Archive | February, 2013

THE GREG HYLAND COMIC BOOK INTERVIEW by Brian Blackmon

28 Feb

[The following interview was originally conducted in May 2006, and later published in the February 15th, 2007 issue of Ocean County College’s Viking News]

North American cartoonist Greg Hyland (who hails from the Great White North) has remained a steady and brilliant contributor to the comic book medium for over twenty years. Coming from a background in animation, Mr. Hyland’s most memorable creation continues to be the protagonist of his long running comic book series Lethargic Lad (introduced in 1988). 

Lethargic Lad shall always be an icon of the early 90’s Small Press movement (a complimentary movement to the late 70’s/early 80’s Alternative comics movement dominated by creators like Dave Sim and Bob Burden, who retained the rights to their creations through self-publishing and direct sales to the newly created comic book stores).

While many creators from the Small Press movement have since retired, Greg Hyland retains all of the wit and intelligence that defines his work, and maintains a faithful devotion to his chosen art form. Despite his busy schedule running www.lethargiclad.com (which features the continuing exploits of Lethargic Lad) and doing commissions for such prestigious clients as LEGO, Mr. Hyland took time out to answer a collection of questions intended to illuminate the dynamics of this diverse and creative industry. 

Brian Blackmon:  What made you decide on comic books as your career and what prompted you to choose to self-publish your work?

Greg Hyland: Comics were something I’ve always wanted to do. I grew up reading Peanuts [by Charles Schulz] and Dennis the Menace [by Hank Ketcham], and doing newspaper comics was originally what I wanted to do. Later, I discovered the likes of Mad, Cracked, and Crazy magazine in the late 70’s and was really taken with the idea of parody. In grade 6, I started reading superhero comic books, and then that was what I wanted to do! I went to college for animation, but I still wanted to do comic books, but being in the animation environment took me back to more cartoony stuff, and with all my influences, that’s how Lethargic Lad came about.

I got into self-publishing because it was quite obvious nobody would want to publish the sort of stuff I did. Big companies like Marvel or DC had no interest in humor, and places like Archie didn’t want to do anything that wasn’t “safe.” 

Blackmon: How would you describe the current state of the comic book industry, and what direction do you feel it is heading in?

Hyland: The comic industry is always in bad shape. I guess it isn’t as bad as it was a few years ago, but I don’t know. The few “mainstream comics” friends I have don’t seem as worried about keeping their jobs as they were a few years ago, so I guess it can’t be too bad. The bad thing is that great independent comics seem to have disappeared, and things seem to have gone back to the way they were in the early 80’s…all the best selling books are Marvel or DC, and Image and Dark Horse have very little presence anymore.

The “creator owned revolution” seems to have failed. There doesn’t seem to be anything great coming from the self-publishing, or the smaller companies. The great creators of the 90’s have all disappeared and fled to work that pays, like movies or TV…and I can’t blame them.

Blackmon: What do you feel is the greatest challenge to overcome for someone trying to enter the comic book field? 

Hyland: For someone to actually look at their work and judge if it really is good enough. Too many people “fall in love with their work.” Whether you want to work for Marvel or DC, or you want to self publish, your stuff has to be of professional quality. Too many people are convinced that “they have it” and they often don’t.

There is too much trash that gets published, and it’s no wonder it doesn’t sell. I hate to say it, when you go to a con, and look at the people in artist alley who sell 5 books at the entire show, and act all disappointed, it’s no wonder! I get shown all sorts of horrible artwork in portfolios at cons. I try not to crush people, especially young people, but most of these people are terrible and will never make it. And as far as self-publishing goes, I always say, “just because you can print a book, doesn’t mean you should print a book.”

Oh well, I suppose people could say the same about me…

Blackmon: How were you able to get your start?

Hyland: I barged my way in by self-publishing my own book. The good thing was that it got a lot of attention from people in the industry, and that really helped. Not enough for any big company to hire me, but enough for them to want to take me to dinners!

Blackmon: What are some of the best ways to promote your work?

Hyland: Go to cons (especially if the table is free) and promote your work. And don’t pay for the expensive table, because I believe that people going to a con want to see everything there, and they’ll make it to your table eventually. I’ve seen too many people pay for “good real estate” at a con, and make no money because they didn’t even cover their table cost.

Don’t pay for ads in the Diamond catalog or in Wizard, because that can cost as much as printing your book. Again, I’ve seen way too many people pay for an ad, then they don’t get good orders, and they don’t have any money left to print the book. At least if you didn’t buy the ad, your orders would probably be the same, and you could at least print your crappy book!

Blackmon: How do you view the current popularity of manga in North America, is it harmful or positive to the North American comic book market?

Hyland: It can’t hurt. However, there’s not much crossover, in my view. Manga people, just like North American comics people, can be very narrow-minded. I have a 15-year-old cousin who is really into manga… and he’s never been to a comic book store… he can go to big chain book stores like Chapters or Indigo and buy the manga stuff. So he’s never exposed to any other comics.

