Bill Griffith’s Weird Pittsburgh

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Legendary Underground cartoonist Bill Griffith has often set his long-running daily newspaper strip Zippy the Pinhead in the city of Pittsburgh. Griffith has visited Pittsburgh several times, including in 2009 when Pittsburgh’s cartoon museum, The ToonSeum (then still located in the Children’s Museum), put on the show Zippy’s Pittsburgh and More, which included some of the strips seen below.

On April, Griffith will return to Pittsburgh to talk about “45 Years of Zippy” at the ToonSeum on April 1st at 7 pm and to take part in our Pittsburgh Indy Comix Expo (PIX) on April 2nd.  As part of PIX, Griffith will sign books during the day, run a cartooning workshop at the Carnegie Library at 3:30, and speak about his new book, Invisible Ink at 7:30.

In preparation for all that activity, we thought it was a good time to re-visit a few of those Zippy strips, as well as take a look at some never before seen pages from Griffith’s sketchbook composed during a 1990 trip to Pittsburgh.  But first, here’s a couple where Zippy, Griffy and others note Pittsburgh’s “more enlightened and weirder” culture:

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Here’s a few (and there are many more) Zippy strips that are set in familiar Pittsburgh locations:

Ritter’s Diner in Bloomfield.

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The Big Day Wedding & Event Center, Strip District.

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Charlie’s Diner (now known as Peppi’s, and also once known as Scotty’s, as well as Downtown Diner), Lincoln Highway.

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Glowing Sculpture Thing, PPG Place.

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In early June of 1990, Griffith visited Pittsburgh to take in the Thomas Rowlandson show at the Frick Art Museum.  The images below are taken from sketches he made at the time.

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While in town, Griffith also spent some time at the historic Kennywood Amusement Park in West Mifflin, as seen below.

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Griffith, who arrived for that trip via the rail road, also sketched the train ride and station.

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“For me, Zippy is funniest when his craziness bumps up against the ‘real world’, which is why I put him in diners and have him talking to Bob’s Big Boy,” Griffith said in 2009.  “It doesn’t get much more real than Pittsburgh, PA – it’s Zippy Country!”

Hopefully he’ll find some additional examples of that “more enlightened and weirder” pop culture on his trip back here in April.

 

 

 

The Origins of RAW and a Lost Lynch is Discovered

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Lost Jay Lynch Painting Featured on Roadside Antiques

The inaugural Cartoon Crossroads Columbus event (CXC), held mostly on the campus of Ohio State University in early October 2015, was a terrific time and one that gave historians of the field ample material to digest. In a piece for The Comics Journal I focused on the keynote event of CXC, a panel in which the co-founders of the influential RAW magazine– cartoonist Art Spiegelman and his wife, The New Yorker Art Editor Françoise Mouly–discussed the early days of the magazine with cartoonist Jeff Smith.

The column also looks at “lost” early painting by cartoonist Jay Lynch that was recently appraised on the PBS TV show Roadside Antiques:  

http://www.tcj.com/the-origins-of-raw-and-a-lost-lynch-is-discovered/

Rockin’ in the New Year with the Rocket’s Xmas Covers

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Seattle’s The Rocket wasn’t exactly an Alt-Weekly paper, as it came out monthly or, later on, twice a month.  But the extremely influential free music/art/politics publication shared all of the important characteristics that are key to our study of the Alt-Weeklies.  Here’s a piece I wrote for The Comics Journal on The Rocket, focusing on the Xmas-time covers done by some great cartoonists and illustrators and art directed by some really talented people:

http://www.tcj.com/rockin-in-the-new-year-with-the-rockets-xmas-covers/

 

An Attempt to Interview Joan Cornella

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Here’s my latest piece for The Comics Journal, a look at this year’s SPX festival. I focus on my inability to get an interview with Joan Cornellà and the remarks he gave in a panel moderated by Bill Kartalopoulos. I then look at some of Cornella’s influences, including Drew Friedman, Mark Newgarden and Dan Clowes. Also, Dylan Horrocks talks about how the comics scene has changed and grown since the publication of his book Hicksville.

http://www.tcj.com/spx-2015-report/

 

Bill Griffith's Invisible Ink

Bill Griffith’s Search for His ‘Shadow Father’

Standing out among the crowd of youngsters displaying their new work at SPX last weekend was 71-year-old Bill Griffith, who was there signing copies of and talking about his new book Invisible Ink: My Mother’s Secret Affair With A Famous Cartoonist (Fantagraphics). Invisible Ink is a bit of a historical detective story detailing the 16-year love affair his mother had with the then famous, but now mostly forgotten, cartoonist Lawrence Lariar, a man Griffith calls his “Shadow Father.”

Lariar was an extraordinarily prolific cartoonist whose work included comic books, newspaper strips, magazine gag panels, crime novels, several how-to-draw books, and even contributed to National Allied Publications’ (later DC) New Fun, one of the earliest 10-cent newsstand comic book to include all new material, rather than newspaper reprints. And while prolific, Lariar never achieved much success as a cartoonist himself. “He was like a comics version of Woody Allen’s Zelig character. Present at every historical moment but never a major player…” Griffith writes in Invisible Ink.

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In the late 1950s, Griffith’s mother, Barbara, began working as a secretary for Lariar and would sometimes bring home work, which the young Griffith would help her with. One of her first assignment was Lariar’s recently launched annual Best Cartoons of the Year collection that reprinted gag panel cartoons from magazines as chosen by [from the inside flap of the 1954 volume]: “America’s Cartoonist-in-Chief, Lawrence Lariar.” The series ran from 1942 until 1971 and was, and Griffith says, Laiar’s “cartoon bread & butter for decades.”

Griffith’s mother had replied to an ad in New York’s Newsweek placed by Lariar looking for part-time secretary for a crime writer.

lariar photo copyLawrence Lariar (from Cartoon Humor Vol. 3, No. 1 March 1940)

“It didn’t say ‘cartoonist,’” said Griffith. “My mother was a writer, she had been published a little bit, and that was what she did. He would speak his novels and she would transcribe them and then she would do all the grammar checks.” The relationship evolved over time and a good part of Invisible Ink is dedicated to Griffith’s search through history to uncover exactly who was this man his mother had been sleeping with. Barbara Griffith spoke of the affair exactly once, in 1972, moments after learning that her husband—and Griffith’s father—had been killed in a freak bicycle accident.

The book explores the effect the secret affair had on Griffith, his mother and his father. This took piecing together clues found on the internet and libraries about Lariar, who was a neighbor he hardly knew as a child growing up in Long Island, NY, and from the papers his mother left after her death in 1998, including love letters, two diaries and an unpublished novel detailing the affair. He said that he began to see Lariar as a sort of “shadow father.” While Griffith’s actual father was an intelligent man, he had no interest in art, Lariar was a “cultured intellectual.”

thropp familyThe Thropp Family from Liberty Magazine, May 11, 1946.  Written by Lariar and drawn by Lou Fine and Don Komisarow.

“Lariar was a New York intellectual—you’d never guess it from his comics which were strictly boffo gags, guys and gals, just low brow stuff,” Griffith said. “But Lariar introduced my mother to a whole different world of art, music and culture. They just didn’t have a ‘hot sheet’ affair. They would go to gallery shows, museums, Broadway plays, movies, and all this stuff filtered into my house through Lariar, my mother and to me. I didn’t know…I didn’t say, ‘Hey mom, how come there’s a Picasso book in the house.’ It was just there. And it was there because of him. And I poured over it and I got wrapped up in the whole world of art, and comics, both, through him. Without knowing it.”

In addition to his mother’s papers, Griffith spent extensive amounts of time researching Lariar on the internet: “Go to Google and put in the name Lawrence Lariar and you will see hundreds and hundreds of pages of images, interviews, bios, articles. A huge amount of material.” He also visited the Lariar archive at Syracuse University’s library, which contains materials the artist left the school in the 1960s. Why the material is housed in Syracuse is unclear.

“I called Syracuse and asked, ‘Do you have the papers of Lawrence Larier by any chance? And they said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘Has anyone ever asked for them before?’ She said, “No. You’re the first one.’ I went up there and spent a couple of days and went through boxes with white gloves and found original art, letters, scripts he wrote for early TV shows. This guy was…people think I’m prolific or overachieving? This guy was 10 times that. I can’t imagine that he had a minute to spare. He wrote 16 crime novels… He wrote three Best Selling How-to-Draw Cartoon books, one of which was in my house.”

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With the help of the internet—“I can’t imagine doing this book without the internet”—Griffith then bought every single book that Lariar ever wrote, “dozens and dozens of books.”

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For his mystery and crime novels, Lariar used several pseudonyms, including Michael Stark, Adam Knight and Michael Lawrence. Griffith compared them favorably to the hard-boiled style in current favor at the time and said he prefers Lariar’s crime novels to his cartooning. In addition to the Best Cartoon anthologies, Lariar served as the cartoon editor at both Parade and Liberty magazine, and he wrote or edited books—often using cartoons as illustrations—about many different topics, including golf, fishing, babies, driving, hospitals, teenagers, the suburbs and sex.

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Lariar also produced several volumes of How-To-Books about cartooning, which were thoughtfully written and geared toward learning the basic skills he deemed for necessary for working cartoonists. In the mid-40s, Lariar started the Professional School of Cartooning, a correspondence school that promised to teach the art of cartooning from the likes of Henry Boltinoff, Ed Nofzinger, George Wolfe, Adolph Schus, and Lariar himself. A promise in a 1947 brochure for the School read: “Lariar’s smart, stylized cartoons are a model for many beginners, and his drawings of cute girls are familiar to all. He will criticize your drawings personally!”

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Some of the most playful parts in Invisible Ink come when Griffith imagines how different his cartooning career would have turned out if he had indeed taken up Laniar’s offers to mentor him as a young artist. Griffith reimagines his Zippy strips done Laniar-style.

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“There are thousands of cartoonists like Lariar we don’t know about, and in many cases for good reasons,” Griffith told comics historian Chris Mautner at a SPX. “Lariar was not somebody you’d want to sit down and read 40 or 50 years later. His crime novels hold up…but his comics…he did four daily strips. One of them ran for four years. Terrible strips, and only one of them did he draw, by the way. He wrote the others. They were done totally cynically, which is why they failed. I have all of the scripts for those materials…these were calculated make money. ‘OK, Milton Caniff has Terry and the Pirates…I’m going to do Irving and the Pirates.’ He just decided to do stuff that he thought would be popular and make money….He was after the paycheck, he was after ‘making the buck.’ And that’s what he did. He did a strip [Mr. Rumbles, drawn by Jack Sparling, another neighbor of Griffith’s] for four years where the main character was a romance writer who couldn’t get a girlfriend and so he has a Leprechaun appear to him and tell him to do stuff. And you’re reading these things and going, ‘What the Hell is going on?’ It’s much more obscure than any Underground Comic I ever remember reading. And it went on for four years.”

mr rumblesFor Invisible Ink, Griffith chose to redraw all of Lariar’s work himself, rather than rely on reprints because “it was an instinctual felling. That’s my best way of explaining it. I wanted to feel that the book was all by my hand, every inch of it. And the idea that since I was going to refer to and show his work all throughout the book as I discovered it, if it was to be reproduced from the source—just photographed and dropped in—it would be jarring graphically. I faithfully reproduced everything of his that I put in the book. I didn’t try and make it my version of his stuff, but I felt that I had to redraw it feel like the book had a cohesive graphic feel. I also felt, I have to admit, that I was processing it in that way. That I was owning it in a way…maybe it was a bit oedipal.”

INVISIBLE-INK-guts-FINAL_Page_089Invisible Ink is Griffith’s first attempt at a long-form graphic story in many years and said that writing it brought him back to his Underground Comix days when he was writing longer pieces of 10 or 12 pages rather than the routine of writing his strip Zippy, which he has produced since the 1970s and as a daily syndicated strip for the past 30 years.

“I felt like I had been kind of damning up that urge for years,” he said. “Sometimes in Zippy I will do what amounts to a long, continuing narrative that goes on for days and days, and if you read it all together it is a long narrative, but not the way narrative feels when its done specific for the long form. In a daily strip you have to break it up. It has to feel self-contained and every four panels it has to feel like you could read it without knowing what went on before or after. Doing a long-form graphic novel is exactly like writing a novel. It requires a lot of concentration, a lot of thought about structure, continuity. I have incredible grateful feelings toward my wife Diane [Noomin] who is a really great editor. When I would bring three pages up that I did that weekend she would say, ‘You know what? I think there’s a bump between this page and the next page. I think there’s a glitch. Something is off.’ Which I didn’t see, even at this point in my career. I teach comics, and I teach kids about continuity and about how everyone does things with continuity that make presumption about the reader. You can never make presumptions in comics. You have to spell out very carefully and clearly without being didactic. It’s a tightrope walk that you have to do and you need someone with an outside view to tell you when you’ve made a glitch, when you’ve hit a bump in the continuity.”

Once he began the book, Griffith said “it just sort of flowed out,” and his routine became working on Zippy during the week and the book on the weekends.

“Luckily, Zippy kind of just rolls out of me,” he said. “Each morning I get up about 9, 9:30 and I go for a walk, about a mile, a mile and a half. When I get back each day, I have at least one, maybe three, strip ideas. I write them down while I’m walking and when I’m home I do one or two Zippy strips. And it’s a little like writing in my diary. Once in a while I sit there and I have no ideas…and that lasts for maybe 10 seconds. Zippy and the characters in the strip literally talk to me. Not in a schizophrenic way…and so I listen to that voice.”

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Griffith says he will continue longer graphic pieces; next up for is a biography of Schlitzie Metz, one of the pinheads who appeared in Tod Browning’s 1932 film Freaks and an inspiration for Zippy. “I started researching Schlitzie and found two people who actually knew him well, his last manager—he worked in the circus right up to his death in 1971—and I found a man who had spent a summer with him in Toronto in a circus, living next door to him and kind of taking care of him, and I got wonderful stories. The idea is to make Schlitzie the Pinhead be a human being, not a sideshow freak, but to try to bring him to life as a human. I’m about 25 pages into it and will keep going. I have loads of material and am very grateful to have two very wonderful direct sources to use to bring it to life.”

An [OLD] Interview with Tony Millionaire

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[MANY] YEARS AGO WHEN TONY MILLIONAIRE SHOWED UP ON THE NEW YORK CITY CARTOON SCENE, SOME VIEWED HIM AS SIMPLY A DRUNKEN GIANT IN A LIME GREEN LEISURE SUIT. BUT THEN AS HIS  STRIPS AND ART BEGAN TO APPEAR- FIRST IN SMALL FANZINES AND LATER IN PLACES LIKE THE NEW YORK PRESS, THE NEW YORKER, NEW YORK MAGAZINE AND OTHER OUTLETS – THE PICTURE OF TONY MILLIONAIRE BECAME MORE COMPLICATED. HOW WAS IT THAT THIS HUMAN CARTOON CHARACTER WAS ABLE TO CHURN OUT WEEKLY INSTALLMENTS OF A STRIP ABOUT AN ALCOHOLIC AND SUICIDAL CROW, BUT ALSO FROM TIME TO TIME PRODUCE SHOCKINGLY ELEGANT DEPICTIONS OF NAUTICAL ADVENTURES AND UNCANNILY REPRODUCE THE FEEL AND SPIRIT OF OLD TIME NEWSPAPER STRIPS.

WORLDLY, TALL AND DRUNKENLY CHARMING, MR. MILLIONAIRE IS THE TYPE OF PERSONALITY WHO INSTANTLY LIGHTS UP A ROOM–SOME RUN TO GREET HIM, WHILE OTHERS RUN FOR COVER. HE’S FUNNY, LOUD, ENDEARING AND ALWAYS UNPREDICTABLE. HE IS ALSO ARTISTICALLY GIFTED AND INCREDIBLY PROLIFIC, WITH HIS MAAKIES STRIP APPEARING IN NUMEROUS WEEKLY PAPERS – AS WELL AS AN ANIMATED VERSION THAT HAS BEEN SHOWN ON SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE — THAT FANTAGRAPHICS WILL SOON BE PUBLISHING A COLLECTED VERSION OF MAAKIES, AND HIS DARK HORSE COMIC, SOCK MONKEY, HAS TWO ISSUES OUT THIS SUMMER. MR. MILLIONAIRE, WHO BEGAN HIS CARTOONING CAREER IN EARNEST SEVERAL YEARS AGO IN NEW YORK CITY, RECENTLY MOVED TO LOS ANGELES, WHERE HE LIVES WITH HIS GIRLFRIEND, THE ACTRESS BECKY THYRE.

FITTINGLY, THIS INTERVIEW WAS CONDUCTED IN A CRAPPY BAR ON MANHATTAN’S LOWER EAST SIDE, WHERE THE TAPE PLAYER WAS OFTEN PUT ON PAUSE TO ALLOW ONE OF US TO GO FETCH ANOTHER ROUND OF BASS.

By John F. Kelly

This interview originally appeared in The Comics Journal #215, August 1999.  Old photos courtesy of Danny Hellman.

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John F. Kelly: I guess what everyone wants to know is where and why you came up with the name “Tony Millionaire”? What point are you trying to make with that name?

Tony Millionaire: What? It’s my name.

Kelly: Tony Millionaire isn’t your Christian name–

Millionaire: Sure it is. It’s French.

Kelly: It’s the French spelling of your actual name?

Millionaire: Yeah. No, Millionaire is a French name. Comes from Old French. It means a person who owns a thousand slaves. Serfs, not slaves.

Kelly: But that’s not your real name.

Millionaire: Sure it is. One time my girlfriend was up in upstate New York, somebody said to her, is–what?

Kelly: Your current girlfriend?

Millionaire: No, it was a long time ago. And she was talking about me, saying something about her boyfriend Tony Millionaire, and the person talking to her said, “Tony Millionaire? What kind of a name is that?” She said, “It’s French!” He said, “Oh, I thought it was some stupid performance art clown name.”

Kelly: I thought it was your porno name.

Millionaire: Porno name? I haven’t worked at Screw Magazine in a long time.

Kelly: Okay, let’s really start. You’re doing your weekly Maakies strip, and you’re also doing the Sock Monkey comic book for Dark Horse. What’s the biggest difference between the two projects?

Millionaire: Well, the strip is shorter.

Kelly: Okay, besides that.

Millionaire: I think that although I’m always doing my comic strips, I really try to create–when I do my comic strips, I try to create another world. That’s what I think is the most important thing about comics, is that you’re looking at it–I mean, I’m reading Fred Bassett. I love the comic strip Fred Bassett. It’s like an old shoe, it’s like a comfortable old shoe. It’s a place that you go. It’s not about the joke, it’s not about the story so much, as about a place that you go to. You’re in Fred Bassett‘s comfortable world. That’s what I try to do with this–with Maakie’s, also. But with a comic book, I can go further with that. Of course, it’s all in one book. I mean, the world of Maakie’s is like a–it’s a world that you go to every week. With a comic book, it’s like–well, the same thing. Just love it. Whatever.

AlexGrahamBassetDaily3520Maakies-BassetComic strips about dogs, old and new.

Kelly: How long does it take you to put together a full issue of Sock Monkey?

Millionaire: The first two issues, I don’t know, took about two months each to do. I don’t think I could ever do anything like–I wouldn’t want to do it for years and years like Peter Bagge or Dame Darcy, busting your ass for the small amount of money you get from comic books, drawing those beautiful, beautiful drawings. It’s so sad. Dame Darcy is just the best. She can draw a shiny hat like nobody’s business. She is, I think, the greatest cartoonist of our time. I love Dame Darcy’s comics. But the problem is that, being so poor, and not being able to get paid for a comic book, after a while it just got–it must have got tiresome for her, and now she wants to be a movie star, or whatever she is. Who wants to work that hard all the time for that kind of money, and not being able to go out to dinner now and then?

Kelly: Right. She’s achieved a certain level of fame or notoriety, and she’s achieved that with her–at least on a certain level–with her art. Then again, some people might know about her because she dresses strangely and acts like a kook. But at the end of the day, if there isn’t any real financial gain that comes with it, it’s kind of a lot of work. It’s kind of a pain in the ass.

Millionaire: Right. So instead of drawing all the time, now she’s just decided to become annoying.

Kelly: But you’re able to subside on your drawing–

Millionaire: Yes. Not strips, of course, but on my illustration, because the good thing about a weekly strip in The New York Press all the time is that I’m constantly getting calls for illustration work for magazines.

Kelly: Like what–

Millionaire: Huh?

Kelly: I don’t want to make you list–I know you’re not good with lists, but like come up with–

Millionaire:The New Yorker, New York Magazine, Wall Street Journal…I’m doing illustrations for the Boston Phoenix, for…yeah, this and that. Plus lots of things that nobody’s ever heard of. Brooklyn Brewery, Cattle Trade–shit like that.

EARLY YEARS AND INFLUENCES

Kelly: You’re from Massachusetts, right?

Millionaire: Gloucester, Massachusetts. By the sea.

Kelly: Does that explain your…you know, your drawing ships and tales of the sea, and the rest?

Millionaire: Yes, it does. My grandfather and grandmother used to be–they were artists. They did portraits of the sea, portraits of ships and portraits of people. They lived up in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where my grandfather used to do a lot of pen and ink work. I remember, my brother was just telling me the other day, that our grandfather had some big collection of old Sunday comics that we used to read when we went over there on Sundays. We’d always go over on the weekends.

Kelly: Your grandparents lived nearby where you and your parents lived?

Millionaire: Yeah. And somehow I remembered that. I remembered laying on the floor opening up these huge pages of color comics. I don’t know what book it was, but I guess what they had was a collection of color comics. And I remember that. I still didn’t remember that it was a book, I thought I was actually reading the comics, but I remember they were full-page Sunday color comics, and I loved the memory of those. That’s why I draw comics now.

Kelly: That’s pretty interesting. I mean, a psychologist might say that what you fixate on at a very young age is going to come back in your later–especially for artists, it’s going to come back in your work.

Millionaire: Right. I like the idea of digging back to your farthest memory and trying to recreate it. I remember–the comics that I remember or that I dream about, the ones like the old Sunday newspaper comics, I don’t even know–the memory of them is better than when I actually go back and I try to–I really love to be able to recreate the memory of them, more so than actually looking at the old comics themselves. And that’s why I don’t read very many comics nowadays. I don’t want to pollute the memory. Sometimes I look at old collections, Winsor McCay, or–you know–the Smithsonian Collection, something like that. But not much.

Kelly: Well, with your style, even the format of your strip–you know, there’s like a willful recreation of the style of the old strips.

Millionaire: It’s recreating the memory of them. I try to recreate the memory that I have of them, rather than looking at the actual strips and try to copy style.

26551_379270722695_4699267_nKelly: But beyond cartoon influences and stuff–I mean, your drawings are just absolutely exquisite.

Millionaire: Thank you.

Kelly: You can draw a house, or a boat, and realistically, with the power of a fine artists. What accounts for that?

Millionaire: I think that it comes from growing up in a family full of artists. My mother teaches art to junior high school kids, my father is an advertiser and designer, and my grandparents are both painters. So it was always around. I was looking at drawings and always watching my grandfather paint watercolors, oils, so it just came naturally to me. And also I think that probably one of the biggest influences was reading Winnie the Pooh when I was a little kid–first book that anybody read to me.

Kelly: Obviously pre-Disney influence.

Millionaire: Yes, of course. Ernest Shepard drawings. That’s what made me pick up pen and ink, really, was just loving those books so much.

poohmaakiesKelly: And did your mother–obviously she encouraged you and she was teaching you–

Millionaire: Well, yeah, she read them to me. Also, my grandfather read them to me, also I lived with the pictures, those beautiful pen and ink drawings. Also books by Johnny Gruelle, the original old Raggedy Ann and Andy books. That’s why I draw those little round flowers.

