying that you won't come up and try to speak to them, you know. That's the kinda person I feel like I am right now, and that's a little sad. It wasn't always this way. I feel way underground at this point, and mainstream stuff, sure, you can make it, I'm not gonna hate on you, it's just sometimes, like, what's your message?
Do you think underground mentalities can be in the mainstream and still maintain their militancy?
Yeah, depending on how it's done. That's a real tricky one, because it can be done, but it's just very difficult to do and not detract from-- I mean, I guess Maus would be the example again.
How do you think the role that the underground has played has changed from the '60s, '70s to now, in contrast to mainstream media and culture?
Well, I think that it's a lot more accepted. In the '90s there was a lot of independent stuff, both in the music world and in the-- I don't know, even the comics world. Like they say, it's the best time to be an independent cartoonist. You have more of a chance to actually make money doing it compared to back in the day. In fact, Marvel and all them, they're having trouble keeping their doors open. The only reason they're keeping going is so that they have a fucking, you know-- something to keep writing movie scripts off of. I was spacing on your questions. I feel like I really had better answers somewhere in my psyche.
Nah, no worries, I mean if there's anything else you want to say--
Yeah, like, the mainstream and the places that I've had the best luck with my work is outside the cartooning community, because there's too much of like--
Like a culture that I'm obviously an outsider to. You know, people realize that I'm the genuine article and then they get sketched out on me, like-- like keeping it real goes wrong [laughs] to an extent.
Do you think there's still a problem with who's invited to contribute to comics culture?
Yes, I think a lot of times-- I mean, you know one of the reasons my friend Audrey joined our group was because of Comics Conspiracy [a Bay Area comic book store]. Like, Mike Hale's her friend, [he] had dated every other woman in the group, and when the relationships ended, they left the group. It's like, you know you wanna see a little-- I'm a serious cartoonist, I don't care if people in a group date each other, but do it on your own time and keep your drama on your own time, okay?
It's about the cartooning first and foremost.
Yeah, I'm actually about the art, and people couldn't believe that! They were just like "oh nah he's just another pig" on one side, and then on the other side they're like "you gonna hit that?" It's like, fuck you! Then I really upset everyone by being involved with somebody that-- never mind, that's another story.