I bought him the first Hellboy [by Mike Mignola] trade (because I love that stuff!), and he liked it, but never felt inclined to buy any more, even when I took him to comic stores, because he’d rather have manga books. And a lot of that manga stuff looks like crap to me, and they eat it up, because they’re so narrow-minded! Now, like I said, mainstream comics fans and even a lot of independent comics fans are equally as narrow-minded!

Blackmon: What are some of the legalities connected with your field, including the necessary steps to protect your work, and the cost? What advice would you give concerning licensing?

Hyland: As soon as you professionally publish a comic book, it’s copyrighted, because the printing company has all the official receipts and payment documents that can officially back up the dates of your work.

If licensing is going to give you some money, then I say “why not?” I mean, there are things that I would never want Lethargic Lad put on, and I’d really only want to license products that I myself would want to own (like toys!), but for the most part, the only thing I’ve ever had licensed was t-shirts, and it was good! For the most part, nobody has ever come up to me to license Lethargic Lad. Sigh…

Blackmon: How much time and effort do you invest into various aspects of your work?

Hyland: It seems like I’m busy all the time, but sometimes I don’t know exactly what I’ve done in a day! I work on my stuff, in one way or another, everyday, and it’s been that way for easily 15 years. If it’s not Lethargic Lad, then it’s some other paying gig, like LEGO art or stuff for Steve Jackson Games.

Blackmon: What do you feel is the most important benefit of self-publishing your work, and being a part of the comic book industry in general?

Hyland: At least I’ve got a product that I’m proud of and it’s out there. Otherwise, at the moment, I feel really out of the comics industry. Because I’m getting enough work from places outside of the industry, I don’t have to try and hustle in the comics industry as much. The only comics I do now is Lethargic Lad, which is cool. Whereas before, I was trying to crack into other companies, I was asked to do sample pages for DC, Cartoon Network, Simpsons, and Archie, which all took up time, and lead to nothing! Now I don’t care about that stuff, and I can just focus on my own stuff.

Blackmon: Do you think that it is better to serialize your stories in the traditional comic book format, or make your work available directly in the graphic novel format?

Hyland: The Problem is that graphic novels are expensive to print, so it’s hard to get into right away. It’s cheaper to print a 24-page comic book to get started. However, I always hear how people want to read big graphic novels and stuff.

I agree with that to an extent, but I still really love the comic book as a form. I like short stories or chapters, and “to be continued;” and having to wait for the next issue. That’s part of the charm of comics for me. 

 

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AN ANIMATION REBEL: CARTOONIST JOE MURRAY SHARES HIS TIME AND THOUGHTS by Brian Blackmon

26 Feb

[The following interview was originally published in the March 31st, 2010 issue of Monmouth University’s The Outlook].

One of the major visionaries to dominate the MTV/Nickelodeon animation rebellion of the early 90’s, Joe Murray has been able to populate both airwaves and imaginations with some of the most bizarre and hilarious characters ever dreamed of in his hit television shows Rocko’s Modern Life and Camp Lazlo.

This past February, Mr. Murray took time out from running his own animation studio to reflect on his career and inspirations.

Brian Blackmon: What are your sources of inspiration? Who are the artists that you would define as your heroes?

Joe Murray: All of the French Impressionists are my heroes because they stuck to their guns with a new style that everyone rejected. In animation, I would say Chuck Jones, Bruno Bozetto, Richard Condie, and as far as independents, I’m in awe of what Bill Plympton and Don Herzfeldt have been able to do.

Blackmon: How were you able to take that step from dreaming about a career in animation to making it into a reality? How did you get your start?

Murray: I started out doing independent films, more as a hobby. My main business was illustration. Linda Simensky from Nickelodeon saw my work and asked me if I would do a series for television. I initially said no, but came around when they assured me I could make it cool. That was my start in television animation.

Blackmon: Your work on Rocko’s Modern Life in the 1990’s helped create (along with John Kricfalusi’s Ren & Stimpy Show; Jim Jinkins’ Doug; and Klasky-Csupo’s Rugrats) the whole concept of the Nicktoon for Nickelodeon. What was the creative climate like at Nickelodeon during this period?

Murray: It was crazy, wild west stuff. We were making up the rules as we went along. Nickelodeon wanted to be different, and so did we. I finally had to close off the floor where we did Rocko to keep the executives out because they were “mucking with the magic”. We had a fun time.

Blackmon: One of the biggest hurtles for many artists to overcome is rejection. How have you dealt with this issue in your career, and how would you suggest that beginning artists should address it in their own artistic endeavors?

Murray: Rejection is part of the learning process. ( and artists who never get rejected, in my opinion, never grow.) I initially was trying to get a comic strip syndicated. I had a whole file drawer full of rejection letters from pitching about 6 different comic strips. But each one got better over time, and I firmly believe that it gave me the know how to create characters that work by the time Nickelodeon asked me to do a series. You always look back as rejections as stepping stones. The only failure is to quit trying.