Kelly: Right. Did your mother–beyond just like encouraging creativity and stuff, did she push you to master the real fundamentals of the art?

Millionaire: Yeah. She used to tell me that there were no–she used to tell us–like me, my brothers and my sister–that there were no coloring books allowed in the house, that if we wanted to color a drawing, we’d have to draw one first, then color it.

Kelly: Interesting.

Millionaire: So I never even saw coloring books till I was older–too old to be interested in them.

Kelly: Uh-huh. Did you–like, a lot of cartoonists, or kids generally–like, did you make your own comic books when you were kids?

Millionaire: When I was a teenager I did. As a matter of fact, when I was about ten I had a comic strip called Zero-Man that I used to draw.

Kelly: What was that about?

Millionaire: It was about a little egg-shaped superhero with a zero on his chest who was a loser, like Charlie Brown. Flew around proclaiming how great he was, and then crashing into trees. My parents sent me to a psychiatrist when they started seeing those.

Kelly: Is that right?

Millionaire: Yeah, I’m not joking. I was ten. They said, something’s wrong with him. Look at these comics. So they sent me to him. So he said, what do you do? Do you draw? That was the question he asked me. I said, yeah. What do you draw? I said, oh, comics. He said, let me see one. Then he had me draw one. That motherfucker had me coming back every week after that.

Kelly: Well, I find it kind of hard to believe that they would send you to a shrink based on just drawing.

Millionaire: I believe it was because I was stubborn. I don’t remember. Something happened. When I was young, I started–things like smashing milk bottles in the street, and punching holes in the ceiling of my father’s car, things like that, so it might have been one of those incidents that spurred that.

Kelly: Did you ever figure out what was causing this aggression, or–

Millionaire: No.

Kelly: Are you still going to a shrink?

Millionaire: No.

Kelly: How long did you go to one for?

Millionaire: Uh, three or four weeks.

Kelly: Maybe he was a very good one, he fixed you.

Millionaire: Yeah, fixed. I’m fine!

Kelly: Early intervention. Now, the other thing about you is that unlike many other cartoonists, you’re a pretty tall guy. What’s that like? Did that affect your childhood?

Millionaire: They used to call me Long John in high school.

Kelly: Did you get picked on, or were you like bigger than the other kids?

Millionaire: No, I’d get picked on. I was considered really tall and nerdy, hippy, and I used to be always high.

Kelly: Always high?

Millionaire: Yeah, I smoked pot every day, and I had a comic strip character in high school called “Reefer Man”.

Kelly: What was that about?

Millionaire: It was about a guy who smoked pot. He had a T-shirt with pictures of his lungs on the T-shirt with a star in each lung. I wonder if anybody in my high school still has a copy of that, because I haven’t seen one for years.

tony early strip 78An early strip, from 1978

Kelly: Are you in touch with anybody from your high school days?

Millionaire: No. I just heard that my best friend–when I was in high school, I always hung around with one guy named Danny Smith. He was my best friend, we were pals, and we hung around, we were losers and nerds together, and smoked pot. And I just found out that–my brother said he saw him a couple of years ago walking around the streets of Gloucester carrying cans. Picking up cans off the street. Now I just found out he died. I assume it was from acute alcoholism. It’s weird, though, because I haven’t heard anything for more than 20 years, so it’s funny to even try to sum up an emotion about it. A guy who was that close. It’s such a long time ago. Actually I’m not even sure if he’s dead. Maybe he’s not.

TONY’S PAST, PART I

Kelly: What were you doing, like ten years ago? It seems to me as somebody who’s been on the periphery of this New York cartooning world for a while, you just sort of appeared about six years ago or something, just sort of out of the blue.

Millionaire: That’s right, out of the blue. I was living in Berlin for about–I lived there for about five years, and there I was bumming around being arty, hanging out with people and doing paintings, and for a living I had been drawing houses. I’d go out to fancy neighborhoods, drop cards in mailboxes with a little picture of a house on them, and they’d call me to draw their house.

Kelly: This was in Germany?

Millionaire: I did it in Germany, I did it in Boston where I lived after school. Everywhere I went, when I was in Florida, California. So I could go out and do that. So I just drew house after house, and finally I just–it was driving me out of my mind, when I got to be about 35. I said, I’ve got to do something else than draw houses. So I just started drawing comics, and I tried to get them published anywhere I could, any fanzines or any magazines I could find.

Kelly: So you came to New York directly from Berlin?

Millionaire: Yeah.

Kelly: What was the magnet that brought you here?

Millionaire: Heh-heh.

Kelly: What? A girl?

Millionaire: Well, the opposite. It was that when I–

Kelly: A guy?

Millionaire: No, it wasn’t a guy, it was that when I was in Berlin with a girl, she kept hanging around with this German guy–she was a German girl, but he kept–I was going out with her for about a year. She played around with this German guy, and so I kept saying to her, you’re not sleeping with that guy, are you? She said, no, he just–yeah, he sleeps over sometimes, but I’m not having sex with him. So then I went into her room one day, and her tampon was on the floor, I said, what are you doing? You’re pulling out your tampon so your friend can sleep on the sofa? So then I decided I had to leave Berlin, so the next logical place to go was New York, because I knew some people here, so I came to New York.

batty murtaughKelly: The first time I saw your stuff was in Murtaugh, which is sort of a baseball zine.

Millionaire: Right. That’s Spike Vrusho’s magazine. I was doing a strip about an alcoholic baseball player, called Batty.

Kelly: Was your stuff appearing anywhere else at that time?

Millionaire: Yeah, I was doing a daily strip in Brooklyn, in a paper called “Waterfront Week.” It was one page, it was photocopied, and they would leave it on the bars–bars and stores. I had a strip in there called Medea’s Weekend, where I for a year or two years, maybe, learned how to draw comics. And how to meet deadlines. Having the discipline of having to draw a comic, no matter if you’re in the mood to do it or not, you’ve got to get it done every week, if you’ve got a hangover, you’re sick, it doesn’t matter, you’ve got to have it done. Even if it’s going to just be photocopied and put it in a storefront. It was–it pretty much changed my life. It’s different than having to pay the rent every month. Sometimes I would get paid for it and that’s fine, but you lose your comic strip, even in a little photocopied paper, that’s a much worse failure than getting evicted.

Screenshot 2015-04-28 14.06.48Kelly: It’s interesting that you say you learned how to draw comic strips through that. I never saw the Waterfront strips, but the Batty ones, I don’t know how different they were, but a lot of the stuff you still do today is there in that work. I have to say it was a real eye-opener for me to go to see from those like little scratchy funny drawings to like all of a sudden, you know, the shift in this just amazing line that you had, and were able to create such a totally realized drawings of ships, the sea, etc.

Millionaire: Right. I got that from drawing houses. When you’re drawing a house or something, it’s got to look like the house, so, you know…so I’ve always known how to draw. Then comics have always–at first seemed to me–something, okay, make a funny little picture, make sure it’s funny-looking. And then draw something funny with it. And then I started putting in drawings. Sometimes I’m afraid that I’m like showing off that I know how to draw when I do something. Sometimes the drawing is too elaborate for the joke or the story. Or something.

Kelly: . Besides your mother’s teaching you and encouraging you, have you had any other form of training at all, or is this–

Millionaire: Yeah, I went to the Massachusetts College of Art for four years.

Kelly: What was that like?

Millionaire: It was really difficult to get a traditional drawing class there. It was–I remember the first time I went into a drawing class, a hippie took some pastels and crunched them up–he was the professor–crunched them up, put the piece of paper on the floor, and then he put the pastels on the floor, then he took his shoes off and started walking on them. I thought, I don’t think I’m going to be able to learn how to draw anything in this class, really, but I just kept going, and it was good to meet people. But I never really got any training from it.

MAAKIES: SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE AND THE STRIP

tony 5Kelly: How did it come to be that Saturday Night Live has been running an animated version of your Maakies strip?

Millionaire: I believe it was Adam McKay, the–what is he?–the writing supervisor or something, at Saturday Night Live, head writer of Saturday Night Live. He’s a very funny guy who is a great actor who read my comic strip and really liked it and called me up and asked me if I wanted to do something with it. Jim Signorelli is I guess the director of films over there, and he got involved, too. He’s been there for a long time, doing those commercials. He’s very funny, too. But I don’t really know. I don’t watch the show. I haven’t watched the show in years, so what do I know?

Kelly: It was exciting to see some funny cartoons on a program that generally isn’t all that funny. Was it a lucrative deal? Did you get–

Millionaire: Uh…no. I don’t know if I should talk about that. I’d rather not talk about how much money I got from the Saturday Night Live, but I’ll tell you that it isn’t very much money.

Kelly: But now that you’re living in Los Angeles, will it help you pursue any other sort of animation deal out there?

Millionaire: I don’t know. I don’t really care about that stuff. I like to draw the pictures and write the stories. And the most important thing with those is I think the voices. I’ve got to make sure I get good actors to do the voices, because I always thought with cartoons, of course, the best thing is the voice. Like with Bullwinkle.

Kelly: Right. Who did the voices on yours?

Millionaire: One actor whose name I can’t mention. Another actress whose name I can’t mention. An actor whose name I can’t mention, and another actor whose name I’m not sure I’m allowed to mention, because of union rules. If you listen carefully, maybe you can figure it out.

Kelly: You’re sort of weirdly secretive about certain things. Like, what does the name of your strip, Maakies, actually mean?

Millionaire: I can’t release that information until a certain person dies.

Kelly: Is it because–

Millionaire: Because he or she would be extremely pissed off to even know that that name was being used. Actually, someone told that it’s a derogatory term for Jews, but that’s spelled differently, M O C K I E S. Somebody heard that on a Lennie Bruce album one time. But I don’t know what that’s all about. Anyway, it has nothing to do with being a derogatory term for anybody.

Kelly: What were you trying to do when you started out doing the Maakies strip?

early crowsEarly Drinky Crows

Millionaire: All right. This is the story of Drinky Crow. One time a long time ago…not a long time ago, a time, let’s say, about five years ago, I was walking down a snowy street on my way to a bar, my heart broken, no place to–well, looking for a place to live, because a woman had told me that it might be a good idea if I moved out of the house. So I was depressed, went into a bar called Six Twelve, in Williamsburg, and the bartender told me that every time I would draw a comic strip, he would give me a free beer. And since I was pretty broke at the time, one of the reasons why I don’t live there any more, I started drawing a cartoon about a little bird who drank booze and blew his brains out all the time. So they were pretty funny, because they were just so–well, you know, drinking works well in comics. They’re not really jokes, they’re just sort of depressing. They’re just sort of there. So people who came in the bar saw those, and they all started drawing their own, so Drinky Crow became like a symbol for that bar. So then the bartender started doing photocopies of them and putting them around the bar, and people would come in and draw more, and then he put photocopies of everybody’s comics in this little newsletter that he was putting out. Just like a little bar newsletter. Basically just a Drinky Crow comic book. Then I did a couple of bigger versions of them and sent them out to fanzines like Selwyn Harris’s Happy Land, and Murtaugh. Then, somebody at the New York Press saw it and asked me if I’d do a strip for them. So I did. But apparently, I was told, that when it was maybe about four or five weeks old, the art director, Michael Gentile, asked Danny Hellman, “what do you think about it? I don’t know about this strip” because it wasn’t really that good in the beginning. It was not that strong, it wasn’t…he said, “What do you think of him? I don’t know what to do about this Maakies strip.” Danny Hellman told him, “No, you got to let it run, let it develop, see what happens with it.” So he did, so it stayed in–it was almost cancelled. But it stayed in there, because that beautiful Danny–now he’s my sworn enemy.

26551_379270852695_264692_nTony with Danny Hellman

Kelly: Why?

Millionaire: Bastard.

Kelly: That’s a joke.

Millionaire: What?

Kelly: That’s a joke.

Millionaire: No.

Kelly: You guys are feuding?

Millionaire: Yeah.

Kelly: About what?

Millionaire: About his E-mail pranks.

Kelly: Oh, get over that.

Millionaire: Something he decided to–what?

Kelly: Get over that.

Millionaire: I’m over it.

Kelly: Get over that. That’s just Danny going insane, he loves a joke.

Millionaire: That’s right. Someday I’ll get him.

Kelly: Good old Danny. Anyway, besides the New York Press, Maakies has been running where?

Millionaire: Seattle Stranger, Vancouver’s Terminal City, Albuquerque Alibi, Okay Magazine in Oklahoma City, Richmond Punchline and online at www. word.com. Just got picked up in Cleveland, Ohio. Ft. Lauderdale New Times, but I haven’t seen a check from them in a long time, I guess they don’t care.

Kelly: And what is the reaction out in the heartlands to the strip?

Millionaire: I don’t know. Well, I put my E-mail address on the strip, and people send letters now and then, it’s generally very positive. Which is surprising. I thought it was kind of surprising.

Kelly: Because it’s so depressing and violent?

Millionaire: I don’t know. Maybe it’s depressing and violent, but I guess there’s something touching about it.

Kelly: This is a boring question, but I want to ask it anyway.

Millionaire: What are my influences?

Kelly: No. That comes later. Do you draw a certain number of strips all at once, or do you tend to do them week by week?

Millionaire: A strip is due at The New York Press at 10:00 Monday morning. I usually start it around ten or eleven PM Sunday night. I stay up all night and get it done. Sometimes you can tell that I was completely drunk while doing it. Sometimes I had a terrible hangover and my hand was shaking. Sometimes I feel great, and the drawings are strong and bold. But it’s always the very last minute. It takes like six hours to do it, and I’m usually about three hours late getting it in.

Kelly: Ernie Bushmiller used to flip through underwear catalogs to get ideas for Nancy.

Millionaire: Really?

Kelly: Yeah. Do you have any similar techniques. Are there any other publications–

STK520099Millionaire: Oh, sure. I read books about the sea, ships. Patrick O’Brian mostly. Do you know Patrick O’Brian?

Kelly: No, I don’t.

Millionaire:Patrick O’Brian wrote a–he’s still writing, actually–a series of novels about life during the War of 1812 or during the Napoleonic Wars, life at sea. Life aboard a man o’ war.

Kelly: How many books are in the series?

Millionaire: I think there’s 17, maybe there’s 18.

Kelly: Jesus! What kind of genre is that? Is it historical fiction, is it–

Millionaire: Historical fiction.

Kelly: And they’re good?

Millionaire: They’re fantastic. He said that he was–he was deeply moved when they moved his books out from the Fiction section to the Literature section…in some fancy bookstore in London.

Kelly: Is he from England?

Millionaire: Yes. Well, I believe he’s Irish.

Kelly: And how did you come across him?

Millionaire: I think I was in a bookstore and I saw the first book sitting there, and I picked it up–there was a picture of a ship on it, I picked it up and read it, and I’ve been reading it ever since. I’ve been reading practically nothing but Patrick O’Brian’s books over and over again for the past two years, three years.

Kelly: Before you like hooked into that, were you somebody who always read a lot of books, or–

Millionaire: Yes.

Kelly: How do your tastes run?

Millionaire: Dopey classics like Moby Dick and–this is not dopey. I don’t–

Kelly: Overblown classics. But they’re all sort of nautical based?

Millionaire: Yeah. Overblown? The only reason…I have to tell you that I’m really bad at coming up with lists of things that I’ve done.

Kelly: Do you look at art books much?

Millionaire: I do. I look at a lot of–mostly books of old–I really like–I hate to say it, but crude, excuse me, naive paintings of ships.

Kelly: Naive? What do you mean? Bad ones?

Millionaire: Naive. When they used to build a ship, back in the old days, they would hire somebody to come and draw a–to come and do a painting of it. Just like me drawing houses.

aotm-pg-0201Houses.

Kelly: Yeah, but your drawings are well done, though.

Millionaire: So were those paintings. Those are beautiful.

Kelly: What makes them naive, though?

Millionaire: They’re called naive. It’s bullshit.

Kelly: Oh!

Millionaire: It’s like, you know, straight art.

Kelly: That’s like a technical term.

Millionaire: Yeah. Well, it’s like–it’s straight art, it’s actually an illustration of the ship, but you can do a beautiful painting. Those people were more concerned with drawing the–getting a painting of the ship itself then doing a painting.

TONY IS THE LIFE OF THE PARTY

26551_379271112695_2351403_n

With Kaz, talking about food.

Kelly: Though you’re a relatively young man, you have false teeth. What’s the story there?

Millionaire: Yeah. Got ’em knocked out in a car crash when I was 13.

Kelly: When you were 13? So you had false teeth all through high school?

Millionaire: Yeah. So what? Lots of people have false teeth through high school, they just don’t pull them out in bars.

Kelly: Well, lots of guys have dicks, too. But not everyone pulls them out at parties all the time.

Millionaire: And they don’t fuck slices of pizza, either, right Kaz? In Kaz’s interview with the Comics Journal, he told the story about how I fucked a slice of pizza one time. He makes it seem like I wrapped the slice of pizza around my dick. I didn’t. I put a hole in the center of it and pulled my penis through.

Kelly: Was it erect?

Millionaire: No.

Kelly: Oh.

tony 8Millionaire: That’s why I had to pull it. It was a gag! Sam Henderson was there, King of the Gags.

Kelly: It worked as a gag. But you like have a reputation for like pulling your dick out, though, sometimes.

Millionaire: I don’t know if that’s a reputation or not. I just–one thing–one story like that–one beautiful sexual act like that happens in front of some people, and suddenly it happened forty times and everybody’s making a big deal out of it.

Kelly: I know you’re with a steady girl now, but before that, I used to see you with a lot of cartoon groupie girls. You’d always be sitting in the corner of the party, surrounded by sad, little tattoo girls.

Millionaire: It’s funny about that, because somehow I get–I keep hearing from people that I’m a lady’s man. I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean, but what it mean–the point is that, when I go out, I like to go to a party, I like to hang around with the girls. I don’t sit in the boys’ corner. I like to go out with girls, but that doesn’t mean I’m fucking them all. I don’t know why–when somebody says “lady’s man,” then they start asking about VD and pregnancies, because they assume that every time they see me with a girl, that means I’m screwing her. I don’t like that. I don’t get it. It’s a bad reputation. Someone else–I don’t know if it was Dame Darcy–said I was a cad. I don’t know why she calls me a cad. Me, a cad? I’m a genuine gentleman. Except if there’s a slice of pizza around.

Kelly: Who do you hang out with around here, in the city? Who are you going to miss when you move to L.A.?

Millionaire: Helena Harvilicz, my roomate. And the great poet Terrence Ross, who writes poems for me sometimes for Maakie’s. Practically–maybe 50%–of all my jokes come from conversations I’ve had with friends. Most specifically Helena.

26551_379270872695_4160269_nTony with ex-roomate Helena Harvilicz

Kelly: Former Comics Journal editor?

Millionaire: Yes. Former Comics Journal editor. My favorite one that she came up with was called “Leaving Skid Row,” where there’s a guy and a woman, and the guy says, “One thing, baby, don’t ever ask me to stop drinking.” And she says, “Can I ask you to stop peeing on my leg?” It sounds better with a Baltimore accent.

Kelly: Yeah. But that was probably based on a life experience for her.

Millionaire: Could be, yeah. What do you mean by that?

Kelly: What’s that like, living with a member of the opposite sex in a sort of a–is it like Three’s Company, and is it like–

Millionaire: It’s great. It’s good. It’s like being married, but you don’t have to fuck her. When she’s having a period, I don’t care. [Both laugh]

Kelly: If you come back to New York, are you going to move back with Helena, or–

Millionaire: Well, I have no idea what’s going to happen out in California, so I really can’t make any predictions about where I’ll be.

Kelly: Do you have any plans at all?

Millionaire: I simply don’t have any idea what will happen. But I’ve moved to another city with no plans before, and something great always happens. One time I moved to Italy with $250 and a one-way ticket, no idea what I was going to do. I didn’t know anybody there. I had $250 and a one-way ticket, and the money ran out in about two weeks, and then I thought, well, I’d better do something. I did a drawing of the Roman Forum and when I sat in the Coliseum and I sketched on it, it was the drawing–I had it printed up, this drawing, I had it printed up. I had about 500 copies of it. So I sat there and I just added an extra little rock and some grass, till I heard American tourists walk by and I would ask them what time it was, and they’d say, “Oh, you’re American?” I’d say, yeah, and I’d lean over so they could see the drawing, and they’d say, “What are you doing?” And then I would sell the drawing for about ten bucks. And they’d be so shocked to get such a beautiful drawing for $10.

Kelly: It was just a photocopy.

Millionaire: Yeah. One time this couple came back, like two hours later. They saw me sitting there drawing the same picture and I thought, what am I going to do? What am I going to say? I said to them, oh, I liked the picture I did for you, that picture I did before, I liked it so much I came back and I drew the same picture.

Kelly: Now, a lot of cartoonists seem–a lot of them are kind of like slobs.

Millionaire: Kind of like what?

Kelly: Slobs. On the other hand, you’re kind of a natty dresser.

Millionaire: When I’m going out.

Kelly: What accounts for that?

Millionaire: I’m Tony Millionaire, for god’s sake! Do you want me to walk around dressed like Sammy Henderson?

Kelly: But also, physically, you keep it up. You look good.

Millionaire: Yeah. But that’s the clothes.

Kelly: But knowing what I know of you–

Millionaire: That’s what clothes cover up.

Kelly: –you don’t do any jogging or any–

Millionaire: I used to wear fancy tuxedos and wacky plaid pants, but suddenly everybody started calling me Kramer. That TV show came around, so I had to knock that off. Had some of the wackiest suits. Was I cool.

Kelly: Where would you get them?

Millionaire: You know. Thrift stores.

Kelly: Do you ever tire of doing strips of alcoholic–

Millionaire: Yeah.

Kelly: –animals blowing their brains out?

tony 12

Millionaire: Yeah. I figured it out the other day. Look at all that booze. Makes you sad. Makes you sad and mad. Something happened to me on my fortieth birthday.

Kelly: When was that?

Millionaire: What?

Kelly: When was that?

Millionaire: That was about two years ago. Where I…I got really–of course, it was–I decided I wasn’t going to drink any hard liquor any more, because it was getting to be too much. So I drank a bunch of red wine, then I drank a lot of red wine. Then I got into a fight with a taxi driver because I was pissed because he wouldn’t take five people in his cab. So I crawled up on top of the cab. The taxi driver took off, went zooming down the street, and then I figured I’d either hang on or jump, so I decided to jump, and cut my leg up kind of bad, and my shoulder, then spent the rest of the night ranting about how the bastard tried to kill me, then woke up in the morning and realized that I’d better knock off all that hard drinking. So guzzling bottles of wine is something I don’t do very often.

Kelly: You still drink though.

tony 11

Millionaire: Sure! Beer.

Kelly: That’s it?

Millionaire: I’ll have a shot of Scotch now and then, but you don’t see me walking around with a bottle of vodka in my back pocket any more. My friend Vinnie Dagnilo used to say, “That Tony Millionaire, he’s like an enigma! He’s got a bottle of vodka in the back pocket and god knows where the teeth are.” That’s funny, that’s cool. Vinnie Dagnilo.

Kelly: I’m just amazed that you’re able to draw these beautiful drawings of ships and things when you’re always loaded.

Millionaire: Oh, it’s just made up, I’m joking. I draw just swell, drunk or sober. Unless I’m really drunk for three days. Then I just start getting so tired that I actually fall asleep while drawing, so the pen starts to slip. But drunk or sober doesn’t make any difference when you’re drawing a picture.