Blackmon: After creating the hilarious and memorable worlds of Rocko’s Modern Life and Camp Lazlo, what projects are currently on the horizon for you?

Murray: I have an independent film I’m working on, a new series that I’m developing for a web model distribution, and a new book coming out on my experience with my two shows through Random House. It’s due out this summer!

WISDOM OF A COMEDIAN: AN INTERVIEW WITH MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 ALUM MARY JO PEHL by Brian Blackmon

26 Feb

[The following interview was originally published in the February 3rd, 2010 issue of Monmouth University’s The Outlook]

One of the funniest and most creative shows to come out of the cable induced television renaissance of the 1980’s and 1990’s, Mystery Science Theater 3000 allowed viewers access to the brilliance of its cast of writers/performers as they executed what have become the definitive roasts of some of the greatest and most infamous b-movies of all time; including everything from Pia Zadora’s first film role Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, to my personal favorite Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders.  

This past December, MST3k alum Mary Jo Pehl took the time to answer some of my questions concerning her creative and diverse career. Like the late Gilda Radner on the original Saturday Night Live, and Catherine O’Hara on SCTV, Ms. Pehl’s tremendous skill and individual personality repeatedly stood out during her involvement on MST3k; clearly marking her as an identifiable talent.

Brian Blackmon: You are both a talented writer and performer, and were one of the important creative forces behind the hilarious Mystery Science Theater 3000. How did you get your start in the field of comedy and who are some of the individuals whose work inspired you early in your career?

Mary Jo Pehl: I was trying to go the corporate route and I worked at various ad agencies and media companies in non-creative roles, hoping to get onto the creative side.  At one job, an entry-level position at K-Tel International, one of my colleagues was into comedy and going to open mics. He dragged me to one. I memorized 3 minutes of material, and forgot almost half of it in my panic, but something clicked. I started doing open stages regularly and began getting work immediately. This was in the comedy boom of the late 80s-early 90s, and every bar, every church basement, every utility closet put a mic in the corner and an overhead light and called itself a comedy club. They needed comedians and I was lucky to be able to work my chops in the trenches. 

When I was just starting out, I was greatly influenced by my friends and colleagues in theater and standup comedy in the Twin Cities. They were, and continue to be, hilarious, daring, and creative.  At the time I had no idea one could make a living being creative – onstage, writing, various creative projects – beyond a corporate structure. I feel blessed and humbled that I fell in with a bunch of people who opened up my little pea brain.

I was, and continue to be, influenced by Carol Burnett, Phyllis Diller, Lily Tomlin, Ruth Buzzi, Gracie Allen, Janeane Garofolo, Laurie Metcalfe, Joanne Worley, Monty Python, Gary Larson, Madeleine Kahn, Steve Martin… and I could go on and on!

Blackmon: What do you feel was the biggest lesson that you learned from your experience working with the other writers/performers on MST3K?  What was it like collaborating in a group environment, in which there is probably a lot of give and take; and how did it influence your concept of writing and creativity?

Pehl: Some of the biggest lessons I learned were how to think more analytically and critically; how to pitch jokes; and how to defend lines and/or sketches.  I learned better how not to take things personally – and this continues to be an ongoing education!

Ultimately, I learned how to collaborate: how to lead, how to follow, and how to pitch in. I learned what my strengths and weaknesses were, and how to play to my strengths and work on my weaknesses.

I was also inspired by some might fine and funny, brainy, creative folks.  I think collaboration can be a tricky thing.  I was in a great environment at MST3K,  and now again in Cinematic Titanic. But I also do many creative projects independently.  It’s difficult to find writing and/or creative partners with whom one has an effective creative synthesis; so many of the great writing partnerships can be fractious. It’s always going to be a push-pull, yin-yang dynamic – that can also be a great thing.  But I know lots of folks who have great collaborations, and right now I’m exploring other collaborations myself.  I’m learning that it’s actually an opportunity to work in a field or genre that I might not be very familiar with.  For example, I’m working on a couple of projects with Blue Water Comics. 

Blackmon: I know that there are many students who hope to one day see their work published and/or performed. What do you feel is the best way to start that journey toward making one’s dream a reality? What advice would you like to share on dealing with the ups and downs of getting a start?

Pehl: Forgive me, but here’s an “in the old days” story. When I was first starting out, I’d have to send my work snail-mail to newspapers, magazines, wherever I was hoping to be published. You’d enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope so they could reject you more conveniently and you got to finance your rejection to boot.  You were at the mercy of other forums, other venues to be published – all opportunities controlled by others.  And it was a pretty limited variety: magazines or newspapers.

Then ‘zines came along; published and run by people from their homes about whatever they wanted to write about.  And then there was the so-called internet, where people can blog and have their own websites.  And make their own short films. And podcasts. And any permutation thereof!

The point is, the environment is completely different.  You have many opportunities to create your own thing. You can blog, twitter, Facebook, make your own recordings, podcasts, videos, etc. without a lot of special equipment, and the list goes on.

If you want to be published in print media or posted on specific sites, I suggest getting your feet wet by volunteering content. Write a column or story for a local paper, or for a blog you like. Know the forum for which you’re writing and what they’re looking for. There are so many places looking for content. Then you’ll get a feel for the process, and you’ll learn how to work with an editor. But do not work for free forever. If you feel like it’s an excellent learning experience that will give you a new skill set, great, but watch out: it seems writers and actors are expected to work simply because they love what they do, and the marketplace is glutted with writers and actors.  Don’t. I have worked really really hard to get some footing in my career, and I continue to work really hard to be good at what I do.  If I’m not going to get paid for something, I’ll stay home and watch TV and not get paid for that.

Try to make the editor’s or person in charge job easier – follow their instructions.  If they want a story via email, send it email.  If they only want one or two of your best photographs, do that. 

Be awed and intimidated by people whose work you admire, and then be inspired, and then always do your best, and with heart and zeal. Dare to fail.

Blackmon: What would you suggest is the best way for someone to handle rejection in relation to their art? What is an example of your own experience with this type of adversity and the way that you were able to persevere?

Pehl: Don’t take it personally! Forget about it and move on!  There are times when an editor or project curator might have valuable criticism or insight, but more often than not, they are just incredibly busy people who are just moving things off their desk (or computer), so they might not have considered the piece very much. So just move on.  Learn from your experience if you’re able; but try to distinquish input from people who get what you’re trying to do and support you, and the multitudes of voices who are trying to shut you down with various ill-considered or silly input. 

For instance, many years ago I was commissioned to write a one-act play.  So I did. It was about three sisters who were trying to come to terms with the death of the child of one of the women.  The play had a reading at a regional playwrighting organization, and anyone was welcome to attend.  In the feedback session that followed, one fellow stood up and said that he wished there had been a dog in the play.  This was completely irrelevant to anything in the play, and that’s the sort of thing that when you’re first starting you starting thinking, ohmygod, why didn’t I have a dog in the play?!  Then, if you’re lucky, you start realizing some people don’t get it. And that’s fine.  Because other people will get it!

So, as you can imagine, my experience with rejection is myriad. Two instances come to mind: I submitted some work to some publication or perhaps a book anthology. The editor rejected my work but then asked if any of my former MST3K colleagues might be interested.  As if I were supposed to coordinate it. Terribly insulting.  It’s one thing if you’re not keen on my work, but please don’t ask me to be your secretary to people who’s work you prefer.  I once submitted some stories to a book anthology and the editor remarked only on my brightly colored envelope and nice handwriting. Argh!  So don’t waste your time, move on, keep working and love what you do.  

Blackmon: What was the inspiration for your performance of Dr. Pearl Forrester? She is certainly a memorable villainess who often stole the show.  

Pehl: She’s kind of a hyperbolic combination of my very funny, very wonderful Mom and a beloved aunt, also funny and acerbic.

Blackmon: Out of all of the B-movies that you parodied over the years on MST3K, do you have any favorites?

Pehl: Lately I’ve been enjoying The Alien Factor which we’re working on for Cinematic Titanic and will be release in early 2010. My favorites from the MST3K years are always changing as I become reacquainted with some things we did, like

The Brain That Wouldn’t Die; Human Duplicators; and San Francisco International Airport. 

Blackmon: What was the reason for concluding Mystery Science Theater 3000? I know that it still has a strong following? Is it similar to Jackie Gleason’s desire to cancel The Honeymooners while they were still on top?

Pehl: It was not our decision to discontinue the show, so no, it was not like The Honeymooners. New programming management came aboard at the Sci-Fi Channel and retooled their line-up, which did not include MST3K.  Not uncommon in television and we’d had a great ten year run, which IS uncommon in television.

Blackmon: With your current work alongside other MST3K alumni on the Cinematic Titanic DVDs and stage show, do you ever feel that the Satellite of Love could one day take orbit again, possibly in a second feature film?    

Pehl: Who knows?

A VISUAL COSMOS: AN INTERVIEW WITH AMERICAN ARTIST EVERETT PECK by Brian Blackmon

26 Feb

[The following interview was originally published in the December 9th, 2009 issue of Monmouth University’s The Outlook]

From critically acclaimed animated programs such as Duckman and Squirrel Boy, to the pages of magazines like Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly, the art of Everett Peck continues to cross media barriers in shaping our nation’s visual language. It is an honor to present the following interview with such an amazing force within the art world. He is
truly one of the most original and influential artists in America today.

Brian Blackmon: Your work has had a big impact on many artists over the years. I feel that you have one of the most recognizable styles out there. Who are some of the individuals that inspired you in your career? What artists make you just look at their work and say “wow”?