Kelly: Do you have a really high tolerance for booze?

Millionaire: No, I have a very low tolerance for booze. I mean, I probably have an average tolerance for booze, which I used to overcome by drinking lots and lots of it, fast. But now I’ve learned to cut down. Once you’re over forty, your body can’t really take that shit. Well, how do you think Drinky Crow was born? Drinky Crow was born because I was such a fucking drunk, that I treated the woman I was living with badly, and then I was walking around on the streets looking for a beer. Drawing in bars. The only big thing in my comic strip is the celebration of getting drunk. It’s not really. It’s like–well, you know what it is, just read it. It’s a picture of a person who drinks a lot of booze, what it’s like. It’s not a celebration.

Kelly: Yeah. So in one aspect, there’s autobiographical ties–

Millionaire: Of course.

Kelly: –in the actual drinking. But the precedent, is that rooted in any sense of your own personal history, or not?

Millionaire: Yeah, of course. I mean–yeah, of course. What am I supposed to say about that?

Kelly: Well, you’ve never blown your brains out, have you?

Millionaire: No. No.

Kelly: But you’ve thought about it?

Millionaire: Not really. I think that’s a metaphor for just saying, fuck everything. Jumping on top of a taxicab and zooming down the street. You know, it’s just–it’s also an easy way to end a comic strip. What do I do now? What do I do now? Fuck everything. It’s a good way to end a conversation, and a story, or a relationship. Metaphorically blow your brains out. Fortunately, when you do that with a comic strip, you can move on, right?

Kelly: Do you do any drugs?

Millionaire: I used to, yeah. I don’t do any drugs any more.

Kelly: What did you do before you–

Millionaire: I used to like cocaine a lot, but that was a different time period, but now it gives me an immediate sinus attack and I feel nervous and all I want to do is get more.

Kelly: Is it still as expensive as it used to be?

Millionaire: It’s always been expensive, but it’s not that expensive. I used to buy $5 bags of cocaine down on 7th Street. Stand in line. It was yellow. Came wrapped up in tinfoil. Five bucks.

Kelly: How much would you get?

Millionaire: Just a little.

Kelly: A line?

Millionaire: Two lines. I don’t like that stuff. I don’t like to even think about that any more. I’d rather think about butterflies fluttering on a hill.

Kelly: Do you think there will ever be a time when you like don’t drink any more, or don’t do anything bad any more?

Millionaire: I don’t know. My life changes all the time so much that I have no idea what would happen in the future. But yeah, I could imagine a time coming when I don’t find any amusement in booze.

Kelly: Are you worried that as you get older, that it’s more problematic–

26551_379271342695_4418569_nMillionaire: Yeah. I used to–really, the reason that I used to drink a lot wasn’t so much to drown out the horror of being alive, but more–maybe that was part of it, of course–but when I started, it was to have a good time, to have fun. What a blast, being drunk, being the king of the world, standing on top of the table saying, look at me, I’m a fucking idiot [laughs]. But it’s not so fun any more, after you’ve done it for the eight-millionth time. I can stay home with a nice glass of wine, light a candle, and fuck a slice of pizza at my own house. I can bake my own pizza and fuck it.

Kelly: What does fucking a pizza feel like?

Millionaire: Nothing.

Kelly: Have you had worse?

Millionaire: Huh?

Kelly: Have you had worse?

Millionaire: Well, I don’t want to talk about what I’ve had.

LIKES AND DISLIKES

Kelly: I think you’re a pretty open-minded kind of guy.

Millionaire: Extremely open-minded. What do you mean by that?

Kelly: I think you’re also pretty sentimental, right?

Millionaire: Yes, of course, I’m sentimental. Haven’t you ever read the Sock Monkey?

Kelly: Yeah, I know.

Millionaire: Yeah, it’s a very sentimental comic book. I cry at the Funniest Home Videos, for god’s sake.

Kelly: I’m not sure I believe that.

Millionaire: It’s true. I’m telling you, it’s completely–it’s absolutely true.

Kelly: Do you cry at the horror of life because of it, or is it–

Millionaire: No, at the beauty of it! A little kid squirting his mommy with a hose and then she freaks out and then he gets scared because he thinks he hurt her, so he starts crying and she bends down and hugs him. My god, that’s beautiful. I love that show. I’m not making an ironic assertion about it, I really love that show. It’s just really like pictures of little kids banging baseball bats. It’s so–about–I’ll tell you, I get much more of a thrill from–let’s see, I’m trying–I have to make a comparison now, don’t I? Well, I’m not going to make a comparison. But I get a great thrill out of watching the Andy Griffith Show, when Pa talks to Opie, and Opie says, “Pa”–a criminal was coming to town one time, and Pa was kind of nervous about it, because he had a grudge against the sheriff. And Opie said, “Pa, are you scared of the trouble that’s coming?” That was beautiful. Now that’s beautiful.

Kelly: What’s your favorite TV show?

Millionaire: I like Mister Show. That’s a great show and It’s going to get a lot better. You know why?

Kelly: Why’s that?

Millionaire: Because Becky Thyre’s going to be in it this season. She’s my girlfriend!

Kelly: That’s great. Now maybe it won’t suck as bad. What about movies?

Millionaire: SUCK!? That’s a great show, what are you, insane? Movies, Damn the Defiant, now there’s a film.

Kelly: Who’s in that?

Millionaire: Don’t ask me that, because I’ve never really seen it. I just really like it. It’s about big sailing ships shooting at each other.

8a9460b4dd67b6411ca75371d3a5131aKelly: Did you ever read the Popeye collections?

Millionaire: Yeah, I love Popeye. But I–you know, I got into Popeye–I love the cartoons on TV, of course, but I really started to like Popeye after I started doing comics myself. Then I saw collections of old Popeye comics. I didn’t know they existed. I really love them. My grandfather used to be friends with Roy Crane.

Kelly: Wow.

Millionaire: Yeah. He went to college with him.

Kelly: That’s pretty funny.

Millionaire: Roy Crane used to say to him…used to get him into conversations and he said, “One day I realized he didn’t care about what I had to say, he just wanted to hear my Texas accent.” That’s my grandfather’s Roy Crane story.

Kelly: Did you read any other comics as a kid?

Millionaire: Sure. Good old Charlie Brown.

Kelly: Any superheros?

Millionaire: No, I never read Marvel or any of the superhero books. I’ve always found those totally boring. I still do. I don’t know why anybody likes to watch a big muscular guy run around in a suit. I liked Batman when it was on TV. But sure, good old Charlie Brown. I like Peanuts. Really mainstream shit I love. Blondie. I love Mutt and Jeff. I love newspaper comics. Even really stupid ones. I used to pick up the newspaper every day as soon as I got old enough to buy it, just to read the dopey comics. Something about the paper, I don’t know. But books? The only comic books I ever bought were Sad Sack. I love Sad Sack.

Kelly: You’re the one!

Millionaire: Yeah, I was buying them. They’re easy to read. Just like Kaz.

Kelly: Do you like Kaz’ work?

Millionaire: Yeah, I love it. I love Kaz.

Kelly: What other contemporaries do you like?1

Millionaire: Michael Kupperman is a fantastic cartoonist who writes a strip in the Seattle Stranger called Up All Night. He also goes by the name of P. Reeves. He’s fantastic. That’s a cartoonist. Sam Henderson, king of all gags. Those are the only cartoonists I read.

Kelly: Just those two?

Millionaire: Dame Darcy, Michael Kupperman, Kaz, Dan Clowes, Bagge, some of those crazy Italians. But I really have to say that I don’t read Peanuts any more.

Kelly: His line has gotten shakier and shakier.

Millionaire: Yeah, it’s gotten shakier and shakier, and so has the ridiculous story. But I remember a comic strip in the newspaper nowadays, the Daily News, it’s One Big Happy.

Kelly:One Big Happy?

Millionaire: Yeah. it’s by Rick Detorie. It’s about this girl named Ruthie. She’s just a little kid. It’s nice. It’s sweet.

Kelly: It’s good?

Millionaire: Yeah, it’s great. It’s about a little kid. It’s about how little kids think. I guess that’s what I…I like Family Circus, too.

Kelly: Yeah! Everybody likes that one.

Millionaire: I love Family Circus. I love it. My favorite one, Jeffy is sitting up in bed, the window behind him is open. It’s black outside. Just black, no moon. He says, “Mommy, how many days are there after tomorrow?” Jesus. It’s like watching America’s Funniest Home Videos. I cry when I watch that TV show. It’s so real. Little kid squirts his mommy with a hose, I’m sitting there crying watching it. Go into my room, draw pictures of crows blowing their brains out. Look, I’m starting already. The tears are going into my eyes.

A LIFE OF CRIME REVISITED

tony 14

Kelly: Someone told me you almost started a major war once. True?

Millionaire: Oh, the LaBelle Discotheque–it was a discotheque in Berlin a long time ago. You remember when Reagan bombed Libya?

Kelly: Yeah.

Millionaire: Well, that was stirred by a photograph of me. Okay. You laugh, but it’s true. Okay, this is what happened. I was in Berlin, and I had just come from a party, and I was wearing a tuxedo, so it was maybe three o’clock in the morning, and I was in a car with a bunch of friends. And we went past this bombed-out building, and all the firetrucks were around it, and American soldiers, and I said–and my friend said, “Oh, my god, look! A bombed-out warehouse or something, I wish I could get some photographs of that.” She had her camera with her, see? I said, “You want photographs, baby? Follow me.”. So I ran in there, ran past the cops, and I ran past the police, and she was right behind me and she started snapping pictures. So I started screaming, “Oh, my god, my wife! My wife is in there!” and I started picking up a big boulder, trying to move it. And some American soldiers came over, and they said, “What’s the matter, buddy?” “My wife is in here!” And they said, “All right, all right, come on over here, what’s your wife’s name?” They brought me over to a jeep, and I sat there and I said, “Sally,” and then I noticed there was a reporter right next to me, a German reporter. “Sally,” and then they got my name and–

Kelly: Sally Millionaire?

Millionaire: –checked my ID–yeah, Sally

Millionaire, well, Richardson. They checked my name and my address, the name on my ID and all that stuff, and then they–after a while, they realized that I was full of shit, so I wanted to get out of there. So I started letting the story kind of fall, and then they realized that I was like–that I was just a goofball, see? Yeah, your wife Sally wasn’t here, you don’t even have a wife, do you? What do you mean, wife? I don’t have a wife. They said, oh, a wise guy. So they brought me over to the cops–the German cops, and they stood me next to the cops and they said to the cops, I want you men to hold this man. We’re going to come back and question him later. So they went back into the bombed-out building. And the cops didn’t understand English, but I understood German. So the cops said to each other, what did he say? And then I said to the cops, I don’t know what he’s talking about. Crazy Americans. And then I just walked away. The cops didn’t do anything. So I just walked away. So the next day, I was living in a squat, see? I come downstairs, and there’s a–friends of mine are sitting in the living room with the newspaper. I’m on the front page of the Berliner Morgenpost, it’s like The New York Times in Berlin. On the front page there’s a picture of me holding onto a rock screaming, oh my god! It said underneath it, his wife Sally danced as the bomb detonated. So I was like–yeah, cool! I mean, I’m on the front page of the newspaper. Yeah, I’m famous! But then they were like–that’s not funny, man. People died in that. I said what? I didn’t realize that two people died in the explosion. I thought it was like a warehouse or something. So then my father called up from America. He said, so we saw you on the front page of the Boston Herald. What! And then it turned out I was on the front page of all these American newspapers, because that was the only photograph they had, because the ambulance had cleared everybody out so quickly that by the time the photographers arrived, there was nobody to photograph except me. Desperately drunk, pulling up a rock, wearing a tuxedo. So they photographed me. So here’s the aftermath: Ronald Reagan picks up a paper, the Washington Post, and there on the front page is me going ahh! His wife Sally dances, the bomb detonated. Those fucking Libyans. And then we launch an attack on Libya, we killed Quadaffi’s daughter-in-law or something.

Kelly: Now do you feel guilty about this at all?

Millionaire: No, what? Guilt–what’s there to be guilty for?

Kelly: Well, you caused the death of somebody’s kid.

Millionaire: No! Well, yes, I do. Yes, I feel very guilty. I feel guilty to be a part of the news.

Kelly: Well, at least it’s a funny story.

Kelly: Have you ever–or are you ever going to–spend much time in prison?

Millionaire: No–well, yes. I’ve been in jail about ten times, I’d say. One time–okay, –public drunkenness–I woke up in Fort Lauderdale jail, I had one shoe on, and I sort of woke up, and I thought, this is preposterous, what’s going on? I started banging on the cell bars. I only had one shoe. And this big fat cop came out the door, and I said, let me out of this jail! How dare you put me in jail? He said to me, “You may think you’re in Disneyland, boy, but you’re in the Deep South now. You’d best behave.” So I behaved. One time I was walking down the street in San Francisco, and I–it was Christmas time, I didn’t have any money for a Christmas tree, so I thought–I’ll just pull out a shrub. Of course I was drunk. I pulled a shrub out of the ground, I was walking home with it, with the root tail dragging out of the end of it, like it was a Christmas tree, and some cops pulled up. They said, “Where are you going with that?” I said home. They said, “What is that?” I said, it’s a Christmas tree. They said, “Where did you get that?” I said, uh…they started getting out of the car, and I thought to myself, I can either stay there and explain my way out, which I wouldn’t be able to do, or I could run. So I dropped the tree and I ran, but the bottom of my shoe–because my shoe had come loose, the bottom of it, the sole was flapping. So I just kept running, and then I heard them coming right behind me, so I just laid on the ground . So I laid down on the ground, so they wouldn’t knock me down. And then they picked me up and took me to jail.

There was a riot in Berlin while I was there. So they were burning down the supermarket across the street from my house, and they had blocked off the whole block. They were protesting that Reagan was coming to town. And it was a big riot, we were all throwing rocks at the cops, because in our drunkenness we thought–at least in my drunkenness, I thought I was doing something for the good of the world, by throwing rocks at the cops. So then in the morning, the sun was coming up, I walked up to a cop, a very young cop, and I said, hey–I said to him in German–hey, want to fight? I said to him, hey, how old are you? And his friends, the veteran cops, the older ones who had all this like riot gear on–his friends are right next to him, they’re leaning over to him, saying, don’t pay any attention to him, just ignore him. Don’t pay any attention. And he was standing there getting all red and I said, what are you, about 17 years old? Then finally I said to him, say, you want to fight? Come on, let’s fight. I showed him my fists. And then all the cops go, all right, let’s go. So they started to run at me, and I turned around and I ran. I was running down the street, and I turned around to see where they were. They were right behind me, especially that young guy, who was really red-faced and puffing, and he was really pissed off. And then I saw him fall, and he tumbled around. It turned out later he broke a couple of his fingers when he fell, and the other cops, the older cops, the ones who knew what they were doing, they ran really fast, and they came right up to me, and one of them dived and caught my legs. So my face came down bam! Smacked right on to the pavement. And then I sat up, and I reached for my nose, for my face. There was no nose. And I couldn’t find–there was no nose on my face. So I reached over to the right of my face and then over to the left. There it was, hanging way over on the left. And then the cops all came around me, and they pulled out their sticks, and they’re about to bash my head in, as they had done to my friend earlier that night. Broke all her teeth out, because they don’t like rioters. Anyway, they held up their sticks and they looked at me, and they went, oh my god! and turned around, because I was so disgusting. I guess my whole face was like a big–it looked like hamburger. So I grabbed my nose immediately and I pulled it out and let it snap back into place, which I knew you were supposed to do if you get a broken nose. It healed pretty well. So that’s that story.

Kelly: Were you actually arrested at that point, though?

Millionaire: Well, actually they took me to like some kind of a–they took me to like a trailer, a special riot jail, which was a trailer, and they didn’t have enough room to put me in jail, so they just let me go, since I was American. Then a year later they made me pay $700 to have the–to pay the doctor bills for the cop whose fingers got broken.

maakies-cowhead_2panel_1200x900When I lived in Berlin, I also used to do stage decoration and costumes for a band called “The Wonderful Guys”. I would go to a slaughterhouse and get some cow heads and some bones and hang them from the ceiling. I’d hook windshield wiper motors to them so they would dance around over the band. Once we were in Munich and I went to the local slaughterhouse and asked if they had any heads. The slaughterer looked at me kind of weird, happy, and then he went in the back. He wheeled out this giant bin full of cow heads, no fur but plenty of meat still on them. They were twitching and the eyeballs were rolling around, moving. “Ganz frisch!” he says, that means “really fresh.” I didn’t have a car so I had to put the heads in a sack and carry them over my shoulder. I could feel them moving on my back as I walked. That night at the party, a Bavarian hippie farmer started to cry, he was drunk. He was upset about what we had done to the cows, dishonoring them. He pulled down one of the heads and tried to leave with it, but the bouncer wouldn’t let him. They wrestled with it till the bouncer finally got it away from him, but that farmer just started to really cry. The bouncer got disgusted and heaved the head at him, it was very heavy, he heaved it like a medicine ball, and the farmer fell over in the dirt. It was a pathetic scene, I started to feel like maybe I was doing something bad.

Another time, my house got blown up with a bomb.

tony 17Kelly: Who blew up your house?

Millionaire: Some teenagers. I was living in a house on Mission Hill, in Boston. We were having trouble with the neighbors, a lot of noise and parties. There was this guy named Finegan who lived behind us, he used to threaten us with a shotgun sometimes. One day we decided to have a party, so I went to the slaughterhouse and I got some heads. A cow’s head, a boars head and then Billy Ruane brought a lamb’s head. I hung them up in the closet and put a motor on them so they danced around a little, I put a light in there. You know, it was funny. Late that night they started to get smelly, so I took them outside and threw them over a fence. Early the next morning, I was sleeping on the sofa and there was a loud explosion. I opened my eyes to see smoke gushing through the cracks of the front door. The whole apartment filled with smoke. I ran around waking everybody up and getting them out of the house. Someone had put a bomb in the stairway, it blew out all the windows in the hall, but nobody got hurt. Later, I was sitting in the front of the house, the firemen were going in and out, the downstairs neighbors were moving out, and one of the local teenagers walked up. I said, “Look what they did to our house, Bernard!” He punched me hard in the mouth, my fake teeth shattered and I spit them into the street, bloody. “Fuck you Tony Millionaire!” he said and he walked away. I decided to move out, so I went down the block to my friend Pia’s house. That night they smashed out the rest of the windows in our house with rocks. Pia came in the room and said,”Someone just called to say that they know the devil worshipper is in here and that they are going to firebomb my house.” I decide to get out the back door and I went to North Carolina for a vacation. They wrote some crazy shit about it in the papers, most of it wasn’t true, but it was bad enough anyway. I moved to California after that.

Kelly: How did you start the Sock Monkey books?

Millionaire: My other grandmother, my father’s mother, lived in Newton, Massachusetts in a big Victorian house. To me it was a big huge Victorian house. I went back and saw it, it wasn’t that big. But to me it was a huge Victorian house with stairways–that’s what Sock Monkey is all about. She gave me a sock monkey for Christmas one time when I was about two, three, and she said, “His name is Monkey.” And I held it, and I said “Mummy.” My mother, who I also called Mummy at that time, didn’t like that too much, so she said, “His name is Joe.” So I had a sock monkey named Joe, and my cousin Ann Louise–that’s why the Sock Monkey is set in that old Victorian house. And my cousin, Ann Louise, used to–there was like a hidden stairway in the back, and she used to play tricks with it. Like she’d go up to–there was a closet up there where she would do the things that 14-year-old cousins do where they would knock on the door. And we were little kids. So there was a little man who lived in there. She would leave a little apple for him. She put a little dollhouse chair and a table there for him, and we really believed that he was in there, that he lived in there. I believed it completely. So remembering that was one of the things that I tried to do with this book.

Kelly: Uh-huh. Well, it’s gorgeous. Again, it’s just, you know…the drawing is as good as anything that I think I’ve ever seen.

Millionaire: The interiors are mostly taken from the–from corners of my brownstone apartment in Brooklyn. The houses that I draw are all in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn.

Kelly: Do you use much reference material for your work?

Millionaire: Yeah. That’s why I have all those paintings of nautical scenes in books, because practically everything I draw, I draw it from a painting or an etching or a photograph. And then I cartoonize it.

Kelly: So where do you get paintings or photographs of drunken sock monkeys or crows?

Millionaire: I have a sock monkey. I hold it up and draw it. I have a stuffed crow, too, that I hold up and draw with button eyes.

Kelly: Did you have that before you started doing your strip?

Millionaire: Yeah, my sister made this sock monkey for me, because she remembered that I had one when I was a kid.

Kelly: What about the crow?.

Millionaire: I don’t remember how it came into my house, but one day it was there. I sewed button eyes on it because it didn’t have any eyes

Kelly: So its eyes have “X”s like a drunk.

Millionaire: Yeah. Like Drinky Crow when he’s drunk.

Kelly: But–so you got that after you were doing the Drinky Crow character?

Millionaire: I don’t know. It was a crow–I don’t remember who dropped it off, but somebody left it in my house, maybe at a birthday party or something. A black stuffed crow with no eyes.

Kelly: Like a real crow?

Millionaire: No, a toy.

Kelly: Oh.

Millionaire: Here it is. Because I have a photograph of it on the back of the first issue of Sock Monkey.

Kelly: Oh. It’s pretty.

Millionaire: See the hat? It’s small, and it doesn’t look as good, and I used to draw it that way, and I drew a couple of Sock Monkey comics for The New York Press. Then I lost the hat. My sister made me a new one, and gave it to me for Christmas last year. My sister and her kids. And the new hat was bigger. It looks a lot better.

Kelly: Uh-huh.

Millionaire: I’ve dedicated my comic book to my niece Robin and my other niece Caroline.

Kelly: How old are they?

Millionaire: Six and three.

Kelly: Have they ever seen the monkey stuff?

Millionaire: Yeah, they see it all the time. Yeah, I send them stuff like that all the time.

Kelly: Your sister’s fine with that?

Millionaire: Sure. I don’t send them the nasty ones.

Kelly: Oh, okay.

Millionaire: And they don’t know about being–they don’t know about the ravages of alcohol. They see a crow drinking booze. I remember when I used to watch cowboy movies, and the Indians would drink and they’d crawl over a wagon filled with hooch and be riding the wagon, cracking open the cases of whiskey and drinking it. I remember thinking to myself that I couldn’t stand the taste of whiskey, so the movie was ruined for me, so I would imagine they were drinking orangeade, which I really loved. Yeah, orangeade! Hah, hah!

Kelly: You were talking before about the reaction that your strip has gotten. What kind of reaction has the comic book itself got–

Millionaire: Well, it’s getting really good reaction. Of course, look at it, it’s a beautiful book. It’s selling out everywhere it appears. There’s a weird system for selling comic books, I guess, so it’s really hard to find it. But maybe that will change, who knows? Comic books–selling comic books has always been a totally mystifying, weird, process. I don’t know how it works, not at all. I mean, where do you buy them? Who knows? I don’t know. I know one store in New York where you buy them. I found out recently there are other stores, only because my book was in them. You’d think they’d want to sell them. Mommies would want to buy this for their kids, these comic books, except for the end, which I won’t spoil. Except to say that something really bad happens.

Alt-Weeklies Finally Get Their Day at the Society Of Illustrators

SOI_Newgarden_2

It was the Wild West. Unlike comic books, or even traditional newspapers, for the most part you didn’t buy an alt-weekly newspaper, much less hold on to it. You picked them up from a pile somewhere, read them or didn’t, and then threw them out. And just how many were there? In the years before the Internet how was it even possible to have any idea who was publishing where, especially with papers starting and folding, merging with others, changing names and moving? The industry’s own national trade association kept poor membership records and was (and still is) very selective about who it admits into its ranks. And what counts as an alt-weekly anyway? Some of these papers ran comic strips, but many didn’t. Some of these papers just ran comic strips without letting the artists know and didn’t pay them.