Everett Peck: That’s nice of you to say.  I had tons of influences over the years.  When I was a kid, like most kids I guess, I really liked Walt Disney.  I either wanted to work for him or Mad Magazine. Of course Mad magazine was a showcase of great artists with very personalized styles and approaches.  Two of my favorite artists whose work appeared in Mad where Jack Davis and Basil Wolverton. Wolverton’s stuff was especially wild and crazy.  I loved it!

Growing up in Southern California I also really dug “car art” from guys like Big Daddy Roth. That whole scene had its epicenter just north of me in sort of a triangle from Burbank down to Downey and over to Long Beach. When I was older I had a motorcycle that I really wanted pin stripped by Von Dutch but I never did, I had a local guy do it. It was OK, but it wasn’t Von Dutch.

In high school I got really interested in Illustration as a career.  I also got into pen and ink drawing and started looking at 19th pen and ink drawers. I was especially impressed with John Tenniel and Heinrich Kley. I also really liked modern pen drawers like Ronald Searle and Alan Cober.  I enrolled in college as an Illustration major with a minor in Art History. I had a great teacher named Dick Oden who really stressed the idea of illustration as a form of individual expression, which was fine with me. While in college I also started looking at a lot of Push Pin Studio stuff as well as artists like Hienz Edlemann, Daumier, and George Grosz. Grosz is especially appealing because of his social commentary mixed with a strange, disturbing surreal aspect.  Plus the drawing surface is full of energy.

Artists whose work makes me say WOW?  Caravaggio, Jeff Koons, Philip Guston.

Blackmon: You have had a career that remains extensive and diverse, spanning a number of different mediums such as comic books, animation, and magazine illustration. How did you get your start? I know that you did designs for The Real Ghostbusters.   

Peck: I started my career as an illustrator. I actually started working while I was still in school and then transitioned to full time freelance.  I started out doing small regional assignments then worked up to larger national/International ones. Over the years I worked for almost all the major magazines and on various advertising assignments.  I got work mostly by just making the rounds and showing my portfolio whenever I could. I also dabbled in gag cartooning, T-shirts, greeting cards, and a little bit of animation. In the eighties I started seriously pursuing painting.

Throughout most of my illustration career I was involved in teaching at the college level.  In 1984 I took over the Illustration program at Otis Art institute in LA (at that time Otis/Parsons).  I had a lot of great students over the years including Mark Ryden and Andrew Brandou.  In 1986 we hosted what Art Guru Brad Benedict calls the first “Lowbrow Art” exhibit ever.  Robert Williams parked his hot rod right in the middle of the gallery.  I don’t think they ever did get the oil stain off the floor.

We had so many people lined up around the block to get into the opening that the Fire Marshal finally shut the place down. Man, that was a fun night!  But I digress, what were we talking about? Oh yeah, getting started in Illustration.  I think the same thing that was true then is still true; it’s all about networking and personal connections. Web sites and Internet promotions are fine, but I think it’s really about being part of the community. Also I feel the need for an artist to be diversified and entrepreneurial today is even greater.

There really wasn’t much happening at that time with animation.  In my opinion there were two events that kicked off the modern era of animation.  One was the appearance of the Simpsons and the other was the animated feature “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”. So by the late 80’s/early 90’s animation had a new lease on life.  I had always been interested in animation and had done a little animation design but now the opportunities where wide open.  I did a few projects for Sesame Street with an animation studio named Klasky Csupo. I became friends with Gabor Csupo and pitched Duckman as an animated series. He liked it and one year later we had a series on air.

It was a few years later that I helped start the animation division at Sony studios where I worked on several projects including Jumanji, Ghostbusters, and Dragon Tails.

Blackmon: What would you suggest is the best way for someone to enter the art field and get their start?

Peck: Like I mentioned, I think the best way to get started as a professional artist is by making connections. Probably the best way to do that is through education. Generally your first contacts come through your time in college.   Another possibility is to work your way in through an established business, but that’s more difficult. The applied arts are a complicated activity that requires a lot of imagination and technical skill.  That takes time and a lot of specific instruction combined with trial and error to develop. And like I mentioned before, this new era of applied art require artists to be very creative and entrepreneurial in their approach to the profession and the development and promotion of their careers.

Blackmon: How should a beginning artist handle rejection? What has been some of your experiences, and how were you able to overcome them?

Peck: Being an Illustrator is like any other artist, you are always subject to rejection on one level or another. You just have to throw it off and keep going. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect you, it does.  A friend of mine told me a story about when he was starting out.  He was making the rounds to several art directors in New York City.  He was returning from a particularly harsh criticism of his work and in a fit of despair he tossed his whole portfolio in a trashcan!  He went back to his apartment and started over.  He went on to be quite successful. The point is you’ve got to believe in yourself and keep going even when you get a sucky response to your work. When I was teaching I always told my students the most important thing to develop is a personal point of view, a way of looking at the world that is a true expression of your inner feelings and attitude. Everything else, technique, marketing, etc. follows that.