Read the whole story in The Comics Journal.

Warts and All: The Drew Friedman Interview

EPSON MFP imageThe Following Interview Appeared in The Comics Journal # 151, Which Came Out in July 1992. 

Drew Friedman’s work, much like that of his father, Bruce Jay Friedman (who authored the seminal black humor novels Stern and A Mother’s Kisses in the early ’60s), trades in the comedy of outrage and absurdity. From the start, Friedman’s comics work has been provocative, assaultive and, most importantly, hysterically funny. Beginning as a chronicler of forgotten and fading celebrities (such as Z-movie star Tor Johnson and I Love Lucy‘s “Fred Mertz,” William Frawley), Friedman’s world soon branched out to include contemporary non-entities such as crooner Wayne Newton and the litigious talk show host Joe Franklin. Friedman’s comic sense embraces the pathetic, cast-off world inhabited by these so-called “stars.” His strips question the very existence of celebrities (without, let’s be thankful, doing the slightest bit of soul-searching or philosophizing in the process). Originally consigned to the critically praised but obscure pages of RAW and Weirdo, Friedman’s work soon found its way into such mainstream venues as SPY, Details and the music-biz trade magazine Radio and Records, the latter finding Friedman’s brand of satire a little too corrosive for its clientele. Friedman has also anonymously reached impressionable youth via his projects for Topps Chewing Gum, including the already-infamous Toxic High card series, a revival of the seminal ’70s series, Wacky Packages (created by Art Spiegelman and other underground cartoonists) and gross-out novelties such as The Barfo Family. In this interview, Friedman talks engagingly and intelligently about his influences, obsessions, run-ins with the great and near-great, skirmishes with the unflattered subjects of his cartoon “tributes” and his painstaking cartoon technique, which gives his accounts of has-beens and never-weres a documentary realism that, in Robert Crumb’s words, captures “a certain flavor of sad old America.”

tor_2CHILDHOOD ENCOUNTERS AND OBSESSIONS

JOHN KELLY: So, you grew up in New York…

DREW FRIEDMAN: I grew up on Long Island. I was born in 1958. I lived in Glen Cove first, and then in Great Neck when I was a little older. I have two brothers – one younger, one older. My father [Bruce Jay Friedman] is and was a writer, and my mother [Ginger Friedman] is in the theater, first in St. Louis, and then in New York. But she gave it up pretty quickly to raise children. Though she’s a successful acting teacher, and my father was a magazine editor when I was young in New York City. He edited men’s adventure magazines. Sort of like pulps – adventure stories. He was the first editor of Swank magazine. It came out of Magazine Management. And that was the place that also did Marvel Comics. I grew up going to visit him at his office, and right next to his office was Stan Lee’s little office. At that time, Marvel was just like one or two little offices, and Stan Lee seemed to me to be just a likable old phony with a bad toupee.

KELLY: How old were you at that point?

FRIEDMAN: My father worked there ’til 1966, so I was a little kid; five or six. I don’t have too many distinct memories of it. At that point, my brothers and I assumed that everybody had a father who worked at a comic book company. So we got all that stuff for free, and we had piles of that stuff brought home to us, piles of Marvel comics. But Stan Lee, at that time, wasn’t a big shot. Marvel at that time was no big thing. In the early ’60s, it was just starting to garner its reputation. I guess it started with the college students. But back then, they were just a couple of small offices: Stan Lee, his secretary, and a couple of artists who would come by. I had no idea who they were. It could have been Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko and Don Heck and those guys. They would drop by the offices and drop off their work. The Marvel office was connected to my father’s office, just partitioned. There was a comic book section and the magazine section. It didn’t seem like anything special to me.

KELLY: So you were getting all of these free comic books…

FRIEDMAN: It was great to get piles of free comic books, but even then I knew that they were real stupid. I wasn’t all that interested in Marvel comics, muscle-bound dopes in tights flying around punching each other…but now they’re sensitive dopes. Even when I was getting piles of them for free, I’d only glance at them and then put them away. They didn’t do much for me.

KELLY: Were you reading Famous Monsters of Filmland at that time? Were you interested in that?

FRIEDMAN: Yeah. MAD magazine, Famous Monsters, Creepy, Eerie … the kind of stuff that you’d buy on the newsstand. It was available to every kid back then. That seemed like the kind of stuff you were supposed to buy. My parents gave us whatever we wanted; they were pretty liberal. In fact, they encouraged us to read comics and monster magazines. It was at school where we got into trouble for reading them. My father, at that time, was writing for Playboy magazine a lot, so Playboy was always laying around the house. It was no big deal. So we were able to get whatever monster magazine we wanted, our copies of MAD…whatever. It was always given to us. It wasn’t stuff we had to hide.

KELLY: Did you develop a fascination with those characters in the monster magazines?

FRIEDMAN: I guess subconsciously they’d stay with me. Famous Monsters of Filmland, especially. Just looking at the photographs in every issue. The writing was pathetic; just a stupid, jokey kind of cornball writing. The main thing was the photographs. The first time I saw Tor Johnson was in the pages of Famous Monsters.

KELLY: What did you think, at that point?

FRIEDMAN: He looked amazing! He was the perfect movie star. It was one image that just stuck there for a while. I guess it had to come out sooner or later in my work, but I saw photographs of him in the movies like Plan 9 From Outer Space. I saw these things years before I saw the actual films. I grew up looking at those photographs and thinking that those films were just going to be amazingly great when I finally saw them. Plan 9 and Bride of the Monster and all those Ed Wood-type films.

1506475_10205525468552289_2636658226673370199_nThe Filming of Ed Wood’s Plan 9

KELLY: When did you get around to seeing those?

FRIEDMAN: Not ’til the video explosion. Although Plan 9 From Outer Space was shown on TV in New York in the early ’60s. I was too young then to have been aware of it. I finally saw it around 1980 on video, or cable TV in Manhattan. I knew then that it was supposed to be a bad film. Those crappy bad movie books by the Medved brothers came out saying that this was supposed to be the worst film of all time. Ed Wood was being saluted as the worst director or all time, and Plan 9 was supposed to be the worst film, but that’s not really true. The worst film of all time, to me, is whatever Meryl Streep’s last film was. [laughter] The worst films are usually boring films. And Plan 9 is anything but boring. Actually the worst film of all time is Last Year at Marienbad. Hands down.

I had a VCR pretty early on, in 1978, so I got a copy of that, and had Plan 9 parties. Now, I sort of wince when I think about it, because it’s such a Yuppie thing to do, to have video parties. But I wanted to show that film to as many people as I could.

KELLY: In a way, it seems like you’ve turned the whole country on to some of these guys like Tor Johnson.

FRIEDMAN: Maybe. That’s flattering to think about…but the people I know knew about Tor Johnson long before I ever drew him. I hope I’ve turned people on to that kind of stuff, but that was never my mission. Tor Johnson was just someone I was compelled to draw, mainly because he just fit into the great tradition of comic characters with no eyeballs. His character, Lobo, had no pupils. He just followed in the tradition of Daddy Warbucks, from Little Orphan Annie. Or Dondi. Tor Johnson was just the next in line. I liked the photographs of him. Big, fat bald guy with white eyes in a black suit and a tie, always in a tie. Even though he was a zombie, he’s supposed to be dead, roaming around in graveyards, he always looked spiffy. He was dressed to the nines. And then they paired him up with Vampira … You see [Plan 9], and it’s just them roaming around the graveyard. There’s no dialogue between them. They were just striking photographs.

drew_torKELLY: Is there a Tor Johnson of the future?

FRIEDMAN: If there is, I wouldn’t be aware of him. I see maybe one or two films a year, and I don’t watch any current TV shows. I just don’t have much interest. I guess I like old movies and TV shows; I like things that are black-and-white. I don’t like color TV or movies. If I watch old movies on video, they’re usually black-and-white. I don’t know why; I draw in black-and-white, and I’m just not that interested in exploring color. I don’t know. I don’t think there are any future Tor Johnsons. I don’t think anybody could fill his shoes again. He cast a giant shadow. [laughter] That’s what they said about Sinatra, but it applies to Tor as well. Tor had a son, Carl Tor, who looked just like his father, except be had a big black pompadour. He appeared with his father on You Bet Your Life, Groucho’s show. And then Tor has a grandson – I think Tor II – who’s out there. His son, Carl, was a police officer in San Fernando, and loaned Ed Wood all the police uniforms that appear in Plan 9 from Outer Space. He actually appeared in Plan 9 himself. And the grandson was just interviewed for this documentary on Plan 9 that’s about to come out on video. I heard that the grandson looks somewhat like Tor, but there’s no trace of any Swedish accent. You couldn’t really tell Tor was a Swede, either. He sounded all-American to me. He is missed.

I’m doing a series of cards for Denis Kitchen called The Ed Wood, Jr. Playing Trading Cards. I did some of them in Heavy Metal originally, and then they were in a Fantagraphics book. Now I’m doing them as cards, only because there’s this big boom in trading cards right now. Also, this book just came out about Wood’s life story [Nightmare of Ecstasy by Rudolph Grey]. It talks about Wood’s fascination with angora, and all that stuff. His life as a transvestite; it also mentions some other famous transvestites that we didn’t know about before, like Danny Kaye and Tony Curtis …

I met Tony Curtis when I was a little kid. He was in one of my father’s plays, Turtlenecks. The play was supposed to open on Broadway, but it didn’t. It closed out of town in Philadelphia. Curtis was a nice guy, real sweet. A little too nice…my brothers and I maybe should have suspected something back then.

At this time, my father had quit his job at Magazine Management, because he was having success as a novelist and as a playwright, and then as a screenwriter. Which is mostly what he does now. He writes for movies and TV. My brothers and I grew up in a house where celebrities would drop by – mainly writers. We got to know Jules Feiffer, Nelson Algren, who wrote The Man With the Golden Arm and Walk on the Wild Side. He died a few years ago, and his work has started coming back into vogue. It’s all been reprinted lately. My father was part of that group of New York writers. They all used to hang out at Elaine’s Restaurant on East 88th St., which was one of the big literary hangouts in New York City. My brothers and I would get dragged up there. We took it for granted, these people being around – actors, writers, and so on. We just figured that was the way things were.

In the mid-’70s, 1975, we were staying with my father at his summer house in Malibu, and all of the sudden we got invited to Groucho Marx’s house. Groucho was living with that woman, Erin Fleming, at that time.

KELLY: Was he in a wheelchair?

FRIEDMAN: No. He was on his feet. It was a year or two before he died. My two brothers and I and my father went to have dinner at his house. It was a memorable experience. Groucho was on top of things. He walked out, as soon as we got in the house, in little shorts, and he had a shirt on with all the Marx Brothers’ heads on it. They were Hirschfeld faces. He came walking out towards us and he said to my father, “It’s great to meet your three lovely daughters.” We all had long hair at the time. The whole night was punctuated with one-liners. A guy came in and said, “My name is Mark,” and Groucho said, “What’s your first name, Trade?” Little Grouchoisms like that, but they seemed funny. We lived in Great Neck, Long Island at the time, and the Marx Brothers used to play at a theater in Great Neck called “The Playhouse,” which had been a vaudeville theater, and then turned into a movie theater which we used to go to. We knew there was an old organ in the back of the theater, a big old organ that we assumed was part of the vaudeville days. My brother Josh asked Groucho “Do you remember the big organ?” And Groucho said, “I used to’ have a big organ myself.” Josh wrote about the experience in New York magazine. A day after the dinner we had with Groucho, we got another call saying “Groucho would like to have you back next week. He’s having Mae West as his guest. They haven’t seen each other in 40 years.” We turned him down; we didn’t go. We just took it for granted. I’m kicking myself to this day.

KELLY: Were you and your brothers into the same things?

FRIEDMAN: Yeah. My younger brother’s named Kipp. We all collected comic books, and were into monster magazines and MAD and all that stuff. Josh was more into music than we were; he played guitar. That’s what be does, basically, for a living now. He lives in Texas and he plays in blues clubs. He’s a popular blues musician.

DRAWING FROM EXPERIENCE

KELLY: Were you doing comic strips back when you were kids?

FRIEDMAN: I was drawing from an early age … we didn’t start collaborating until the late 1970s. The first strip we did together was the “Andy Griffith” comic. But I was always drawing. I had some artistic ability when I was young. I was always encouraged, especially from my mother. Both my parents encouraged us to do whatever we wanted. Josh was encouraged to be a musician, I was encouraged to be an artist; they were real good about that. I always liked to draw cartoons. At a really early age, I liked to imitate what I was looking at in MAD, and the Topps cards I was buying had a real strong influence, too.

KELLY: What did those drawings look like?

FRIEDMAN: Ugly faces. To this day, I’ve always had a fascination with drawing the ugliest possible face. I really enjoy getting into the detail of drawing a disgusting, horrible ugly wrinkled pock-marked face.

KELLY: Were you fascinated by those types of faces when you were a little kid?

FRIEDMAN: Maybe subconsciously. Maybe that was one of the strongest influences from Famous Monsters; the fact that we were so absorbed…At that time, in the mid ‘60s, there was this big monster fad going on all around us – in the movies, in magazines, in books and TV and toys. It was a good time to be a kid. So, yeah, I guess that was a real big influence for me. But from an early age I was drawing first monsters, and that turned itself into strange-looking people, ugly people. I wasn’t drawing comics when I was a kid. I didn’t really draw comics ’til I was about 20.

KELLY: Did you have any training before you started drawing?

FRIEDMAN: Not really. I went to the High School of Music and Art, up in Harlem, but I got beaten up on the subway so my parents pulled me out of there and put me in a private school. But I was more interested in drawing on desks than drawing in art classes. I wasn’t interested in doing the kind of art you were supposed to be doing. I wasn’t interested in drawing houses or trees. So none of my art teachers ever liked me when I was in grade school and high school. They just thought I was some kind of disturbed individual, which I guess I was.

Drew.harvey photo 1Drew and Harvey Kurtzman. Photo © Mark Newgarden

KELLY: I’ve heard about some of Harvey Kurtzman’s classes…

FRIEDMAN: What you’ve heard, I’m sure, has probably been exaggerated. The School of Visual Arts – and college in general, to the people I was hanging out with then – was son of an extension of high school, 13th grade. We were taking cartooning classes, and always thought that cartooning should be fun; it’s not a serious occupation. We had maybe more fun than we were supposed to in those classes. Maybe we went a little too far sometimes.

KELLY: Were chairs thrown out windows?

FRIEDMAN: Maybe one time. I think that’s really been exaggerated…people were thrown out windows.

KELLY: Were teachers reduced to tears?

FRIEDMAN: I’m afraid so. [laughter] It wasn’t planned that way. It actually did happen where a teacher was reduced to tears. It had to do more with a whole crescendo of incidents building up into what seemed like a nightmarish, bizarre surreal situation. All of a sudden, in this class, there was non-stop screaming and throwing things and Three Stooges noises. It built up to such chaos that I felt like crying. [laughter] People would say that I was possibly the instigator, the ringleader, but there was nothing the teacher could have done at the time. He left the room, composed himself, came back and said, “Let’s calm down a little bit.” And we did. It was all real innocent fun. It was cartooning class. You were supposed to have fun.

Harvey Kurtzman encouraged everybody to have fun in his class. You blew up balloons; you were supposed to have a wacky time. It wasn’t a serious class in sequential art, or comic breakdowns. Harvey wasn’t interested in that. He was more interested in teaching gag cartoons, for some reason. Kurtzman felt that there was nothing more noble in the comics profession than gag cartoons; guys who do single-panel cartoons for The New Yorker. To Harvey, that’s what every cartoonist should aspire to – to be the next Peter Arno or Charles Saxon.

KELLY: Did he ever do any of that himself?

FRIEDMAN: No. You think of Harvey Kurtzman as the brilliant mind who created MAD magazine, and all of the other magazines he did. And Little Annie Fanny. He was never a guy who did single-panel cartoons. Although he was cartoon editor in Esquire for a year or two. He bought stuff like that. Most of the guests he had come into the class were New Yorker cartoonists. Jack Ziegler or Bill Woodman, someone like that. Occasionally, he’d get someone like Neal Adams or Joe Orlando, some comics guy came in. Crumb would come in occasionally, too. For the most part, Harvey was most interested in teaching single panel gag cartoons. That was what the class was about. I don’t understand why…

KELLY: Besides Kurtzman, you had Art Spiegelman, and Will Eisner…

FRIEDMAN: It was a real interesting time to be at that school, I think. And, once again, I think I took it for granted. I was just a kid back then, 18 or whatever. These guys were your teachers. It wasn’t like, “Now you’re going to have the legendary Will Eisner, and at 3:00 you’re going to have the legendary Harvey Kurtzman. And at 6:00 the soon-to-be-legendary An Spiegelman … ” I didn’t treat them like they were anything special. Not too many people did.

There was a time when I took Eisner’s class, and I think there were two other students in it. Nobody really cared that much. It was nothing special. But that was the environment in the School of Visual Arts. Some of the other students in my classes at the time were Mark Newgarden – that’s where I first met him – and Kaz, Peter Bagge was there for a while, Keith Haring was going there at the time. Dan Clowes was at Pratt. I didn’t know him back then, but his friend Mort Todd went there. He was part of that clique. Guys who were up-and-coming cartoonists were students and the teachers were these legendary cartooning figures. It was a real interesting time.

Similar, in a way, to what was happening in Seattle maybe a couple of years earlier with Matt Groening and Lynda Barry and Charles Burns. They all seemed to be in the same school, in the same town. It was like an East Coast version of that, maybe…

AIMING TO DISPLEASE: EARLY RAW STRIPS

KELLY: Did you get a lot out of Kurtzman, Eisner and Spiegelman as teachers?

FRIEDMAN: Not especially. The best thing I got out of it was connections, and friends. Art Spiegelman and I did not really hit it off at first when he was my teacher. For whatever reason, we didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things; he didn’t give me good grades. I didn’t deserve good grades ’cause I wasn’t real interested in paying attention to his slide lectures on the history of comics. At that point, in 1980, he was starting RAW magazine, so I was in the right place at the right time. He was trying to put stuff together, so he picked Mark Newgarden, Kaz and myself out and ran our stuff in the first issue. They were looking for new people and new, interesting stuff, and they had a lot of European stuff they were going to run, and they wanted to run some new American people…

The strip of mine that appeared in the first issue was the “Andy Griffith” strip, which had run in Harvey Kurtzman’s magazine. Kar-tunz, the year before. It was this real stupid magazine filled with bad cartoons that were drawn all year by his students – real embarrassing stuff, for the most part. Spiegelman saw it there, liked it, and ran it in the first RAW. The second RAW ran the thing about the guy stealing my coat, which I didn’t really want to do at first. Art called me and said. “You gotta do this.”

KELLY: Did he come up with the topic?

FRIEDMAN: No. It was something that actually happened. We were critiquing some of my artwork after hours at the school. And it was in the middle of winter, during a snowstorm, and my coat was hanging by the door. There was a guy, a black guy, lingering around the door for a while. We didn’t think anything of it, and then all of the sudden my coat was gone. The big ironic thing was that we were talking about making fun of races, making fun of black people. That’s why Francoise Mouly, Art and myself were there – we were going over this strip where I bad snuck this gratuitous racist image in, for no particular reason. Art was having a problem with that. And ironically, a black guy stole my coat…Later that night, Art called and said, “You’ve got to do that as a strip.” I wasn’t really into doing it, but I did it. He said, “If you want to be in RAW, you’ve gotta do it.”

KELLY: Didn’t Spiegelman get questioned on whether or nor it was in good taste to run that strip? Because that strip, in itself, was maybe racist…

FRIEDMAN: I don’t know about that . . . there was this thing called the Radical Humor Festival where this knucklehead was angry at Spiegelman, because he wasn’t running enough political stuff in RAW. And then this knucklehead said, “What about this thing you ran by Drew Friedman about this black guy stealing the coat?” It became this big to-do. Everybody was pointing a finger at each other, saying it was and wasn’t a racist comic strip, and it should or shouldn’t have been printed …

It got sort of complicated. I don’t think the strip was racist. It was sort of a commentary on racism – that was Crumb’s feeling, too – on the fact that I was young then and I was into offending everybody. I wasn’t singling out any group. If you look at my work, I draw black people ugly, I draw white people ugly … Josh and I were into that mind-frame where we wanted to really shake things up and offend and horrify people. We didn’t care. We were just a couple of punks at the time. So I gratuitously stuck this black face in there with giant lips, and said, “Give to the United Negro College Fund.” It made no sense; it was part of a strip that was just a bunch of images stuck together. That was one of the images. And then I did the second half, with the black guy stealing my coat.

A lot of people didn’t look at that as a commentary on racism. Those things happen. You can’t please everybody. Trying to offend any particular race was something I was playing around with in my late teens and early ’20s, but I slowly got that out of my system. You look at early work by a lot of people, and they’re working that stuff out, too. You look at some early Art Spiegelman panels and there’s some images that some people might think are racist – rubbery black people with giant lips. You get into hot water when you’re starting out and talking chances. If you want to do interesting work, you don’t want to do the boring kind or shit that so many other people are just happy to do. You’re going to get in trouble.

A lot of people think Robert Crumb’s a real racist, but I think that’s an insane thought. The only music Crumb listens to is music by black people. He’s got a lot of love for black culture. A lot of people just really miss the point. They only see things at face value. You can get in trouble when you don’t play along by any particle rules. I try not to to this day, I try to do what I want to, for the most part. Although I’ve gotta make money, and so I take jobs that, maybe a few years ago I wouldn’t have.

KELLY: At this time, in the early ’80s, was Josh writing a lot of your strips?

FRIEDMAN: At the beginning, Josh was the writer and I was the artist. On all the early strips we did…

EPSON MFP imageKELLY: Who would come up with the idea for the strips?

FRIEDMAN: We’d kick it around together. The first strip we ever did was the ”Andy Griffith” comic, about the black guy coming to Mayberry and getting lynched. And it was 1978 when we came up with that idea. We came up with it because Josh had been an editor at Screw at the time, and he had been making connections in the magazine world, and was starting to be published elsewhere. He was published in New York magazine and Penthouse ran a short story by him. I was starting to go to SVA. I started getting printed in Screw, doing goofy cartoons in there. And then we started kicking around some comic strip ideas, just on a whim, and only for ourselves, and to show to our friends. We honestly weren’t thinking about actually publishing stuff or making money by doing comics. We just did it to amuse ourselves, mainly. I don’t know who had the idea to have a black guy go to Mayberry, but that was the first one. We wanted to do parodies of old TV shows. That seemed to make sense at the time. We were both into that stuff, so we both thought that was a natural idea – a black guy going to Mayberry. He scripted it, and I drew it, and it got printed in the Kurtzman’s school magazine, and then it wound up in RAW. It got some good reaction from people we showed it to.

And the next strip we did was about Fred Mertz’s life after the cameras shut down. That soon of became the theme – to show what happens when the cameras go off, what happens late at night. Once again, we didn’t sit down and say “OK, this is the kind of strip we’re going to do. We’re going to do comic strips about the private lives of celebrities.” It just felt comfortable, and we just went along from one strip to another. That’s when we were starting to get printed in High Times magazine, and RAW. We were starting to get some good response. People were starting to notice that this stuff was kind of funky and weird.

I was comfortable with Josh as a writer, and we were thinking along the same lines back then. We had a lot in common, I guess. We had the same kind of nasty sense of humor. That was a good working relationship at the beginning. Josh was very encouraging as far as getting me to draw different types of strips.

KELLY: Would he suggest changes in the drawing?

FRIEDMAN: Not really. As far as artwork, I was all on my own. He would give me reference, if I needed photo reference. There were times when I wanted things changed in the writing; he was pretty set in his ways, as far as the script. He considered himself the writer. And usually he was right: the script was fine. Occasionally I would have a problem with something, and we’d talk it out or we’d change it or make additions to it, but I was content in letting him write his own scripts, and I was happy with the results, usually.

I really thought a lot of his scripts were screamingly funny. I would crack up into hysterics before I would actually draw them, and it would be a pleasure to actually draw them and bring them to life. I was really getting into that kind of nasty humor. At first, the humor was the most important aspect. A dark humor.

Then we started getting into more biography kind of strips. We started doing longer strips; the first one we did was “The Joe Franklin Story.” It was the story of his life, basically – fact and fantasy together. It started with his mother giving birth to him, and it just went on from there. We both grew up watching Joe Franklin on TV. We were both always amazed by this strange-looking little person who had his own talk show since the early ’50s and just wouldn’t go away. We had to do something with the guy. We decided that the comic strip was right.

df-theincredibleshrinkingjoefranklin

KELLY: How did you research it?

FRIEDMAN: That was Josh’s script, with some changes by me. He went to the Library at Lincoln Center, where they have a huge section on just about everybody who’s ever been in show-business—huge clipping flies on celebrities and writers. He worked from that, and from articles about Joe Franklin that he had clipped out over the years, and he turned it all into this weird strip chronicling the guy’s life. That was 12 years ago, and he’s still going strong, for whatever reason … I haven’t watched to show in a couple of years. For my own reasons. I guess he must have some kind of following. I can’t say that much about Joe Franklin, because he sued me once…it’s touchy.

KELLY: That was after the second strip …

FRIEDMAN: Yeah, the later strip that I did myself. Probably, there’s nothing wrong with talking about Joe Franklin, but you never know … He might subscribe to the Comics Journal and he could sue. So if I say anything derogatory about him right now, I could see him suing.

KELLY: Can you talk about the lawsuit?

FRIEDMAN: Oh, the lawsuit can talk about. He sued over a strip that I did called “The Incredible Shrinking Joe Franklin” that was collected in Persons Living or Dead. But it first appeared in Heavy Metal. He sued Heavy Metal, National Lampoon, the owner of Heavy Metal, the publishers of National Lampoon, the editors of Heavy Metal and me.

KELLY: What was the total figure of the suits?

FRIEDMAN: The total amount he was asking for was $40,000,000. And it basically came down to the fact that he’s very touchy about his height. So the fact that I was showing him shrinking away, getting smaller and smaller, disappearing, was too much for him.

He didn’t sue over the strip where we showed him being born, and we showed him going through all these horrible things – the strip that Josh wrote, “The Joe Franklin Story.” But he did sue over the more light-hearted strip. Also, the fact that the strip said he was going to lose his job at WOR, and also the fact that the strip said “To Be Continued” at the end. That was too much for him. The suit was dismissed; it never got to court, fortunately or unfortunately. It coulda been fun…

KELLY: What did you feel when this happened?

FRIEDMAN: I was amused by it. I was going along with it. At the time, in 1983, when he sued, maybe I had $100 in the bank. He was looking for $40,000,000 … I suppose he could have put a lien on whatever money I might have made. I think he wanted to sue the first time around, over the first strip, but he didn’t see any money. But when the second strip ran in Heavy Metal, he thought that he could make some money out of that. So that’s when he came up with that figure of $40,000,000, which is, of course, a reasonable sum, and he was totally entitled to it, if he had won. Water under the bridge…

I guess I learned a couple of valuable lessons from this. I don’t know what they are. I just continued doing what I was doing, even after he sued. I don’t think I toned down my work.

KELLY: Do you ever shy away from doing somebody who you thought might do something similar?

FRIEDMAN: No, I don’t think I Josh or I ever shied away from doing anybody. Public figures are fair game. I think that’s what that phrase means. The public sort of owns them. You can get away with poking fun at whoever you want.

One person we did – we didn’t have a problem with him, but a lot of people seemed to think we were stepping over the boundaries to do a parody – was Jules Feiffer. There were some problems with the fact that he seemed like the wrong person to go after, which is why we went after him. We sort of dragged him through the mud. Why should we only go after people … the phrase, “going after,” is not really appropriate, anyway … We knew Jules Feiffer from when we were growing up. When we were little kids, he was in our house. He would come over and eat our egg salad, potato salad, cole slaw and stuff.

Also, we found him to be slightly pompous when discussing his works. We had transcripts of some of his interviews. We always found him amusingly interesting, because he pontificates on his own work endlessly. Whatever play he’s writing. So we did this one comic, just to show his bad habits – pulling lint out of his belly button and examining it. Little quirks of his life. Sneaking potato salad from our refrigerator. Getting Reagan. It was kind of silly; not the best thing we ever did. But we caught a lot of flak. A lot of people took it wrong.

KELLY: People in the comics industry?

FRIEDMAN: I think Gary Groth was pissed off about it, mainly because he was about to go into printing a whole line of Feiffer books. The one strip Spiegelman wanted to keep out of Warts and All was the Jules Feiffer strip. We argued about it back and forth, about how valid it was. He felt that since Feiffer was a friend of his, there would have been a problem to run it in Warts and All. So we had to grit our teeth and pull it out. But that’s OK.

KELLY: I guess it was unexpected that you would do a parody of Jules Feiffer, instead of going after somebody more obvious…

FRIEDMAN: That’s why we did it – to mix things up a little bit. And, I guess, to piss people off. Bob Hope is obvious. Feiffer wasn’t.

drew julesKELLY: Have you run into Feiffer since then?

FRIEDMAN: Yeah, I have. I don’t think he ever saw the comic. Or if he did, it didn’t register. It meant nothing to him.

KELLY: I see that you have a bunch of Jules Feiffer’s books. Do you enjoy his work?

FRIEDMAN: I used to think his stuff was great – really important and valid. I’ve never had a problem with his work. Maybe lately, but I don’t pay much attention to that. The early stuff is great. As a kid I loved it. The fact that we did a comic strip about him wasn’t because we don’t like his work. That’s a good example of what I was talking about before: I’ve always admired Jules Feiffer’s work. The origins of the comic were based on reading interviews with him where he comes off slightly pompous. Josh wrote the comic strip. I basically received the script from him and drew it. I was behind doing it. We talked about it before he wrote it – “Let’s do a parody of Jules Feiffer.” But it was mainly to hopefully piss people off, and it did.

That also applies to a lot of the other strips. They were really written by Josh. His perspective is probably different from mine on a lot of this stuff, too.

KELLY: Is Josh still writing?

FRIEDMAN: Yeah, but be and I aren’t really working together anymore. We haven’t worked together in about two years. We got to a certain point where we had less and less in common, I think. Also, I was more interested in pursuing my own writing. It wasn’t really a decision we made; we just stopped collaborating on comics. It was probably more my doing than his. Josh moved to Texas a few years ago, and started pursuing his music career more earnestly, although he still writes articles and stories for different magazines.

KELLY: Have you ever run into anyone else that you’ve parodied? Frank Sinatra, Jr., or somebody?

FRIEDMAN: No, I haven’t run into Frank Sinatra, Jr. I don’t know if he ever saw the comic we did about his life story. But I have an autographed picture of him that somebody got for me after the strip appeared. It hangs over my drawing table to inspire me. There was talk about Jim Nabors suing Fantagraphics when Persons living or Dead came out- the Rock Hudson/Jim Nabors love affair strip [“Strange Bedfellows”).

drew_naborsKELLY: They weren’t mentioned by name in that strip, were they?

FRIEDMAN: No; but it’s obviously them. But he didn’t sue. Because Nabors’ lawyer called and talked to Gary Groth about that, and I think Groth said that it might be a smarter idea not to sue, because if you do sue, this case might hit the press, and then the Jim Nabors/Rock Hudson connection would be in the newspapers, and did Jim Nabors really want that? If you don’t sue, if you let it go, it’ll go away. And they didn’t sue, but there was talk about it. And that could have been an interesting lawsuit. That was the only other talk about lawsuits. Otherwise I haven’t had any problems. Joe Franklin was a special case, because he’s litigious. He’s an avid suer. He’s threatened to sue other people as well, including Uncle Floyd [a legendary New York/New Jersey TV personality] and Billy Crystal, who’ve imitated him. And others, as far as I know. You sort of expect it.

The Joe Franklin thing is behind me. I have no interest in him anymore. I haven’t watched his show in years. He dissed me.

KELLY: You’re not ever going to appear on the show, or….

FRIEDMAN: No, I don’t think I ever will. I don’t think I’ll be invited; I don’t think I’ll ever get on. My mother’s been on the show. She was on it just a couple of years ago. She’s an acting teacher now. She was talking about her acting classes. She was on for about half an hour. At the time, I don’t think Joe knew the connection.

KELLY: Who else was she on with?

FRIEDMAN: A poetess, a sculptor and some other guy who I think was an acting teacher – it was the typical Joe Franklin panel, except for my mom.

Also, by the mid-’80s, everybody was making fun of Joe Franklin. When Saturday Night Live picked up on the whole Joe Franklin thing, I lost interest in it almost totally. It became mainstream, making fun of him. And he also appeared in Ghostbusters … He sort of became, like SPY magazine pointed out, one of these celebrities that we used to laugh at who are now laughing at themselves. Joe Franklin knows that he’s a goof, but he knows that it’s enhanced his career.

KELLY: Like Wayne Newton.

FRIEDMAN: Same thing with him. I wouldn’t do a Wayne Newton parody now. He knows he’s a parody. Maybe somebody had a heart-to-heart talk with him: “Wayne, you’re getting old now, you’re gonna be 50. Why don’t you pose with those two guys from Wayne’s World on the cover of SPY! It might your career out a little bit.” That’s what seems to happen a lot.

KELLY: Back when you did that biography strip on Wayne Newton, did you ever hear anything back from him?

FRIEDMAN: No, not at all. It appeared in High Times; I have no idea if he ever saw it or not. There was no reaction when it appeared in the Fantagraphics book. Which is the way it should be. We weren’t looking for any reaction from Wayne. We never sent him copies. If he saw it, I couldn’t care less about what his reaction would be. Wayne wasn’t the target audience. [laughter]

df-mrexcitement-3pagesKELLY: His audience wasn’t the target audience.

FRIEDMAN: Josh and I were his audience. We attended a Wayne Newton concert shortly after we did the comic. We were so curious, after being so absorbed in the world of Wayne Newton, that we actually had to go and sec one of his concerts. And he came to New York and played down at the World Trade Center.

KELLY: How was that?

FRIEDMAN: It was horrible. [laughter) First of all, it was put on by something called “Integrity Productions.” They oversold it – it was a 3,000 seat thing and they oversold by about 2,000 seats. So there were people fighting to get seats. The whole thing was a sleazy, horrible nightmare. We walked out after about half an hour, after half of it. He’s the king of entertainment, but we could only take so much. We fled. But you sort of have to do that one time. The best thing about it was seeing Wayne Newton wannabes in attendance. Guys walking around dressed like Wayne, with his moustache … sort of like Elvis impersonators.

KELLY: In researching that strip, was it the same thing? Josh going to the library…

FRIEDMAN: That was basically Josh’s script. He got a lot of old photographs and articles out of Lincoln Center Public Library. And there were clippings he had saved from the New York Post. At that time, Wayne Newton was having a feud with Johnny Carson that was making the cover of the Post.

I think four times we did big show-business biographies – Joe Franklin, Frank Sinatra Jr., Wayne Newton, and the last one we did was “The Joey Heatherton Story.” You can’t go off with that kind of genre of comic strip. We did the Heatherton strip about three years ago. We did that one over a process of a year. Originally, it was supposed to appear in National Lampoon, and then they lost interest in running it. But then new people came into Lampoon who did want to run it, so they finally ran it in there. I was working on it, and then I put aside for a year or so, and then I got back and finished it up. It was going to appear in Warts and All, and so I wanted to finish it for that. Once again, it’s the same process of Josh saving clips on Joey Heatherton over the years and finally compiling it into an epic biography, mixing fantasy and reality.

KELLY: Do you think Josh had more interest in these personalities than you did?

FRIEDMAN: I think we might have had the same amount of interest. But he was more interested in writing that particular kind of strip. Whereas with my writing, I think I was going into a stranger direction. In the strips I did for Heavy Metal early on, when I got in there as a regular, I wanted to explore a more surreal kind of theme. I didn’t want to stick to any kind of rigid format. The strips I did for Heavy Metal were dealing with real people, or kind of sub-celebrities. I wanted to play around with things a little bit…

KELLY: “Joe DeRita of the Apes?”

FRIEDMAN: Yeah, things like that. A world populated by Ernest Borgnines and Arthur Godfrey, or William Bendix sightings. It was more interesting picking sub-celebrities or mainstream celebrities and playing around with them in a more surreal kind of way than Josh and I had been doing. We had been doing more of a standard biography kind of strip.

BIGGER MARKETS, BIGGER HEADACHES

KELLY: At the time you guys were bringing these strips around to all the alternative magazines in New York …was this right after SVA?

FRIEDMAN: Yeah. I was mainly doing comics with Josh. They weren’t paying a lot of money at all. I was doing some illustration work, but I was mainly working on building up the comics. I was working constantly on comics at that point. And they were appearing in things like High Times and Weirdo, Crumb’s magazine, and RAW. A few other places. And then, little by little, I’d go out on my own and start dropping off work at places like Heavy Metal. And that led to Lampoon. At one point, we were submitting strips to Playboy. And they actually bought one strip, but they never ran it. Who knows what they were thinking.

KELLY: What kind of things were they wanting you to draw?

FRIEDMAN: Back then, they were running this dopey comic section, which was really embarrassing, son of like a watered-down underground comics section. I had one meeting with the cartoon editor up there, Michelle Urry, who I didn’t gel along with at all. She thought my work was dark and depressing. I told her Playboy was dark and depressing. It was the one time my father arranged an interview for me. Through his connections with Playboy, he set it up. So I think Michelle Urry resented the fact that the interview had been set up that way. And she also wasn’t receptive to my work; she just didn’t see it as the kind of stuff her boy Hef would dig. We didn’t get along. A couple of years later, after our first book came out, we were commissioned to do a strip, which we did, and we got paid for it. But they never ran it. It wasn’t a Playboy-style strip. They called because they had reviewed our book; they wanted to see if we were Playboy material. I don’t think we were. The only nice thing about appearing in Playboy was the money – in the mid-’80s they paid a thousand dollars a page, which was nice. I have no regrets about never appearing in Playboy.

KELLY: In the mid- ’80s, were you able to live off your cartooning? Or were you doing other jobs?

FRIEDMAN: I was living off my cartooning – barely. I was living in Manhattan by myself, eating Kraft macaroni & cheese, and I was able to make a living. I was getting some financial support from my father, just to help out with the rent occasionally, but I was never worried about not making a lot of money. I just thought things would fall into place, which I think they have. I never did anything but draw. I never had to take any other jobs. I spent most of my time drawing. People thought I was a little strange, working so hard – a man with a mission. But it enabled me to compile an anthology by the time I was 25. I was obsessed with turning out comics. I can’t say why.

KELLY: Do you use a sketchbook much?

FRIEDMAN: Not at all, anymore. I used to draw a lot on the side, when I was younger, but now it’s work for me. My process now is that I work all day, and I don’t want to draw … I’m not like Robert Crumb; I’m not that compelled to draw. I’d rather just draw when I’m sitting at my desk and actually doing work. Otherwise, I don’t want to think about it.

I’ll still doodle and stuff, when I’m not at home – if I’m on the subway, or driving on the freeway, or whatever – but I don’t go out of my way to keep a sketchbook.

KELLY: So where do you come up with these faces?

FRIEDMAN: I have a rich imagination, and I also have a photo file. I like to take normal-looking people and distort them, which is always fun. If you look at the cover of Warts and All, those faces came from photographs, but if I showed you the photos, they wouldn’t look anything like what appears on the cover. I like to take a pleasant face and really drag it through the mud. So I have a fairly big photo file, with all kinds of faces, and that comes in handy. But I can draw without photo reference and make it look like a photograph, with that process of drawing with the dots and filling it out. When I’m working on a comic that I want to finish within a week, or for a deadline, or whatever. And I have the photo reference that will help me along, I’ll just use it. Whatever justifies the means to the end is fine.

Screenshot 2015-03-30 11.43.08

KELLY: Do the strips you’re doing for SPY require you to read the paper a lot more than you usually would?

FRIEDMAN: No. They come up with the ideas, for the most part, for the drawings I do for them. You have to realize that when you work for SPY, everything comes out of the SPY committee, this cabal of a couple of editors who come up with everything, or at least have to approve everything. One of the criticisms I’ve heard about SPY is that everything reads like it’s written by the same person. It all has that SPY style. So that applies to the drawings I do. A lot of the drawings I’ve done I haven’t cared for, but it has to fit into SPY magazine’s opinion of the world. A lot of people only know my work from my SPY drawings. People don’t even know I do comics. But all in all I’m very happy with them; I think some of them are funny. Also, I enjoy SPY overall. There’s always some funny pieces in every issue.

DavidByrnePaulSimonKELLY: Which of your SPY drawings do you like the most?

FRIEDMAN: All the ones that ran in Warts and All; I think they’re a real strong crowd. I’ve got about 60 of them now, and I’m going to be compiling them in a book soon. Some of them I’ve been embarrassed by, but I just shrug my shoulders and go along to the next one.

KELLY: You had also done some stuff for Details?

FRIEDMAN: I was commissioned to do strips for them a year or so ago. Details was bought out by Conde Nast two years ago, and they fired the original staff and brought in all new people, and one of the things the new people – British editors – wanted to do was to start a comics section. And they had this script by this screenwriter named Bruce Wagner. He was married to Rebecca DeMornay. Anyway, he was writing this comic strip, like a soap opera along the lines of Twin Peaks, and Details contacted me and told me I was perfect to draw this. And they sent it over to me, and I really didn’t connect with it. I didn’t hate it, but it was not right for me at all: a Beverly Hills soap opera, with characters I couldn’t have cared less about. I didn’t know what direction it was going to go in, and I didn’t want to take a chance. So they started offering me this huge amount of money, and I continued to say no, and they kept upping the ante, and finally I said, “I’d like to do work for you guys,” because they were offering me so much money that I didn’t want to just turn my back on them altogether. That would have been foolish. I said, “Let me come up with my own thing.” I wrote them a proposal for the Lord of Eltingville, which was a character I had done before in Heavy Metal and National Lampoon. And they accepted that, but they wanted the name changed. I said, “I don’t want to change the name, but what if I elevated him to dukedom?” And they accepted that, so the lord became a duke. I did strips for them for nine issues, I think, before I started to go in different wacky directions that they didn’t quite comprehend. So the editor and myself decided to finally terminate it. To make a short story long.

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I also did work recently for a magazine called Radio and Records. Once again, they were contacting me about doing a regular cartoon for them. Radio and Records is a music publication much like Billboard – a trade publication for the music business, but mainly for the radio business. The publisher saw my work in Details and said, “This is the guy we want to do cartoons about the radio and music business.” The weekly publication was completely subsidized by the music business and the radio business; all the advertising came from them. So why on Earth they would want to hire me to come in there and do cartoons that poke fun at the radio and music business was beyond me. But they were offering a good amount of money, so I said, “Yeah, sure. But please realize that you’re going to be hiring me. I’m not going to be doing little cutesy cartoons poking fun at the music and radio business.” I assumed they knew what was coming. But I don’t think that they were prepared for what actually came. I would up doing 11 drawings for them, but they only printed eight. The third one that they ran was a parody of Natalie Cole singing with her father, Nat, in the studio. It was a drawing of her, with earphones on, and his skeleton propped up near a mike, and she’s telling him to quiet down a little bit; he’s speaking over her lines. And when that ran, the shit hit the fan. Elektra Records called and pulled out all their millions of dollars worth of advertising for one year; Natalie Cole’s representative called and said that she would never advertise in there again; they were barraged by letters and phone calls. People were horribly, horribly outraged by that cartoon; obviously, to me anyway, everybody was totally missing the point.

KELLY: Yeah, it perfectly summed up everything that she was doing.

FRIEDMAN: Well, that’s what I and my wife Kathy, who wrote it with me, thought. Obviously, that was the statement that we were trying to make; that Natalie Cole, in order to revive her career, took her father’s old songs and sung over them. It’s son of the equivalent of Paloma Picasso painting over her father’s paintings. How would people feel if Julian Lennon sang over his father’s Beatles recordings? People would be a little outraged. I don’t know why it’s okay for Natalie Cole to do it, but I guess it is, cause everybody seems to love what she did. She got 40 Grammies. I don’t know if she got permission from her father; he’s been dead for 25 years. I don’t know if he’d be too thrilled about it. So it was just a cartoon poking fun at that, or at least pointing out what was happening. Got in a lot of trouble for it, and soon after, Radio and Records terminated the contract. [laughter] But they had signed me for a year, so I squeezed them. I didn’t let them out of the deal too easily. Let’s put it that way.

KELLY: You got your money.

FRIEDMAN: I got my money plus. So it worked out for everybody. Even Natalie. She got the sympathy vote at the Grammies. [laughter]

NATIONAL LAMPOON AND FUN AT TOPPS

KELLY: Up until recently you were editing the comics section at National Lampoon, which you started on about a year ago. And it seemed really exciting, for a while.

FRIEDMAN: At first it was exciting for me to come in there. I was hired by a friend of mine, George Barkin, to edit the comics section. They had a few cartoons that were left, but the main job was to edit the comics section. Originally. the whole thing was exciting to me – bringing in a lot of new, talented people, people whose work I had liked , and hopefully giving them a wider audience. Lampoon, at that time, had a new owner, and there was a lot of talk about reviving it to its former status. It had been awful for close to 10 years. But then all these new people were hired, and it really looked like something special was going to happen. It was going to come back, compete with SPY. I guess. At first, everything was cool, except that all the old contributors – people like Shary Flenniken. Rodriguez. Bobby London- were unceremoniously dropped, which might have been a mistake, in retrospect. It happened too quickly. The new editor came in and completely wiped out these legendary Lampoon people. They were told that their work was no longer wanted. Then they brought me in…I had nothing to do with the dismissals. Some people might have perceived that I was the one, but I had nothing to do with that. I was brought in knowing that I was supposed to bring in all new people, but not knowing that all the old people were going to be scrapped. My feelings were, “OK, all right. I’ll contact Dan Clowes and Kaz and Doug Allen and Robert Crumb and Kim Deitch and Art Spiegelman and Charles Bums and Justin Green and Mark Newgarden…Which I think is what happened at the beginning. My pitch was: “we pay $600 a page, and you can do whatever you want, as long as somebody might perceive it as funny, since it’s a humor magazine. You have total freedom. I trust you.”