Blackmon: You introduced Duckman in the pages of the comic book Dark Horse Presents during the alternative press revolution of the 1980’s. Your television adaptation of the character was also part of the prime-time animation renaissance of the early 90’s. When you look at the comic book and animation industries today, do you still sense any of the same openness to creativity and experimentation, or do you feel that there has been a significant change in the attitude and goals which are currently driving contemporary works?

Peck: Good question. I do feel animation is pretty much in a rut, especially primetime animation.  By far the most supportive network for animation in the U.S. has been Fox.  The other networks (with a few exceptions) can’t seem to get anything going with primetime animation. Fox has of course, had several huge successes and they seem interested in creating new primetime animation. Of course committing to a new animated series is a huge investment but even the Simpsons can’t go on forever (personally I’ve made a promise to myself not to watch any new Simpson episodes after 2050).  So what seems to be happening is that rather than creating truly new shows with different looks and fresh characters, Fox just keep going back to the same formulas. So you get basically the same look, feel, and character types reprocessed into a new show. Not that they aren’t good shows, but it would be great to see something really fresh. The last really different thing in primetime was South Park, and that’s been quite a while ago.

So to answer your question I think primetime animation has reached a sort of plateau.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very high quality plateau, but I think we’re due for something really different to come on the scene and shake things up.  And there will be something. That’s the cool thing about primetime animation today; it’s become part of our viewing culture.  Prior to the early 90’s primetime animation was VERY rare and always short-lived.  In the 60’s there were the Flintstones and then the Jetsons, both with very short runs in primetime.  Then primetime animation disappears (I’m not counting some wonderful primetime animated specials like the “Peanuts” specials, the Christmas shows, and the “Bugs Bunny Show” I’m talking series) until the early 70’s with the appearance of the somewhat brilliant “Wait Till Your Father Gets Home.” Then once again primetime animated series basically go away until the premier of the Simpsons in 1989. So we are lucky to be living in age of perennial primetime animation, oh joy!

I haven’t been following comics too much lately so I can’t really comment on them. I am aware of a general decline in the number of new humorous comics in recent years. I think it would be difficult to launch a new humorous title today compared to the early 90’s.  Also comic book publishers are very concerned about the economy and the general decline of the bookstore outlet system.  There is a lot of uncertainty about the future regarding all print media.  In my opinion there has been an esthetic shift as well, more away from humor, at least in print, and more toward a darker more pessimistic attitude. That is perfect for the Graphic Novel format with its large panels and very visual format.  Humorous comics generally require smaller multi panels and much more dialogue to set up and deliver the joke. But there is always an exception, that’s what keeps it interesting!

Blackmon: Duckman, like the early episodes of The Simpsons, had a lot of heart behind it, definitely being more than a series of mindless jokes.  I think that is what makes the work of someone like Blake Edwards so special and timeless. It can be silly, but it has a sense of humanity in it. How were you able to successfully maintain that balance in the show?

Peck: Yeah, that was something I really tried to stress in the comic. Sure Duckman was an a**, but I always tried to give him a realistic emotional base. That was very important to me because, like you say, without that you have very predictable characters that are just comic foils. When we began the series I worked closely with the head writers, Jeff Reno and Ron Osborn to keep that attitude intact.

Blackmon: One of Frank Zappa’s last works was composing the theme song to Duckman. Did you ever have a chance to meet him?  

Peck: Yes, I was fortunate to meet with Frank a few times.  He was a great guy and was very tight with his family. Of course his son Dweezil did Ajax’s voice.

Blackmon: Will Duckman and Cornfed ever return?

Peck: Unfortunately, I don’t see it in the near future.

ALTERNATIVE MOTION: AN INTERVIEW WITH VETERAN EXPERIMENTAL ARTIST HEATHER MCADAMS by Brian Blackmon

26 Feb

[The following interview was originally published in the September 19th, 2007 issue of Monmouth University’s The Outlook. It was subsequently reprinted in the fall 2011 issue of The Monmouth Review]

Drawing upon a lifelong passion for filmmaking, illustration, music, and the endless array of artistic possibilities that construct the world around us, Virginia-born Chicago-based artist Heather McAdams has sought to convey her own unique perspective through utilizing a complete vocabulary of communicative media.

            While it is beyond the scope of this article to hope to even begin to address her vast body of work, it is of particular interest to note that her brilliant, heavily autobiographical comic strips remain an important staple of the alternative press scene, appearing in such publications as The Chicago Reader (a relationship which began in 1978), and alongside the work of cartoonists like Matt Groening (Life in Hell, The Simpsons), Bill Griffith (Zippy), and Shannon Wheeler (Too Much Coffee Man) in Funny Times. A sampling of this work composed the excellent book collection Cartoon Girl, published by Longstreet Press in 1994, and served as a basis for an assortment of short 16mm animated films (created in collaboration her husband, musician Chris Ligon, who shares her desire to create revolutionary art forms).