For the first few months it worked out real well. Most of the people I asked to come in came in, plus some new people, like Chris Ware. It was fun to make these people some good money doing single page comic strips, and get them some national exposure – more than some of them might have been used to. But George Barkin was fired pretty quickly, and the new editors started hassling me about some of my choices: “Dan Clowes is not so funny,” and “Why are you running Mark Newgarden’s strip this month? It’s all about shit. And Kaz’s strip is all about shit, Gary Panter’s strip is about shit – what is it? Your friends have a shit fixation?” [laughter] Ironically, one month, three strips had the subject of bowel movement. The younger editors were giving me a hard time. One editor in particular thought he knew all about comics because he came from another comic book company. He wanted me to run strips like “Fish Police” and “Hamster Vice.” He kept showing me issues of that kind of crap, and saying “Why don’t you run stuff like this?” So the odds were against me. Little by little, I lost interest in the thing anyway. I stayed on working at home, answering the mail and so on. But finally it turned out to be an ugly situation. Lampoon‘s new publisher was not paying people. I’m no longer working with them. I think Lampoon is in a lot of trouble right now. It hasn’t quite folded yet, but it looks like it might very soon. They shut down their New York office. I think the Lampoon exists now in name only. There really is no longer a magazine. A new issue might come out…but it should really be put to rest.

KELLY: I noticed that the last issue that came out had a strip by Shary Flenniken.

FRIEDMAN: That strip had been in the inventory room for over a year. The former editor, George Barkin had said it’d run over his dead body. And it didn’t run until he had been dismissed. He didn’t die, but the thing did run. They ran it because they didn’t want to buy new strips anymore, ’cause they’re not paying people.

KELLY: Are they keeping the name alive in the hopes of putting out another movie or something?

FRIEDMAN: I think that’s all it comes down to. They want to keep the name out there. They own the name, but I think it’s some tricky business where someone else owns the movie rights. I really don’t know the intricacies involved. I never got involved in that. My only interests were bringing in some good cartoonists to the magazine. I did that at the beginning, but it didn’t really work out.

KELLY: Are there other places that you’re looking to get into?

FRIEDMAN: I’m never looking to get into anyplace. Usually, the work comes to me. I guess I’m fortunate. It usually is just a phone call that leads to getting work. Besides the cartoon for SPY, I’m also contributing, on a fairly regular basis to Mother Jones right now. And if Lampoon continues doing issues, I guess my comics will still be in there. I’m in the current issue, but it’s hard to say. A lot of the work I’m doing now is for Topps. It keeps me real busy.

toxic 2KELLY: Why don ‘t you explain the projects you ‘re working on for Topps right now?

FRIEDMAN: The reason I wound up at Topps was that Art Spiegelman was there, and Mark Newgarden was there in the Development Department. There’s always been a history at Topps of bringing in interesting artists – like Jack Davis. Wally Wood, Basil Wolverton, Robert Crumb – to work on projects. Mark invited me out. He had a concept to do a card series called Toxic High. It was a parody of a high school series. He decided that I would be the right guy to do all the yearbook faces. We started kicking around ideas, and that led to me doing some pencils for the main scenes in the cards. There were 60 high school scenes and over 100 yearbook faces. I wound up penciling all the artwork of all the main scenes and inking all the faces. They were sent out and painted by John Pound, and a guy named XNO, Tomas Bunk and a couple of other guys. Mark and I wrote the whole series ourselves, with the help of John Marino and Jordan Bochanis. In the writing of Toxic High, we obviously went too far with the violence and bloodletting. We were encouraged to go too far, and we did. When Toxic High finally came out. which was just recently. It was seriously toned down and edited. It didn’t come out the way we intended it to.

toxic high pencils

We were happy when it finally came out. In between working on Toxic High and it finally coming out a couple of years later, I also worked on a lot of different projects. The Barfo Family

Barfo Family Box003-1KELLY: What was that?

FRIEDMAN: It’s like a little accordion container filled with this horrible jelly-like candy. You squeeze the little accordion body and vomit candy comes out of the little sculpted head that I designed. I think it became a popular item, although it was nearly impossible to find. It got written up, in Time and Esquire and other places. It became a big cult item. It was everybody’s favorite toy that nobody ever saw.

Barfo Family001Doing work at Topps is sort of like a dream come true. I grew up with that Topps stuff – the monster cards from the ’60s, and the Wacky Packages. When I was a kid, I wondered who the guys were that did this stuff for a living. “It must be such a great job to draw that stuff.” And finally I actually do it…I really enjoy doing work for Topps. It’s relaxing because I don’t have to do the inking process, like I do with the comics. It’s mostly pencil work. When I ink a comic strip, the pencil work might not be as detailed as what the Topps work looks like, but it looks almost like the finished piece. . I think Mark and I have a great working relationship. We have a similar sense of humor, and we enjoy a lot of the same type of things. It’s a lot of fun to work with him on that stuff.

BARFO.MOM.DADKELLY: What are some of the other Topps projects you’re working on?

FRIEDMAN: It’s always hard to say what’s coming because Topps has a weird release schedule. It’ll hold onto things. It’s hesitant in releasing certain projects, because they won’t think that it’s the right time for it, for whatever reason. Maybe because it’s a conservative age we live in, but they’re a little nervous these days about releasing some of this stuff that we’ve worked on. Like America’s Ugliest, which is this series of 64 of the ugliest faces that I could possibly have drawn, with the American flag behind each one. [laughter] I think they’re a little nervous about releasing that. The flag thing might be the major reservation …

KELLY: Is it the PC thing of dumping on the ugly?

FRIEDMAN: That could be, as well. With Toxic High, Topps was very nervous about the PTA groups coming down on them. And now they’re hesitant about releasing some of the nastier stuff, because they feel that a lot of the big toy chains and stores won’t take the stuff anymore. They really want to play it safe.

KELLY: Also, kids are shooting themselves all the time in schools…

FRIEDMAN: There’s that, too. I can see why a lot of the Toxic High drawings were toned down. It seemed like every day we were working on it, there were teen suicides and hangings and shootings and gunplay in schools. That was the basic theme of Toxic High originally – violence in schools done humorously. It was heavily censored. I’m still pretty happy with the results.

The only thing I’m not thrilled about is that it’s hard to find, especially on the East Coast. I had this vision, when it came out, that it would be in every candy store. But it hasn’t worked out that way. I’m still hoping that it’s going to hit stores in a big way. It’s out of my department. I have to move on to the next project. I get calls all the time saying, “Where can I find Toxic High?” I don’t know. You can call Topps and ask them where it’s supposed to be. They tested it with groups of kids behind glass. They watched the kids’ reactions. The kids went nuts for it. I assumed it was going to come out and be some kind of fad. But if you can’t find it, it’s not going to be big.

KELLY: You ‘re also doing a series of wanted posters for Topps …

FRIEDMAN: Yeah. Once again, they had been originally done about 25 years ago by people like Jack Davis and Wally Wood. We’re updating that. Wanted posters for kids…like babysitters and butchers. The butcher in the butcher shop with human limbs and heads and skulls behind glass, and him standing there with a knife. It’s sort of inspired by E.C. comics. It’s stuff that I’d like if I was a kid. That’s part of the fun of working with Topps. “What would I like if I were a kid?” In a lot of ways, I’m still like that. I still like a lot of the same things I liked when I was kid. Also, they pay well. That’s another highlight.

DRAWING THE FRIEDMAN WAY

KELLY: Your style is different from just about any other cartoonist that ‘s our there right now. It’s also a style that is sort of an old illustrator’s style. It goes back to the engraved political cartoons of the past that were really labor intensive. Are you influenced at all by those old masters?

FRIEDMAN: No. Not at all. I know it exists, I’ve seen a lot of it, but it has had absolutely no influence whatsoever. I can probably count my cartoonist influences on one hand. But then again, maybe I’m kidding myself; maybe there are a lot of people who have subconsciously influenced me that I’m not even remembering. I just sort of stumbled onto the way I draw. I always liked to draw details, detailed faces especially. And I just found that the way to do that, for me, was to draw in that dot style. But it wasn’t influenced by any particular artist. I really wasn’t aware of anybody drawing that way before I started doing it.

KELLY: It’s something that you came up with on your own?

FRIEDMAN: I don’t know. Obviously I didn’t invent it, because other people have drawn in stipple style -like Virgil Finlay, who was a science fiction illustrator. Art Spiegelman gave me a big file of his work a couple of years ago, and I looked through it; pretty intense stippling and detail, cross-hatching. I guess some people would see similarities with my work. There are no influences for the exact way that I draw. It was something that I felt comfortable with early on. The first time I used it was on the “Andy Griffith” comic, which was the first comic I did; it wasn’t like I was drawing bats when I was a kid or obsessed with George Seurat or anything like that. I used it on the “Griffith” comic because I wanted to draw the characters in detail. Some people can’t believe it when I say this, but I really don’t like stipple drawing; that kind of artwork really doesn’t appeal to me at all. When I see other people who draw that way, it really puts me off. Most people who draw in that stipple style use it to draw curtains, or sand, or clouds, or beaches – things like that. I guess that style makes sense for that kind of illustration work, but it puts me off.

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The intention early on was to make my work look photographic. Hopefully the comics Josh and I did – and my work in general – look disturbingly real. Early on it was important for it to look real because it was dealing with real people. It was taking all these icons that we knew growing up, on movies and TV, and putting them in different situations. The intention was, hopefully, to disturb people into thinking that this was an actual document of this person’s life. There have been people who actually thought that I had just redrawn photographs because of the fact that a lot of the stuff is just really realistic looking. That was important for the kind of comics we were doing then, and I’m still doing. But I think little by little I got more interested in distorting the realistic artwork and giving it more of a nightmarish feeling. I basically think of myself as a cartoonist rather than an illustrator – the cartoonier the better.

KELLY: What if you had happened to draw the Andy Griffith strip in a different style?

FRIEDMAN: It might not have worked. I don’t know, I can’t really say…I don’t think it would have bad the same disturbing feeling if I had drawn it cartoony. If somebody else had draw it, it would have been a cartoony spin on The Andy Griffith Show instead of a presentation of the show with something that you’d never see on the show in comic strip form. Sort of like making a little movie with Andy Griffith and all of the other actors lynching a black guy. Something that would never happen but could happen in a comic strip.

KELLY: It could have happened in the time and place that the show was set in.

FRIEDMAN: If that show was a real representation of the Deep South in the early ’60s, and a black man had come to town, that might have happened. But I don’t recall a black man ever appearing on that show. Later on, around 1968, there was a black woman in the background at one time. And there was a black gym teacher around then; Opie’s gym teacher was a light-skinned black in one episode.

KELLY: Was his race ever an issue on the show?

FRIEDMAN: I don’t believe so, no. But anyways, hopefully the strips – especially the early ones, the life stories – were drawn as realistically as possible. But then again, if you look at the Joe Franklin story I did, there’s a lot of cartoony images. Just mixing up a lot of things – I did that stuff in my early 20s. I was experimenting a lot.

KELLY: Mark Newgarden says that he thinks the funniest stuff you’ve ever done to this day are the one-panel gag cartoons for Kurtzman ‘s class.

FRIEDMAN: Yeah, those were just throw-away gags. I’m glad Mark likes them. I don’t use them in my portfolio. Though, speaking of Mark Newgarden, I think he has one of the great comic minds of our time. He’s one of the funniest humans I’ve ever encountered.

KELLY: Your stuff is obviously labor-intensive, but what is the time frame of actually completing a one-page strip?

FRIEDMAN: It depends. It depends on whether there’s a deadline, or on what the money is – usually what the deadline is. If I’m doing a strip for RAW, I usually know I have at least six months to get it in. I know that they’re going to be putting together the new issue within the next year or so. Usually my working process for a comic strip is one panel per day.

KELLY: Pencils?

FRIEDMAN: The entire panel, pencils and inks. I usually work one panel at a time. It’s an eight-panel comic page, so it’ll take seven or eight days. I can work quicker; I just did this comic strip for Mother Jones and it took me three days to do it. An entire page. They pay well, so I was more inclined to work quickly. Again, in the old days I used to spend maybe up to two weeks on a strip for Weirdo, which would pay 50 bucks. So I was never really in it for the money, although I make a living doing it now. Some of the jobs pay very well, but it’s mostly the illustration work that pays well. You can’t make much of a living doing comics unless you hook up with one of the newspaper syndicates, I guess. Obviously the way I draw is time consuming; that’s why nobody else draws that way. You have to be a little crazy to do it. You have to be willing to put a lot of time into doing it.

KELLY: I think a lot of people would be surprised to learn that your stuff is done at size.

FRIEDMAN: I used to work larger, and it would get shrunk down and I would have all sons of problems; the stuff would wind up looking muddy, too dark, too light. I really don’t like to leave it up to an directors to reduce it to size; I like to just give it to them at the right size and just tell them to print it as is. “Do a line shot,” which is the best way to shoot my work. I usually have no problems. But I’ve had some horrible problems over the years, where stuff gets way too dark and looks horrible. If you look at the book The New Comics Anthology, which came out last year from Collier Books, the four pages I have are totally washed out. It was a really big disappointment. The whole book was a big mistake. Bob Callahan, who edited it, had good intentions. I met with him, and he seemed to know what he was doing, but I think he put too much trust in the publisher, and they really fucked it up. That’s an example of my work looking like shit. I’ve had a lot of problems like that. But all it takes is a little time and effort on the pan of the art director to get it right, and usually there’s no problem. Now I just really play it safe and work at size.

KELLY: What kind of tools do you use?

FRIEDMAN: Just a simple crowquill pen. A Hunt pen; number four, I think. The smallest point they make. And black Pelikan ink. I use a Rapidograph to do straight lines and in templates for word balloons. I used a real fine Rapidograph pen to do the “Andy Griffith” comic, but I wasn’t comfortable with it. You get the same line all the time, you can’t vary the thickness.

KELLY: No magnifying glass?

FRIEDMAN: Occasionally. I have one. My eyesight is pretty good; I’m the only one in my family who doesn’t need glasses. Both my brothers and my parents wear glasses. I think that the kind of work I have done has actually strengthened my eyesight. But maybe I’m just kidding myself; Robert Crumb used to warn me to take care of my eyes or I was going to regret it.

KELLY: I would think that you’d be worried about your eyesight because your work is so pinpoint and fine.

FRIEDMAN: It’s not a concern, because I’m 33 now, and my eyesight is still good. But we’ll see. I guess there are other occupations I can think about if my eyesight goes, but I don’t know what they are. I don’t work as intensely as I used to. I can relax a little more now.

KELLY: Is that because you’re getting more money to do what you’re doing?

FRIEDMAN: That’s been the most part, yeah. I pay a mortgage now, so I want to make sure that there’s money coming in. Since I did the Topps work – which doesn’t involve inking; it’s mostly pencil work – I can pick and choose a little more as far as comics and illustration work goes. I’m just lucky that I can still say that I do exactly what I want to do. The only minor compromises I make are the SPY drawings. But it’s fun to be in SPY, especially when they were doing well in the ’80s and everyone seemed to be looking at it. I’m just lucky that I can pick and choose what I want to do; it’s a lot of fun to sometimes turn down art directors when they call. I still get pleasure out of that. I’m a cocky bastard.

KELLY: Do you do a lot of breakdowns with your strips, as far as planning where your figures are going to be placed?

FRIEDMAN: I suppose. I’ll rough it out on tracing paper first, then do a quick drawing on the actual illustration board. And then I’ll lay out a real tight pencil that I’ll finally ink. It’s not a huge amount of preparation; it’s basically putting down the images. There’s nothing that complicated about it. I’ll break down the whole page, but it’s in really rough form. But then, as far as doing the panels, it’s just one panel at a time.

KELLY: Are you using photo references much these days?

FRIEDMAN: Yes and no. Obviously, for the celebrity stuff I have to use photos, because the likeness is important. For SPY magazine, they send me photographs every month. They have a huge photo library. For some of the other stuff, I don’t have to rely on it as much, because after years of drawing the kind of background that I do – background people, hands, clothing, doors, buildings and stuff – I don’t need as much reference as I once did. I can draw some of the old ugly-guy faces basically without reference. But I still like to keep some, to refer to in case I get a little lost, for shadowing purposes. this stuff, I can make it look realistic – for the Topps I get a little lost, for shadowing purposes.

When you draw in that stipple style, with the shading, you can just start from scratch. You just start doing the dot process, and it just starts building up and looking photographic; the textures and the shades, the light and darkness give it that photographic look. Even if you started from nothing, without any photographic reference. I’ve just gotten good at doing the drawing and making it look like it came from a photograph.

A lot of the Topps work was not from references. For the drawing of Dad on the Toilet, the only reference I had was this guy’s face – the rest of it was freehand. It’s cartoony but it still has that photographic feel to it. For this one, I had photo reference on his face and her face and this door, and the rest of it was basically freehand -the bodies and the pizza boxes. Just from years of drawing this stuff, I can make it look realistic – for the Topps stuff, half-cartoony and half-real.

KELLY: Do you enjoy drawing background stuff? Walls, furniture, things like that?

FRIEDMAN: Yeah, maybe even more [than faces]. Because it’s not what people are zeroing in on. They’re usually looking at the faces in the foreground. When I watch old movies, I’m more interested in what’s going on in the background. In a lot of films and TV shows, I’m more interested in looking at the background characters, or the scenery – hopefully I can see a camera back there, or some wires, some film props lost in the background. To me, that’s more interesting. Just like character actors and grade-Z actors are more interesting than movie stars. So I guess the way to sum up a lot of my comics is to say that I’m more interested in Joey Heatherton’s toilet habits than her singing onstage in Las Vegas. I’d rather draw Frank Sinatra, Jr. in the bathroom clipping his toenails than belting out a number. He’s not a good example, because I indeed enjoy his singing. In any venue. [laughter]

drewfriedman_ijoeyheatherton

KELLY: Have you seen him live?

FRIEDMAN: No. I’d like to, but now he just conducts for his father’s big concerts. His pop helps him out.

KELLY: Do you sneak friends’ faces into the backgrounds?

FRIEDMAN: Yeah. Especially in the Topps work. And the comics as well. Faces would pop up from time to time. That sort of came from the Marnin Rosenberg comics that Josh and I did.

KELLY: This is a friend of yours?

FRIEDMAN: Yeah, an old friend from Great Neck, Long Island, who we sort of grew up with. We did a couple of strips about him; one where he’s trying to date women, the other where he works in the carpet store. He’s a real likeable, good guy who has had his problems, so we just decided to poke fun at him in these two strips. They were based on long conversations that Josh would have with him on the phone, so for the most part they were based on reality.

KELLY: You mean that actress moved in with him?

FRIEDMAN: Morgan Fairchild? No, that was for the most part fiction. But the comic where he’s hooked up with a computer dating service is all true, except for the very end when he finally goes to a woman’s house and she turns out to be a hellish monster. The rest of it is all based on truth, embellished a bit. And also the strip where he works in a carpet store in Queens. That’s also based on true conversations with Marnin.

KELLY: What does he think of the strips?

FRIEDMAN: They appeared in National Lampoon, so they got a lot of attention where he lives in Great Neck. He would walk into his local candy store and they would recognize him, and congratulate him. I don’t know if it helped his sex life at all, appearing as a comic strip character in Friedman Brothers comics. I think he was pleased with them; he wound up buying the Morgan Fairchild one from us. He liked the attention. There wasn’t that much going on in his life, so he was finally just looking forward to these comics appearing. He would actually call us and say, “When are you going to do some more about me? That’s about all I have to look forward to.”

Marnin&Morgan-1KELLY: You’re doing fewer strips lately than you have been in the past.

FRIEDMAN: I was doing a lot last year, in ’91, only because I had a contract for a monthly strip for Details and a monthly strip for the Lampoon. I was doing, on average, two strips per month, which is a lot for me. I quit Details, and the Lampoon thing is behind me now, so I’m doing more illustration work and more work for Topps, and I’ll occasionally do a strip. I did two strips for Mother Jones recently, and I did a strip that was intended for Details wound up in the Lampoon. I collaborated with my wife; it was sort of a parody of Ripley’s Believe It or Not. It’s in the current issue, the one with the awful Mike Tyson – I mean that wonderful Mike Tyson – cover.

KELLY: How’s working with your wife?

FRIEDMAN: It’s working really well. We’re together all day; Kathy quit her job when we moved up here to this house. We have a good working relationship; we both have a mean-spirited sense of humor. If I’m short on ideas, or if she has a good idea, we’ll sit down and kick ’em around. That’s basically what it comes down to. Or I’ll pencil out a comic strip and ink it, and she’ll put the final touches on it. Some of the cartoons we did in Radio and Records were actually conceived by Kathy.

KELLY: Did she come up with the Natalie Cole one?

FRIEDMAN: For the most part, yeah. [laughter] She has a nasty sense of humor, as I said.

KELLY: That must be a great situation, to have someone that close to you that you can collaborate with.

FRIEDMAN: It is, it is. It’s perfect. I collaborate with Kathy, and I also collaborate with Mark Newgarden. We have a really good working relationship. I no longer work with Josh, only because we’ve physically drifted apart. He doesn’t have the time to work on comics, and I don’t have the inclination to split paychecks in half anymore. In the best of all worlds, I’d only be doing comic strips. They’re my main interest, but they don’t pay so great, so right now I’m only doing the occasional one. Hopefully, it’s going to pick up – I want to compile at least enough material for another book soon, over the next year or so – a collection of strips plus other things. I have a book of the Spy drawings in the works, so it wouldn’t be that. It would be mostly strips, hopefully, but also illustrations and stuff.

KELLY: What kind of things do you wont to explore with your future strips?

FRIEDMAN: I want to move away from the celebrity stuff, from the parodies – or whatever you would call them – of famous people. I’d like to start developing more original characters and situations. But I just take it all one day at a time: right now, I really have no plans to do or sell comic strip work – but next week I might. I rarely plan ahead; I just know that I want to attempt to get away from some of the celebrity-oriented material. Sort of like what I was doing in Details last year, with the Duke of Eltingville strips. He didn’t have much to do with recognizable people; he was an original character in, hopefully, some original situations. I’d like to start a long strip with a continuous storyline. It would be something that I haven’t done before: a strip that possibly winds up being 50 to 100 pages. That’d be a lot of work.

KELLY: That would take years.

FRIEDMAN: It might and it might not, depending on how many panels. I can do four panels per page, you know? But I have to find the time to do that; I just don’t seem to have a lot of time right now to do comic strips. I’m busy doing other things. Though every couple of weeks I wind up doing another one, like the Johnny Carson comic that just ran in Entertainment Weekly.

KELLY: How many hours are you putting in a week?

FRIEDMAN: Well, I usually work about eight hours a day, and that’s it. I don’t like working late at night, and I hate working on deadlines. I just finished working on two deadlines that were due for Spy and Mother Jones, and they needed the work quick, so I had to work late at night. I hate that more than anything. It’s depressing, having to work to please art directors like that.

KELLY: Are you an early riser?

FRIEDMAN: I try to be, yeah. Not as early as I was when lived in Manhattan. Kathy had to get up and go to work every morning. That’s no longer the case, so we get up at around nine or 10. I like to get right to work. I really do enjoy the process of drawing the way I draw. I especially enjoy working to the finish, having a finished product. I can’t complain. It’s not dreary, but, as I said before, when I’m not working I don’t sit around doing sketches. I do other things.

OTHER CARTOONISTS: GOOD, BAD AND BLAH

KELLY: Who are some current cartoonists that you really like?

FRIEDMAN: It’s hard to list off people’s names, because you don’t want to leave anybody out. Could you throw some names out?

KELLY: I’ll assume that you liked a lot of the cartoonists that you approached to do work for Lampoon

FRIEDMAN: Correct.

KELLY: Do you like Chester Brown?

FRIEDMAN: What I’ve seen of his work I’ve liked. I haven’t really read Yummy Fur, but I’ve seen some of his shorter strips in Blab! and in The New Comics Anthology, and I’ve enjoyed them. But I haven’t really picked up on the whole Chester Brown craze. I met him recently in France, at the Angouleme comics festival. I found him to be slightly strange. He’s got this intense stare. We’ll leave it at that. I asked him to contribute to Lampoon early on, but he wasn’t interested in making money drawing comics. I respected that. Instead, he recommended that I contact Joe Matt and Julie Doucet.

KELLY: What do you think of their work?

FRIEDMAN: I like it. I enjoy Joe Matt’s work. I was actually trying to get him into Lampoon, but the other editors up there felt like, “Why should we care about this person? who is he? Such tiny panels! Why should we care about such intimate details about his life?” I can see the point. I’m interested in the mundane, everyday details of Robert Crumb’s life, only because he’s the great Robert Crumb. But I can see where somebody might not be interested in getting into thousands of little tiny panels of Joe Matt’s life. He’s certainly good at it…

KELLY: What do you think of this trend of autobiographical comics?

FRIEDMAN: A lot of it I don’t care about. I don’t care about their lives. But some of the stuff – Harvey Pekar’s stuff- is really interesting. Some of his life I want to read about, and some of it I don’t really care about. But I like the trend. It’s good for comics.

df-americansplendoranthologyKELLY: You’ve done some strips for Pekar.

FRIEDMAN: I was just experimenting. I did three strips only because I was really interested in drawing his face. When I saw him on David Letterman he came off as so crazed that I was really compelled to draw him. I contacted him. He had been shy about contacting me, because he assumed that I wouldn’t be interested, but I was. My feeling about his stuff is sort of what Charles Burns said in his interview – a lot of it comes down to the artwork, and if the artwork isn’t there, I’m not interested in getting into it. To me, the artwork is just as important as the writing, if not more so in a lot of cases with comics. The artwork really has to be strong. It’s not really a writing medium, it’s an artistic medium. A lot of his artists’ work just doesn’t draw me in. I’m not going to say who they are…but the stuff Pekar’s done with Crumb is great.

KELLY: The Hernandez Brothers?

FRIEDMAN: I really enjoy their work a lot. I look forward to Love & Rockets.

My favorite cartoonists at the moment are Dan Clowes, Mark Newgarden, Kaz, Crumb … Peter Bagge’s writing has really improved over the years. I just think that it’s unfortunate that he doesn’t slow down and concentrate more on his artwork. That’s my honest feeling. I like his artwork; I always have. But I haven’t seen a great improvement in it over the last 10 years or so. It’s sort of stagnated, although his writing has greatly improved. I can see him getting picked up by a syndicate and making millions of dollars. Or I can see his work being animated. I enjoy Hate, and I look forward to every issue. I enjoy it more than just about anything else that comes out. I really love Dan Clowes’ Eightball. I was not a big fan of his earlier work. I thought Lloyd Llewellyn was a kind of predictable genre parody. But Eightball is really delightful. He’s really hit his stride. He’s always improving in his artwork and his writing. The strips about the comic book guy, Dan Pussey, I just loved. The RAW parody, for me, was just perfect. And all the comic convention stuff, and the Don Thompson stuff. I was jealous when he stuck Don Thompson in one of his strips. I had always planned on doing a Don Thompson strip. Mark Newgarden and I had planned to do a comic convention type of strip for a couple of years. We might still get to it. My Don Thompson parody is coming, so Don can look forward to that. You get a bad review from Don Thompson and you know you’re on the right track. You know you’ve done well. When the first book came out, Persons Living or Dead, I got 10 really good reviews from all different kinds of publications, and one really awful review from the Comics Buyer’s Guide by Don Thompson.

KELLY: What did he say?

FRIEDMAN: He said I was the Gary Crosby of comics, because Gary Crosby had a famous father, and Gary Crosby was a mediocre talent. That was one of his quotes.

I was going to use that as a blurb on the back cover, and I still might. Basically, he thought it was horrible that I made fun of dead celebrities. At the end of his review, he said something like, “What’s next? Is he going to do a parody of that poor, wretched, unfortunate Hollywood actor Rondo Hatton?” And, sure enough, that was the next thing I did. [laughter] He was right on target. Just about anything that comes out that’s good and different he’ll be sure to give a bad review to. Dan Clowes, Charles Burns, Peter Bagge…we all have our bad reviews from Don Thompson. So we all know we’re doing something good. Don just sucks up to Marvel and DC.

KELLY: What do you think of Charles Burns’ work?

FRIEDMAN: Technically, I think it’s brilliant. I really admire it. I’m jealous of a lot of his imagery. Writing-wise, I also greatly enjoy it. I think I like his artwork more than anything, though. To be honest, when I was reading his comic strip in the New York Press every week, I was excited to be reading it in the beginning, but finally I was looking at it more than reading it- always with the intention of reading it when it came out as a book. They had it on the back cover, and the New York alternative press always likes to have a strong visual on their back covers, so you end up just looking at it and appreciating it – and looking forward to reading it when it’s all together. It’s the same thing as when Maus was appearing in RAW. I read the first few, and then I didn’t read the next few while they were appearing. I wanted to read it when it was in book form.

KELLY: What do you think of Maus?

FRIEDMAN: Well, it’s hard to say anything negative about it – unless you’re Harvey Pekar. I think it’s great, it’s brilliant, it deserves everything it gets. And I also think that he was incredibly lucky to have a father with such a vivid memory. There’s nothing bad I can say about it. There’s nothing like it. I’m really happy for all the success he’s had. He’s in his own category.

KELLY: How about older comic strips that you may or may not have read as a kid, but that you like today?

FRIEDMAN: Well, I have a few favorites from the past. Robert Crumb is probably my favorite cartoonist of all time, and always will be. Even though I go through phases when I’m tired of his stuff and I don’t even want to look at it, I always come back.

KELLY: What stuff, in particular, do you enjoy the most?

FRIEDMAN: Hard to say; you look at the early Zap stuff – that was the first stuff to really hit me over the head. I was really young; I was eight when the early Zaps came out, and my brothers would pick them up in the city. I was too young to buy them – you had to be an adult – but somehow they would smuggle them home, and I had my little stash. The first thing that I smuggled into the house that I couldn’t show my parents were the underground comics, especially the Crumb ones. The stuff really jumped out at me. You hear this from so many other people, but it’s really true; when I looked at the early Zaps and Bijou comics, I said, “This is what I want to do.” And it’s still true. He will always be my favorite cartoonist.

I first sent him some comics for Weirdo and assumed that I’d never hear from him, and when I got my first letter from him I was beside myself with joy. And the fact that he liked my work, and had been following what I was doing, was just too much. So I struck up a correspondence with him, and he was always very encouraging, and he ran a lot of strips in early issues of Weirdo, so that was always a big thrill. To this day, I’m in touch with him. I finally met his wife, Aline, for the first time, in France, a month or two ago. She’s a really nice gal; really down to earth and funny, real sweet. A Jewish earth-momma.

KELLY: What was it like, meeting him for the first time?

FRIEDMAN: It was kind of awkward. I met him in New York at an art gallery opening of his work. This was about five years ago. I introduced myself, and he was looking around the room at the women with big asses and big legs. He was more interested in that. No surprise. But the next day I went with my brother to a little get-together with him. He’s hard to get to know, I think. He’s pretty withdrawn and always drawing.

It still continues to amaze me, what he’s done and what he continues to do, and the fact that he does exactly what he wants. I just really admire that, and I try to emulate that. He doesn’t compromise. I do compromise, a little, but I don’t think he does at all. Although he did a graphic for MTV recently, and a strip for Premiere, but he needs money, too – he lives in France now. He continues to be my favorite cartoonist, and I always look forward to whatever he’s coming up with. And even if I go a year or two without seeing what he’s doing, I know I’ll always catch up with it down the road. No one like Crumb.

KELLY: What about Charles Schulz?

FRIEDMAN: I have over 100 Peanuts books in my collection. I grew up loving the strip. I have different tastes. A lot of things you wouldn’t think I liked, I like. I’m a big Charlie Brown fan. The psychology in those strips, especially in the early years, was really first-rate. The stuff in the ’50s and ’60s. I don’t think I have much beyond that. I grew up loving that stuff, and it helped inspire me to become a cartoonist. At the same time, I was collecting both that and Robert Crumb’s stuff. I had all kinds of influences- the same as most people – being beamed into my head.

KELLY: Did you pay much attention to the comic strips that were running in your local newspaper as a kid?

FRIEDMAN: Not really. It was rare that I’d look at newspapers when I was a kid. My parents used to buy the New York Times, and that didn’t have any comics in it, so I didn’t really see comic strips in newspapers. I’d get collections, as they’d appear. of things like Beetle Bailey, Marmaduke and other stuff. I always wanted a collection of the New Yorker cartoonists, like Charles Addams and Peter Arno. I’ve been buying them for years.

KELLY: What do you think of the different anthologies that have sprung up since Weirdo‘s demise?

FRIEDMAN: Some of them are very good. Bad News and Snake Eyes…I look forward to every issue of Snake Eyes; Glenn Head is doing a great job with that. It meets somewhere between Weirdo and RAW– where it should be. RAW used to be a little artsy to some people’s taste, and Weirdo was just a little bit too funky and rally to other people’s taste. I’ve seen some of the early issues of Draw & Quarterly, Graphic Story Monthly and Buzz. There’s always great material in each one. On the whole, I don’t know if they quite make it. I think Blab! has turned into a really terrific publication. I like the fact that each issue now has a distinct theme that each cartoonist has to follow.

The alcohol issue was the last one…I think the next one is on psychoanalysis. Early on, it was a different magazine. Monte Beauchamp’s taken it in a different direction. That piece on alcoholic cartoonists was intense. My one criticism of that was that when Wally Wood blew his brains out, he had no hair on his head. [laughter] I saw Wally Wood the last month of his life at a comic convention. He looked like a Bowery bum. He had about three hairs on his head that he still combed into a pompadour, if you can believe that. And he was filthy, and he was sitting there with the Pinis, the people who do Elfquest. They had him next to them, and they were exploiting him. It was pathetic. The historical things in Blab! are really well-done, well-researched. I contributed to Blab! a lot early on.

Lately I haven’t been, but I’ll have to get back into that – help support that publication.

KELLY: Who are some other older cartoonists you like?

FRIEDMAN: Well, basically the same old names you hear all the time. Will Elder’s work was always amazing to me. Some of those other EC guys…Charles Addams. Don Martin. Basil Wolverton, Jay Lynch, Peter Arno, Sid Hoff, Hirschfeld. I loved Don Martin’s sense of humor as a kid, and most of the other MAD artists from the ’60s. And then, later on, I got into the earlier ECs.

KELLY: So you didn’t see those horror comics until later on?

FRIEDMAN: A little later, yeah. I saw them when I was a little kid: they came out with a couple of paperbacks in ’65 – Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror – so I first saw them in black and white. And I was blown away by some of that stuff. But I didn’t see the actual comics ’til later on. I amassed a big collection of EC comics when I was a teenager in the ’70s; I have since sold them all – before I moved up here. They were just turning into dust. I’d rather have those hardbound volumes; they’ll last longer. But Kurtzman’s stuff and Elder’s stuff just amazed me – especially Elder’s drawing. It was a big influence on me, the detail he threw in there. It’s always been something I’ve wanted to do myself, the way he drew it with all that chicken fat – so much stuff in every panel. You just really have to take time and look closely, which is what I try to do.

KELLY: Is that conscious on your part?

FRIEDMAN: Yes and no. Hopefully, people who respond to my work and really appreciate that I put a lot of time into it take some extra time to look at it. I guess that’s what I’m looking for.

KELLY: How interested were in you in the more arty cartoons that would appear in RAW and Heavy Metal?

FRIEDMAN: Heavy Metal never did anything for me. I would look at it and just look right through it. I had no connection to it. I was pleased when I got a regular strip in Heavy Metal early on. I was grateful to the editor, Julie Simmons, at the time. She recognized that I was doing some interesting stuff, and she gave me a regular series. But the magazine meant nothing to me.

The artier things in RAW I was glad to look at. I was glad RAW was out there, presenting that stuff for people to see. I’ve always had mixed feelings about RAW. Overall, I’ve really liked it. I’ve thought it was a positive thing for this country. I wish there was a RAW-type magazine in France or Europe where American work could be seen. They have sort of Heavy Metal-type magazines over there, but there’s not really anything that presents new, really interesting American work. I was over in France in January for the Angouleme festival, and aside from the people who invited me over, my work is not really well known there. It hasn’t been translated.

KELLY: Is that something you would want?

FRIEDMAN: We know that the French have impeccable taste…

Screenshot 2015-03-30 11.39.15

SPY, May 1992

KELLY: How about Jerry Lewis?

FRIEDMAN: I’m with the French on Jerry Lewis. I think he’s great…and I love to tell people I love Jerry because people hate him so intensely that they usually are angry that I defend him. Jerry Lewis is the man you hate to love. Charles Burns’ work does get translated into European, mostly in Spanish and Italian publications. You can see where someone like Charles Burns’ work would translate better than my work, because my work centers on American celebrities. In fact, people have told me, “If you want your work to appear in France, you’re going to have to draw comics with Jerry Lewis or Mickey Rourke.”

And it’s really a tricky business editing anything. I found that out with National Lampoon, where I probably made some enemies with some people whose work I’d always liked, but didn’t quite think that what they were submitting was right for the magazine. I would never want to edit my own magazine. It’s such a touchy business, and I think you wind up making too many enemies for life. I think there are people who still despise Peter Bagge for not getting into Weirdo. I heard that Spain Rodriguez was outraged that Bagge turned down a strip he did. He assumed that anything he submitted to Weirdo would get printed because his friend Crumb had edited it. Bagge turned down a strip, maybe even two strips, by him. Supposedly, Spain has never forgiven him – that upstart, Peter Bagge. The sad part is that I think Bagge really did like Spain’s work. He just didn’t think the strip he submitted was right for Weirdo. I didn’t envy Bagge when he took over that job. I got a little taste of it, later, when I was editing the Lampoon comics – what you had to put up with. The best part of that job was getting all the awful, awful submissions from cartoonists all over the country – piles and piles of mainly single-panel cartoons. I would invite a bunch of friends up to the office, and we’d laugh and throw them around. [laughter] That was possibly the best part of the job. [more laughter] And I miss that. It was sort of inspiring to know what was out there – just so many lousy cartoonists …

KELLY: How many strips would you get, say, a week?

FRIEDMAN: It was mainly gag cartoons. Maybe 50 envelopes a week would come in. I think there are too many cartoonists out there. Often I think there should be some sort of license you have to obtain to become a cartoonist; it’s like everybody you know is a cartoonist, like everybody’s a comedian or writing a screenplay or novel. When you watch these comedy shows on TV, it just seems to me like that’s your neighbor up there, trying to be funny. It’s so incredibly bad – some knucklehead who practiced in front of the mirror for a few months and got his nerve up to go in front of a live audience. I think the comedy clubs have been a big negative in this country; they should all be condemned. [laughter] I’ve gone to a couple of them over the years, and I’ve found them to be miserable, miserable experiences. There is a trio called The Poster Boys who are incredibly funny and play the comedy clubs. Mark Newgarden is involved with their writing, so watch for them.

I’ve said this before, but, to me, things that are supposed to be funny usually aren’t. Humor sections of bookstores are usually the least funny sections, and humor magazines don’t work for me. I derive humor from things that aren’t supposed to be funny. To me, my local newspaper, The Tri-State Gazette, is a lot funnier than National Lampoon, and The National Review is a far more rollicking read than MAD magazine. There are a lot of movie comedies that I sincerely love; comedians as well. It’s occasionally not the rule. The Poster Boys send me into hysterics – ·humor based on misguided anger.

PLAYING WITH PUBLIC FIGURES

KELLY: I think that, although a lot of your work can be vicious towards those old comedians, there’s a sense that you do love them, too.

FRIEDMAN: Hopefully that comes across. If you’re just half-looking at my work, maybe you pick up on the viciousness, if there’s any there – I don’t really see it that way. I couldn’t be bothered to draw somebody if I didn’t care about them, or if I didn’t have any positive feelings for them – even Joe Franklin. My brothers and I always admired Joey Heatherton – her career and everything. We’d take her over Barbra Streisand or Liza Minnelli, or any of those other wretched entertainers. At least Joey was…Well, it’s hard to sum up exactly what she was, but hopefully that strip does. We’re poking fun at them and paying tribute to them – even in the first Joe Franklin comic. We’re sort of paying tribute to the fact that he’s been on the air for so long and he’s got this following that won’t go away.

KELLY: Although he introduced all these stars to the American public, and they never came back…

FRIEDMAN: There’s that, and he takes credit for a lot of things. I really shouldn’t talk about Joe Franklin, but one of his claims is that John Lennon was on his show 40 times. The truth is that Yoko was on one time to plug her book, Grapefruit, in the early ’70s, and John went down to the studio to pick her up. Joe Franklin turned that into “John Lennon has appeared on my show 40 times.” Just like he claims that my father is good friends with him. My father has never met him. In fact, I don’t think he’s ever seen the show. He knows of him through my comic strips. [laughter]

It takes me a long time to draw these strips, and I can’t look into the face of somebody I detest for that long. There really has to be some admiration going on – and there usually is: even with Joe Franklin, Frank Sinatra, Jr., Wayne Newton, etc…

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KELLY: David Berkowitz?

FRIEDMAN: Oh yeah, I did draw him. The comic I did about comedians and mass murderers together [“Wacky World”]. Make of that what you will. I don’t know what kind of commentary I was trying to make – it was a visual statement. To me, there’s not that much of a difference between a Charles Manson and a Bob Hope. They’re both responsible for the deaths of many people’s daughters. No, I don’t know if they’re all the same. I don’t think I’d do an entire comic strip about David Berkowitz or some of those other mass murderers. The mass murderer trading cards don’t hold much interest for me. There’s not much humor to be found.

KELLY: Berkowitz lived a couple of blocks away from where I live now. I was in Yonkers then, and I was out jogging the morning he was caught. That’s one of the strongest memories I have.

FRIEDMAN: Yeah, I remember that. In fact, I still have the New York Post from when he was caught. Remember that? It said, in big red letters, “CAUGHT!”

KELLY: With a picture of that sheepish…

FRIEDMAN: That putzy-looking face.

KELLY: I also like the Post‘s headline, “SAM SLEEPS” – with a picture of him sleeping in his jail cell.

FRIEDMAN: Yeah, the Post at its height – the late ’70s. That’s when the Beatles were back. Remember? There was a headline, “THE BEATLES ARE BACK,’ because one of them, in an interview, said, “Yeah, I’d play with the other ones.” [laughter]

KELLY: That’s also the era of “HEADLESS BODY FOUND IN TOPLESS BAR.”

FRIEDMAN: That was a classic. That sort of sums up the Rupert Murdoch era of the Post. Journalism at its best.

SUPERHERO CRAP AND SUBURBAN SPLENDOR

KELLY: Do you read any superhero crap?

FRIEDMAN: No. I pay no attention to it. I have no interest in any of it, including all this stuff that’s come out in the last couple of years…I don’t know any of the artists’ names. This stuff that has been highly touted by the main-stream press.

KELLY: Frank Miller? Alan Moore?

FRIEDMAN: I couldn’t even identify what their work looks like. I have no interest in it whatsoever. God bless them, I wish them well, but keep them off my block. [laughter]

KELLY: When you were a kid, gelling all those comic books from Marvel, do you remember enjoying them at all? Or was it just neat to get something for free?

FRIEDMAN: Yeah, it was that. They didn’t mean much to me. I knew then that they were really stupid. I knew that even when I was a little kid, and my feelings haven’t changed. The fact that entire fortunes have been built on these same concepts of guys in tights flying around battling each other is just mind-boggling. It just sort of sums up the mentality of people in this country.

KELLY: Fortunes have been built on mindless guys reading old copies of those adventures, too.

FRIEDMAN: It’s depressing for me to think about superhero stuff. I know some guys who work for Marvel and DC, and I’m tempted to ask them how they look at themselves in the mirror – but they’d probably ask me the same thing. I actually went to school with a couple of guys who went on to become editors at DC and Marvel, and back then they were just likable, funny guys. Somehow, they got sucked into that superhero thing.

KELLY: This was at SVA?

FRIEDMAN: Yeah. And it’s sort of like losing your friends to one of those cult religions like the Moonies…Their eyes glaze over. You had these guys who were kind of hip back at SVA, and then a couple of years later they’re working for Marvel and DC, wearing suits, discussing Daredevil, and you wonder, where did they lose their minds? I guess they get sucked in by the money, but I wouldn’t think the money is that great. I have been offered work at MAD, but I have no interest in working for anybody that keeps your original artwork. There’s no reason for that. In this day and age, you can make photocopies, photostats … MAD holds no interest for me. It was slightly tempting at first, to be in MAD – we all grew up reading MAD, so it’s got to be a thrill – but it wasn’t finally worth it to me. Even Don Martin quit for that reason.

KELLY: So after growing up in the New York, and spending most of your life there, you recently moved to the country, about two hours out of Manhattan.

FRIEDMAN: I lived in Manhattan for 19 years, with 10 years in the East Village, so it was finally time to get out. I had gotten married, and we just started to hate Manhattan more and more. It basically came down to that, especially where we were in the East Village – Sixth Street, the block with all the Indian restaurants. It was becoming a nightmare. You have mixed feelings about this stuff, but we had homeless people in our lobby that you had to step over practically every night; feces and vomit and all that. Our apartment was nice, and we were in the back, so it wasn’t noisy, but nasty junkies were moving into the block, and the neighborhood seemed to be changing in a drastic way. A block away was Tompkins Square Park, so we were in the thick of it, all the violence that erupted…

KELLY: So you were living there when the riots were going on?

FRIEDMAN: Yeah, we heard it. It was scary – we had been thinking for a while about moving, but we had been thinking about a couple of years down the road. Now we said, ”It’s time to go.” So we started looking. I wanted to live an hour and a half, two hours out of Manhattan – not too far from New York; I didn’t want to cut off all the New York ties I had, and I had to drop off work for different magazines. We were tempted to move to Martha’s Vineyard at first, but we were told it would have been a six-hour commute to Manhattan, which was too far. We found a house through The New York Times, and we’re happy to be here. I have no regrets about moving. A lot of people thought my work would lose its edge by leaving Manhattan, but if you saw some of the faces on the locals here, you’d know there was no way my edge was going to be lost. I’m more inspired than ever to draw ugly faces.

KELLY: Lots of ugly neighbors?

FRIEDMAN: No, my neighbors are all beautiful people, but if you head down to the malls and the K-Marts, you can sec some lovely views.

KELLY: Do your neighbors know what you do?

FRIEDMAN: They know that I’m an illustrator.

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KELLY: Do you ever show them any of your stuff?

FRIEDMAN: Well, there’s only one other neighbor on my street, and I showed him Warts and All when I was moving in, because he had heard that I was an artist and he was curious about what I did. He thumbed through it and had no comment, handed it back – but the smile never left his face. He’s a smiling and jovial guy to begin with. I have no idea what he thought of it, but we still get along fine. So he didn’t summon the FBI. [laughter] Other people in the community know that I’m an illustrator; this is an area where there’s sort of an artistic community. There’s an illustrator named Lou Brooks who lives around here, there’s a guy who designs sets for Sesame Street, and John Gotti actually has a house not too far from here – but I don’t think he’s using it these days. Also, the actor who played the Tie-D-Bowl Man lives around here. [laughter] Seriously.

KELLY: How active are you in the community?

FRIEDMAN: We moved in eight months ago, and we’ve been concentrating on getting the house together, so we haven’t really gotten involved in the community. But there is a club that belongs to the Lake Association- we haven’t quite joined the Association yet, but it’s a good association because it makes sure that the streets are shoveled in the winter and that nobody dumps garbage or things like that. We’re going to join that, we just haven’t had time yet.