            Experimental, and ceaselessly hilarious, Heather McAdams’ animated shorts (staring her comic strip alter-ego Hester McMarkup) continue to run on the film festival circuit, and were also a highpoint in MTV’s animation heyday during the 1990’s (running on that network during commercial breaks beginning in ‘95, and as part of MTV’s animation showcase Cartoon Sushi in ‘97). 

           Documentary and independent filmmaker, cartoonist, painter, animator, musician, performance artist, —Ms. McAdams continues to transcend classification in a career that has spanned over thirty years. It is a distinct pleasure to be able to present this interview (which was conducted in August 2007), as it allows an opportunity to showcase such a rare and genuine talent.

Brian Blackmon: How did you get your start in comics and animation? 

Heather McAdams: I lived in D.C. for a summer between undergrad (painting and printmaking at VCU in Richmond, V.A.) and grad school (at the Chicago Art Institute for filmmaking) in 1978, and there was a guy there who ran my drawings in an alternative newspaper there in Washington. When he found out that I was moving to Chicago to go to film school, he told me I should submit my drawings to The Chicago Reader, which I did. And it was like a miracle ‘cause I really wasn’t a “cartoonist,” but they started running my work on a regular basis and even paying me for it. That’s what really turned me into a cartoonist more than anything and gave me my start. 

Blackmon: How much time usually goes into producing a piece of art?

McAdams:  There is so much difference between producing a drawn strip and making a cell animated 16mm cartoon that it’s not even funny. People in interviews have asked me ‘time’ questions a lot (how long did it take me take me to do that Super 8 scratch film, how long did it take me to do that life-size needlepoint of Gene Rayburn, etc.) and I always find it next to impossible to answer because the time it takes to do art is something that is dependent on so many different things. To tell you the truth, I am not concerned with this aspect of artmaking and consequently I do not keep track of it. One of my favorite things about making art is it allows me to go into this timeless worry free place of total ecstasy where time is basically gone completely and I am totally engulfed in the work and have reached art nirvana. I am finally in heaven. Why do I want to think about time? I don’t think there is time in heaven. If there is, then suddenly it wouldn’t be heaven anymore, because suddenly you would be saying, “Oh sh*t, I gotta go to the post office and it closes in 5 minutes.” I also am praying to God that there aren’t any phones ringing in heaven. I hate talking on the phone!

To me the most challenging part of making good artwork is the idea or the concept of art. With comic strips, you want to have something to say and then figure out the best way to execute your idea. With doing my paintings and pastels, weird drawings, personal self-portraits, fine art, etc.—now these works, as well as my 16mm films and documentaries, are not “written” ahead of time at all. They are conceived and executed at the exact same time. I am creating and conceiving as I am constructing. The time questions baffle me also ‘cuz it depends on how long and labor intensive the film is to execute, how long and complicated the comic is to draw, —how much money you have could impede on the production rate, etc. I am always picking up old drawings and completing them. I have a gigantic needlepoint that is just huge and I stopped when I was 95 percent done. It’s like the guy who quits high school two weeks before he graduates.    

Blackmon: What are some of the biggest inspirations in your life and your work? Who are some of the people that made you want to get out there and communicate your inner impressions to the world through your art?

McAdams: I’m a split personality because I have two main and very different disciplines, the drawings and the filmmaking. So many people influenced my film work and some my flat artwork. My Mom has to be my earliest influence ‘cuz she always told me my art was fabulous from the get go; Dad, ‘cuz he transferred his love of 16mm film to me (we loved to run the projector backwards making Uncle Stan pull potato salad out of his mouth and offer it to the viewer. We thought that was hilarious and thought film was completely magic!); my two sisters, who are both terrific artists; MAD magazine; those early Valentines that you turn over for the punch line. I really thought Kliban’s cartoons were fun.

In late high school I discovered Robert Crumb and all that whole stack of comic books while living at Rehoboth Beach and had my head blown. Later, other cartoonists that inspired me were like Lynda Barry, Aline Kominsky Crumb, Debbie Dreschler, Art Spiegleman, etc. 

I think Joe Coleman’s illustration work is amazing. I’m awed by the paintings of Frida Kahlo. Tex Avery rules! The whole Hairy Who group in Chicago (Jim Nutt, Roger Brown, H.C. Westerman, Ed Paschke) influenced me to move to Chicago.

Certain film teachers like Tom Palazzolo (who is also a killer painter too). I was inspired by the 16mm films of Bruce Connor, George Kuchar, Kenneth Anger, Michael Snow, George Landow, Mary Filippo, Maya Deren, Robert Nelson, etc. I think Martin Arnold’s 16mm films are total genius.

I love old religious paintings, folk art, thrift shop paintings, children’s art, sideshow banners, and I think there are lots of outstanding illustrators out west right now, like now that I need to do my homework on. In addition, I must add that documentaries that can capture real life like Grey Gardens by the Melies Brothers are the best. 