KELLY: Are you planning to join their volunteer fire department?

FRIEDMAN: No, I think they have enough members right now, they don’t really me. If they come a-callin’, maybe I’ll join up. Most of the members are around 80.

KELLY: Have your work habits changed at all now that you’re here?

FRIEDMAN: The main change has been the size of the work area. As you see, I now have a nice, sizable office to work in. Before, our apartment was the size of this whole office – maybe not even that big. So I was squeezed into a small comer. But I had a window right there, so it wasn’t depressing or anything. I had all my supplies and everything at my disposal, but finally we were just squeezed out of the apartment. That’s the major change. As far as work habits go, now, if we have company, I can come upstairs, go into my office and close the door, and not have to be rude.

KELLY: And ask them to leave.

FRIEDMAN: If it was my wife’s company, her relatives or whatever, sometimes, if I had a deadline, I would have to sit there with my back to everybody and continue working.

Now it’s totally different.

KELLY: What did they think of you stippling away in a corner?

FRIEDMAN: They knew what I did for a living, so it was no surprise. I guess they wondered how she could live with it, the incessant tapping, but now it’s not a problem.

KELLY: So, other than the comic strips you’re collaborating with your wife on, you’re also going to work on a cookbook project together?

FRIEDMAN: Yeah. I don’t want to say what the cookbook is right now, but Kathy is a great cook and she’s writing a cookbook and I’m supposed to illustrate it. That’s going to be done down the road a little bit. Other upcoming projects are the Ed Wood cards for Kitchen Sink, and also a collection of the Spy drawings. And I’m also getting into animation a little bit; some of my work was actually animated – for the defunct HBO Comedy Channel – into little bumpers that ran on TV all day, and it worked out pretty well. So now I’m doing some cartoons with MTV’s Liquid Television, the animation show that’s on Sunday nights. We’re developing something along the lines of Richard Sala’s stuff – like cut-out animation, the way my stuff was done before. It would be similar to that, like Terry Gilliam’s stuff. Obviously, It would be Just about impossible to do a full-on animation of my style, but there are ways to get around that, like computers. And to me, the best way is the cut-out, Terry Gilliam style.

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KELLY: Given that a lot of your stuff – especially your early stuff – is based in film, and also given that your dad is making his living these days doing film, do you have any interest in working in that medium at all?

FRIEDMAN: Hard to say. Maybe down the road, if it comes along. I’m not interested in pursuing it. I had a bunch of meetings in Los Angeles last year with a guy I was involved with – still am involved with – who produced the animation I did for the Comedy Channel. He set up the meetings; there seemed to be some interest in taking my work and developing it into a half-animated and half-live-action show. So I had a bunch of meetings with these Hollywood people; total time-wasting morons for the most part.

KELLY: What are some stupid things they would do?

FRIEDMAN: It’s nothing specific; it’s just the general attitude of what you run into out there. The kind of brain-damaged mentality that runs that town. I went into one meeting – this was at Universal – and we proposed our show, and the guy … I have some friends and connections in show business, through my father and people I’ve met over the years, and so this was a meeting with a fairly powerful person there. I don’t even remember his name now, or what exactly his position was. We presented the show – it involved a lot of the characters that I’ve done over the years, like Tor Johnson – and we finished the meeting and looked around, and he was obviously thinking. And then he just looked at us and said, “Could we get Madonna into this?” [laughter] I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Well, the young people of today, they don’t know who Frank Sinatra or Tor Johnson are. They know Madonna.” I said, “Well, Madonna … I wouldn’t feel comfortable with that.” That’s basically what we ran into. And the guy was persistent: “Yeah, but she’s so good! Didn’t you see her spread in Vanity Fair! She’s so funny!” He went on like that, the guy wasn’t even joking.

KELLY: Yeah, she’s funny, but not the way . . .

FRIEDMAN: [voice basted with sarcasm] She has such a sense of humor, don’t you think? Yeah, she is good, she’s so good…[laughter] That’s what I ran into. It was basically a frustrating experience, and I have no interest in pursuing anything. If somebody serious comes to me, fine. But I don’t really have much interest in it. I think, overall, my father’s experience in Hollywood has been frustrating. Even though he’s had his name in some big movies, overall it’s a frustrating business.

KELLY: He wrote The Lonely Guy.

FRIEDMAN: Yeah, with Steve Martin. He also had a credit on a horrible Dan Ackroyd film called Dr. Detroit, and the writing credit on Stir Crazy, but who knows who really wrote it? Based on what my father has gone through in Hollywood, I have no desire to get involved in it. It’s a frustrating, horrible, cuthroat business. But we’ll see.

KELLY: What is your father working on now?

FRIEDMAN: He’s writing and producing a TV series for Fox right now, which …

KELLY: .. may come out.

FRIEDMAN: That’s basically the way it works. He’s always doing something, working on a movie or a TV project or a book. He’s really productive. And he’s a rare example of a guy who’s involved in Hollywood movies and TV who doesn’t live out in Hollywood. He lives out in Long Island, and he’s able to do his work from his home.

KELLY: Do you see him much?

FRIEDMAN: No, not much. I don’t see my family that much at all. Everybody’s spread out over the country. Josh lives in Dallas, my younger brother Kipp lives in Wisconsin… Actually, he’s the only one in the family who didn’t pursue some kind of career in !he arts, although he’s a writer. He was a journalist at the University of Wisconsin, and we thought he was going to become a newspaper journalist. In fact, he did work for a Jewish newspaper in Florida for a while. But now I think he’s working in public relations for a company in Wisconsin. He’s a family man, and I think he’s more interested in raising his family.

KELLY: Do you remember the Crumb interview in the Journal?

FRIEDMAN: Yeah.

KELLY: He told this story about his brother who swallowed a 28-foot length of cloth, and it would be going in his mouth and coming out his…Do you have any stories like that?

FRIEDMAN: To do with my brothers? Eating cloth stories? No, no stories like that. Are there a lot of guys who eat cloth?

KELLY: Were the other kids in your neighborhood into the same kind of things that you guys were into when you were growing up? Or were you just out on your own?

FRIEDMAN: Hard to say. I lived in two different neighborhoods when I was growing up, two different towns. I guess I had friends whom I went to school with who had similar interests, but our family was basically into its own thing – my brother Josh was always the leader. He just had the, whaddya call it, pizazz.

KELLY: That ‘s a Stan Lee word.

FRIEDMAN: Excelsior! [laughter]

A FEW WORDS ON WARTS AND ALL

KELLY: Who came up with the idea to do the raised warts on the cover of Warts and All?

FRIEDMAN: Art Spiegelman.

coverKELLY: And how were you guys able to convince Penguin to do that?

FRIEDMAN: I came up with the title, Warts and All, and the image of disgusting faces with warts. Art saw the artwork and he said, “Boy, it would be great to emboss these warts, and have little hairs popping out of them.” And I said, “Yeah, it would be great.” And he had enough power, I guess, with the editors at Penguin to ask for that and get it.

I was happy with it. I give Art credit for that. The whole concept of the book, basically; a book that had been at Doubleday, under a different title – it was going to be the same format as Persons Living or Dead. Doubleday gave us an advance and everything, and then pulled out when they were bought out by this German guy who cancelled 50 to 60 percent of the books they had scheduled – our book was one of them. So we were fishing around for a new publisher. I wanted to do it with a major; I didn’t want to do another book with Fantagraphics at that time. I wanted to get it into major bookstores. I have no regrets about doing the first book with Fantagraphics – I was delighted when Gary called and said, “We’d like to do your book,” because I was ready to do an anthology. But the second book I really wanted to be in Waldens and B. Daltons, and Gary couldn’t get the first book in there, for whatever reasons. So when it was dropped by Doubleday, Art called and said, “I hear you need a publisher. Let me try to get you into Penguin; I have this deal with them where I’m developing books.” Penguin was doing RAW, so I said, “Great.” It was a long process before Penguin agreed to do it.

Art had this idea of cutting the strips up and making a square format, and when he first mentioned this I was horrified. I said, “Wait a minute, how can you do this?” But when he actually showed me what he had done, I really thought it worked well. I suppose some people would think it was cheating a little bit – sort of like stretching a book out. And it was, but I was delighted with the results. It gave it a story-book kind of feel rather than a presentation of comic strips. So I give him a lot of credit for that. It worked out well.

KELLY: How did the book do?

FRIEDMAN: As far as I know, it’s still racking up sales. It’s up to 15,000 now, last I checked. Obviously, it’s not a best-seller like Maus, but not much is. I think it did well; I don’t keep tabs on that kind of stuff much. I just asked my editor last Christmas what the sales were, because Newsweek had plugged it, and I wondered if the plug had helped. And he said, ” Yeah, the plug really did help.” As far as I know, it did well. So now I’m going to have enough work for another book, hopefully in a year or so. That’s the plan. I might even want to go back to a comics publisher for the next book, because comic book stores had a hard time getting Warts and All. So it’s like it’s one or the other. You want your book to be in comic book store, and you also want it to be in major bookstores. But unless you’re Maus, you don’t really have it both ways.

KELLY: Or Dark Knight or Watchmen.

FRIEDMAN: Right.

MORE ON TOR AND OTHER IMPORTANT BEINGS

KELLY: Do you have any feelings about how Tor Johnson, along with Bettie Page, has become this hip, in, kinda gag guy that people “in the know” dig?

FRIEDMAN: I don’t know what to make of that, really. I suppose it’s like I predicted it a couple of years ago, before anyone else picked up on it. There’s a comic that just came out, Tor Johnson’s Comics & Stories, from Monster Comics. In fact, Gary asked me to do the cover, but I didn’t know what the contents were going to be, so I passed on it. I don’t know what to say about it; it’s good for Tor, I guess. I don’t do these comics to cash in on people. The Ed Wood cards are one thing, but I wasn’t doing strips on Tor Johnson to cash in on him. Most people didn’t know who he was and had never heard of him. Only people who watched those cheap horror films he was in and read Famous Monsters knew about him.

There’s a guy I met in France named Todd Loren who runs this company called Revolutionary Comics…

KELLY: He does those comics about the Sex Pistols…

FRIEDMAN: … and New Kids on the Block, yeah. He takes these famous rock bands, or whatever, and does comics about them. So I met him, and he goes, “Yeah, Drew Friedman. I wanted to meet you for a while. We do the same kind of thing. We’re both fighting the good fight.” I snickered and I was thinking, “No, I don’t think we do the same thing. What you do is take a rock band like the Grateful Dead or New Kids, and just try to cash in on it.” And that was never my intention. The strips that Josh and I did, and the stuff that I do now, was mainly paying tribute and poking fun, and the intention was never to cash in. I never made a lot of money on the strips. So I was just amused by this guy – whose practices I had read about in The Comics Journal – who thought we were doing the same thing. In fact, we’re doing the opposite thing.

Gorcey_Alliteration001KELLY: I think that your Leo Gorcey poetry illustration [printed in Warts and All] predated some of these novelty records that Rhino has put out, like Golden Throats. The one that has William Shatner singing.

FRIEDMAN: That was a piece of poetry I stumbled upon. It was in Leo Gorcey’s little-seen autobiography that was put out by a vanity press. It was a brilliant piece of prose, and Art Spiegelman saw it that way, too, and wanted to use it in RAW. But those Rhino anthologies weren’t an original idea. There was a radio show from WFMU for years hosted by Irwin Chusid, who wound up writing the liner notes for the Rhino records. If I ever hosted a radio show, that’s the type of show I’d want to do. Real people singing songs, too, not just polished Hollywood stuff.

CAST OF THOUSANDS: A FINAL POTPOURRI

KELLY: The Lord of Eltingville is a character you’ve been doing for a long time. But you’ve also done strips for Details … He’s an original character. Where did he come from?

FRIEDMAN: He was invented with the intention of doing an original character. Tor Johnson wasn’t an original character, but I sort of claimed him as my own to develop the kind of strip that I put him into. But the intention was to create an original character along the lines of Zippy, as far as a non-sequitur kind of dialogue. He was based on a guy I used to know named Mike Demisa, a little Italian guy from Staten Island who really did speak like that. He looked like that, and he spoke like that. I was so intrigued by the guy that I decided to develop him into a comic-strip character. He would speak in that kind of non-sequitur staccato. He lived in Eltingville on Staten Island. ·He’s been through various adventures. He’s hung out with Frank Sinatra. He’s hung out with the greats, the near-greats… he knows everybody, everybody knows him, he’s possibly the richest man who ever lived … and that’s about it. I keep coming back to him. Some people absolutely adore that character. I still get phone calls saying “It’s the best thing you’ve ever done. Please do more.” And then other people, like Art Spiegelman, don’t like the character at all. They’re totally put off by him. He’s an ugly little guy; he’s not very pleasing to the eye. I get mixed reactions to him. Lately, when I do comics, I’ve been trying to twist around the page layout. I don’t keep it in this structured, three-tier layout anymore. I try to move panels around. The Lord became the Duke when he was in Details. It fit into that way of thinking: shifting panels, different sized panels. playing around with the page a little more than I used to. So that’s the Duke…or the Lord. Have it your own way. I might turn him into the Earl next time around. Lord, Earl, Duke…I guess it’s just more European.

Even though he’s from Eltingville, Staten Island. It hopefully adds to the absurdity: a Lord from Staten Island.

KELLY: What about Sandler and Young?

FRIEDMAN: They were singers who used to appear on The Mike Douglas Show a lot in the ’70s. One spoke in a French accent, and the other one. I think, was English. They used to toast each other and sing “Frere Jacques.” It was horribly cute stuff. I’ve only seen them a couple of times, but the memories are vivid. Josh was more into them. They were actually going to appear on the cover of Warts and All, back when it was a different book. I did an illustration of Sandler and Young toasting each other, and the name of the book was A Toast to Your Entertainment, but it didn’t come out that way.

drewfriedman_comicshopclerksKELLY: “Comic Shop Clerks of North America … ”

FRIEDMAN: That pissed off a lot of people. Although it was turned into a T-shirt and did real well in comic stores. I heard a lot of comic shop clerks got a big kick out of it. I also heard that actor John Goodman loved it…

KELLY: So who did it piss off?

FRIEDMAN: Don Thompson types. “How could anyone make fun of the fine folk who sell comic books?” Basically stuff like that.

KELLY: Are these faces based on real people?

FRIEDMAN: Some of them are, yeah. I can’t really say who, but there’s one in there who’s the son of the former publisher of National Lampoon. He actually got a kick out of it.

KELLY: When you ‘re doing ugly faces in general, how often are they based on actual people you know?

FRIEDMAN: Hard to say. Subconsciously, the faces of people I’ve seen will come out. It’s a little bit of everything. Photo reference, and then exaggerating the photos. People I’ve known. Celebrities. It’s just a whole combination of things that will inspire some of the faces I draw. It’s not just one process.

KELLY: Do you think that you have a really good memory in general for faces that you see?

FRIEDMAN: I’m very adept at observing. Maybe subconsciously I have a better memory than I think I have. Small details just seep in. I guess I never forget a face. I can store away people I meet.

s-l1600KELLY: I’ve heard you’re a big fan of the comic book Playful Little Audrey, specifically #67…Why is this?

FRIEDMAN: You haven’t seen it?

KELLY: No, I don’t think I have.

FRIEDMAN: Well, I don’t want to spoil it for you. You just have to get a copy. Seriously. Get a copy. That’s all I have to say about it. You’ll just have to see it for yourself.

KELLY: No clues?

FRIEDMAN: I can’t give it away. I just really can’t. I think people should go out of their way to get it. Track down a copy of it. Seriously. It’s something that you won’t regret. You’ll see what I mean when you see it. It’s pretty obvious. Good luck finding one …

KELLY: You’ve been described as being a troublemaker when you were a kid.

FRIEDMAN: It depends on who you listen to.

KELLY: What kind of things would you do?

FRIEDMAN: I was more of a mischief maker. It was just the way to be. I was always the class clown. That was what I wanted to do. When I was younger, I thought about possibly becoming a performer. But as I got older, my intent was just to draw. It would show up in my work. I’ve calmed down a great deal over the years. I’m not as hyper as I used to be. You’ve talked to other people about my exploits?

KELLY: I heard you used to rip pages out of a certain I text book…

FRIEDMAN: There was a teacher I had years ago at SVA who I really didn’t get along with, who was nasty as hell. He gave me a hard time, and told me at one time that my work was beyond the pale. This was in ‘77. I wasn’t serious about being a cartoonist, it was just a side interest for me. I was taking night classes at SVA in cartooning. He would give me a hard time, so in bookstores I’d occasionally find his book, and I’d randomly rip out pages from his collection of comics. I hurt his book sales, hopefully. That’s what it came down to.

KELLY: You never got caught?

FRIEDMAN: Nah. It’s hard for me to talk about stuff I did when I was kid now. There’s nothing specific that stands out. Back at school, everybody was a troublemaker.

KELLY: Prank phone calls?

FRIEDMAN: Yeah, sure. Everybody did that. I’m not Bart Simpson, though. Everybody looks up to Bart Simpson, so…

KELLY: Well, the “Red’s Bar” tape obviously made it into the hands of the writers of The Simpsons

FRIEDMAN: Yeah. Matt Groening claims he doesn’t know about those tapes, but obviously some of his writers picked up on it, because the character Moe is based on Red. Yeah, I made phony phone calls all the time. My brother and I, and the people we knew, were troublemakers – bad kids. And it was predicted that we would wind up behind bars. Troubled rich kids, that’s what we were. If I have kids, they’ll read this someday. [laughter] Let’s just say that I have no regrets. I’ve never murdered anybody.

KELLY: You’ve reformed?

FRIEDMAN: Oh, yeah. I’m a law-abiding person. I’m a tax-paying, good citizen of my community. I don’t know if my work has reformed, though. Hopefully, my work is just as subversive as it ever was. That’s for other people to judge, though.

Further Exploring Mark Newgarden’s The Little Nun

Among the many great things on display at the Alt Weekly Comics show at the Society Of Illustrators in New York City are a number of pieces from Mark Newgarden‘s New York Press strip, including this Little Nun (copied from his book We All Die Alone, Fantagraphics, 2006).

EPSON MFP image

This reminded me to dig back to an interview I conducted back in August 1993 with Newgarden for issue number 161 of The Comics Journal which gives some more details on the making of the great Little Nun strip.  The complete text of this interview will appear on this site shortly.

Newgarden on The Little Nun

I was really trying to work with a lot of self-imposed limitations: No dialogue, pantomime strips with no close-ups, or very few close-ups. No “camera” moves. They were influenced a lot by [Ernie] Bushmiller, [Otto] Soglow too, who did The little King. It was always pantomime, the Little King character, anyway. He would only have the other characters talk. But in The Little Nun, no one’s allowed to talk. It’s all pantomime. You rarely see that stuff anymore. It’s a relatively hard thing to do. It’s not an easy thing at all.   You almost have to draw like Bushmiller or Soglow, you have to be crystal clear and ultra simple in your drawings to make them read. A lot of people still have trouble reading pantomime strips. They are not used to looking at the pictures that closely. They’re used to reading it from balloon to balloon and then going on to the next thing.

Show below are photos of the original art, showing how The Little Nun was created on graph paper.

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Newgarden: They were hard. They took a long time. I did all The Little Nuns on gridded graph paper and it was like a lot of math. Slavishly making minute changes—the kind of stuff Bushmiller did as second nature. But it was a lot of slow work with rulers and Rapidographs and drafting stuff. It much more fun and easier and satisfying to do stuff like Meet the Cast.

mum   mrmumsinglepanel2  Mr. Mum Elephant Picture

Newgarden: But she’s a character I really like a lot. There used to be this strip called The Strange World of Mr. Mum (above, by Irving Phillips).  It was a gag panel where there was no dialogue and this guy would observe weird gag cartoon situations. The little Nun has got a lot to do with that. She’s just there and her only reaction, ever, to anything, is praying. My grandmother’s reaction to anything disastrous would just be silently praying.

Kelly: Like the one where she shoots herself in the head so a flower could grow.

Newgarden: Yeah. That sums up Catholicism for me in a nutshell!

How He Did It – David Lynch’s Angriest Dog in the World Comic Strip Revealed

richard gehr

Writer Richard Gehr reveals the secret behind David Lynch’s Comic Strip. (Photo by Joe Rouse, Society of Illustrators)

At the opening night of Society of Illustrators current Alt Weekly Comics show, cartoonist Mark Newgarden and I descended the stairs to the lower level of the show and stopped to look at a framed page of a newspaper that contained a strip from film director David Lynch’s nearly forgotten entry in the genre, The Angriest Dog in the World.

“Huh, that one,” I said. “I always wondered if he actually had anything to do with the week to week production of that. It was the same thing every time.” “Someone here will know the answer,” Newgarden replied as we finished down the stairs. Turns out he was right. A few minutes later, the writer Richard Gehr (Spin, Rolling Stone, Village Voice, etc.) walked over and explained how the strip was produced.

Gehr: “I used to be an editor at the Los Angeles Reader, from like 1980 to ’84, and at some point David Lynch called up the editor at the time, James Vowell, and said, ‘Hi, I like to do a comic strip for you,’ and James wisely said, ‘OK.’ And David Lynch said, ‘Well, it’s kind of a weird concept.   There’s only like one…part.’ And James said, ‘Well, OK, let’s see how it goes.’ And so the deal was that every week, David Lynch would phone us up and me, or somebody else, but usually me, would take dictation from him. He’d say, ‘Panel one: Blah, blah, blah…Panel two…’ And we would give it to somebody in the production department and they would White Out the panels from the week before and write in a new, quote/unquote…gag.” lynchdog2 The strip, which ran from 1983 to 1992, appeared in just a handful of publications which, besides the Reader, included Atlanta´s Creative Loafing, New York Press and Denver’s Westword. The art for the strip consisted of the same three panel of a chained dog barking, angrily, in a back yard with black air billowing from smoke stacks in the background. The final panel, again, always the same, pictured the same scene, except at night. Dialogue appeared from the window of a house adjacent to the dog. So, the strip, which ran for nearly a decade, had exactly two pieces of original art, which Gehr believes were actually produced by Lynch himself.

“I assume he drew the first iteration,” says Gehr. “I don’t even know if the second and third [panels] were hand drawn. Those could have been mimeographed too or something.“

Lynch has said that he came up with the idea for “The Angriest Dog” around 1973, when he was developing ideas for the movie Eraserhead. “I don’t know why I chose a dog,” Lynch told Spin magazine in 1990. “It has more to do with people and that the idea that anger is so intense…I just drew the tree and the dog. I got the idea that nothing would change pictorially. I like the idea that nothing would change.” lynch strip2 lynch strip1 The strip was weird, kooky, interesting and unique. Was it any good? At the time of its run, some people liked the strip and others hated it. According to a LA Reader survey taken during the strip’s run, 40 percent of its readers regularly read the strip, and 17 percent rated it as their favorite feature. A New York Press survey in the late 80s found that for 20 percent of its readers, the strip was their least favorite part of the paper.

“I always loved the idea of The Angriest Dog in the World though never the strip itself,” says Newgarden. “Learning that Lynch (literally) phoned it in makes me love it just a little bit more now, all these years later.”

So, mystery solved?  Perhaps.  But according to this clip from The Incredibly Strange Film Show program from 1990, in the later years of the strip, Lynch, or one of his assistants, slipped an envelope containing dialogue for the strip–complete with pre-cut word balloons–under the door of the LA Reader’s offices each week.   Reader Editor James Vowell can be seen placing the balloon onto the pre-press strip for completion.  So, who knows?

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You can purchase Richard Gehr’s latest book, I Only Read It for the Cartoons: The New Yorker’s Most Brilliantly Twisted Artists, here.