Blackmon: What would you define as the single most challenging aspect in pursuing your career and would you please counter that with what constitutes the most rewarding?

McAdams: No doubt the most challenging part in the past has been trying to do art and make money at the same time. Most rewarding is having control over what I make, not having money dictate what I do with my art (i.e. not having sold my soul to the devil).

Blackmon: I’ve always thought that it’s really awesome when spouses are able to create works of art together (Madman artist Mike Allred and his wife Laura spring to mind). How has being able to collaborate over the years with your husband Chris Ligon influenced your work?

McAdams: Working with Chris is a blast and is a very natural thing to do since he is such a genius when it comes to music and sound and I am really interested in unique soundtracks for my films. Also, he is such a fabulously funny host for the live shows that we do—I prefer to stay behind the projector (drinking several drinks) and just watch Chris on stage. He has had a huge influence on my work. It is impossible to write about because he has turned me onto so many things, opened up my eyes and ears, and continues to do so. His knowledge and creativity (as well as his record collection) are endless.

Blackmon: Cerebus cartoonist Dave Sim, in talking about his place in the comic book industry, once said that “We’re all just temporary custodians,” who pass on the torch to the next generation. What advice would you offer to up-and-coming cartoonists and animators and what do you hope is your lasting influence on such dynamic industries?

McAdams: Wow. I think my advice would be to just fall in love with the process of whatever you are doing. Don’t try to skip over the grunt work to get to the carrot. Lots of people just want the fame and fortune and don’t want to do the work to get to it. They want the product and not the process. It’s like that Buddhist thing, “the path is the destination”. Something like that.

I think what I would like to think the value of my work has been is to be one of those artists who makes art, comics, and films against all odds. Reckless abandon. Like the coat of many colors that Dolly Parton’s mom made for her, I make art with little or no money, lots of love, and a real need to create. I would also like to think I may inspire in my fearlessness and refusal to follow the rulebook, by trying to create a structure all my own. So a bit of ground breaking or pioneering is going on. This helps pave new roads for future artists. That’s what I would like to think I did.

And then other people can go, “Oh, I like that because she didn’t go by the rules and that means I can do it too.” One teacher in Chicago used me as an example as to how not to make films. I like to blast thru new territory, I think that is a worthy goal to help keep things fresh and alive.

Blackmon: It is a common thread that artists often listen to music while they are involved in the creation process. It seems that music is a major part of your life, from your being an avid record collector to the fact that your husband is a musician (even running your own record store with your husband). What are some of your favorite kinds of music to listen to while you draw and how does music inspire your art?

McAdams: I listen to anything and everything while drawing (I am saving opera and Gregorian chants for another life though).  To list anything I listen to would be impossible. I love just about anything on old records, and I never listen to CDs ever. I have only put a CD into a player two or three times in my life! CDs killed the LP industry and I have it in for them for that.

I also loathe anything that threatens the threadbare 16mm film industry—my ability to obtain 16mm film and get it processed; so you will not be seeing a DVD of my latest films on the horizon anytime soon. You will however be seeing a lot more 16mm film and live music shows on the horizon as Chris and I are moving back to Chicago this September.

Music inspires my film work in that I hear music to enjoy, but I also hear it knowing I could combine it with visual images and make something new happen with it. It’s like my ears are always multi-tasking. Even sounds like geese honking overhead or the trash truck crunching up an old couch we threw out are possible soundtrack candidates. I am constantly filming and recording people and things. Sound is so much cheaper to capture than movie film. All you need is a good hand held tape recorder and you can bring that sound to the world on the big screen!  

Blackmon: What are some projects that you are currently working on? Is a new collection of your comic strips on the horizon?

McAdams: Well, we are in the process of moving back to Chicago as I am speaking (this will be my third time), which is my latest project. Chris is always producing CDs no matter what it seems and his song “Crazy Dazy” was used in that show Weeds and he gets lots of orders for that CD over the Internet. I myself am sort of just waiting to get to Chicago where the conditions will be prime for my work. I will be excited to see what my next projects are going to be, but I have been working on this 16mm documentary on my Dad for about seven years now, on and off. Unfortunately, my Father passed away this year and my Mom passed right before him, so I’m trying to recover from that and get back to Chicago—as we moved east to be close to my folks, and now it’s time to return to our favorite city where we belong. So first up is I want to finish the film about my Dad (which was just about done when the belt broke on my Moviola and halted production two long years ago, even though I continued to keep shooting things). I would like to make another book which would include self-portraits and other never seen before drawings and flat art.

Another film in the works is I have been trying to capture this odd little town of Milford, Delaware where we have been for six years on 16mm film too. Do you know that Robert Crumb went to the middle school here? Robert Mitchum also used to hang out in this town. Two of my favorite Roberts! Anyway, that’s about it for me. 

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Sean Young by Brian Blackmon

24 Feb

Sean Young by Brian Blackmon

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Care To Dance, My Sweet?

24 Feb

Care To Dance, My Sweet?