Charles Burns: Caroline Werner Gannett Series

Uploaded by ritetcvideos on 21.03.2012

>> Mary Lynn Broe: Welcome to
the sixth speaker
in the 2011-12 Visionaries in
Motion series.
Our guest this evening,
cartoonist and illustrator
Charles Burns, continues a
vibrant tradition of graphic
novelists, cartoonists and
designers featured in our series
over the last 6 years, among
them Mira Colman, Stefan
Sagmeister and, most recently,
cartoonist Chris Onstad, Nick
Ehrlich, Linda Berry and Alison
Influenced by the parodies of
Mad magazine, Herge's Tintin and
the dark tales of William
Burroughs, Charles Burns rose to
prominence with early work in
Art Spiegelman's Raw magazine,
that was in the mid-eighties.
He's illustrated covers for
Time, the New Yorker, Rolling
Stone and New York Times
Since 2003 he's been official
cover artist for The Believer.
His range of publications, and I
count 15 or 16 books since El
Borbah appeared in Paris in
1985, include Big Baby, Skin
Deep, Black Hole and, most
recently, X'd Out, 2010, the
first volume of a trilogy whose
second book, The Hive, is slated
to appear in October.
Remarkable too are his many
projects, not just his comic
creations, but his many projects
from Iggy Pop album covers to ad
campaigns for Altoids.
In 1992 he designed the set for
Macarthur Award-winning
choreographer Mark Morris who
restaged The Nutcracker at
Brooklyn Academy of Music.
He has any number of solo
exhibitions of his singular,
stark, black and white line
drawings full of both beauty and
His exhibitions have ranged from
the Philadelphia Museum of the
Arts, Adam Baumgold's Gallery in
New York City to a major show in
A quick glance at the many
languages of interviewers and
discussions of his work on
YouTube gives you just a taste
of Burns global reach, beginning
with the publication of El
Borbah in Paris 1985 to his 2008
contribution to the French
animated feature Peur(s) du Noir
to work with Lorenzo Mattotti's
Valvoline Collective in Italy.
Now, after the talk Charles will
take questions.
There're microphones and runners
on either side.
Use the mikes if you can, the
roving mikes, and continue the
conversation with us upstairs at
a reception and book sale and
Pick up a postcard for the
remaining two Visionaries this
season and stay tuned, as I
mentioned last time, on our
website where you can join past
speakers in commenting on what
has inspired you about
Visionaries, Visionaries in
Motion over the past 6 years.
Join me, if you will, in
welcoming Charles Burns on his
own creative visual journey
tonight, Drawn in the Dark, the
Art of Charles Burns.
[ Applause ]
>> Charles Burns: Have to close
this out here.
Thanks for coming on this, this,
this balmy, summery night.
Hold on, I'm getting there.
You're seeing a quick preview
So what I wanted to do is, is
show a lot of slides.
What I get asked all the time
are about influences and, and
where I got my weird ideas.
So hopefully I'll be able to,
to, to show you a little bit of
that tonight.
This seems pretty absurd but one
of the first, one of the first
television shows that I ever saw
was this very, very crude
animation called Clutch Cargo
that came out in the sixties and
it, there was one episode that
scared the hell out of me.
It was something incredibly
benign but one thing that they
did, it was, it was such a cheap
animated show, they, they, they
cut cost by, by not really
animating anything, they just,
they just used a, a stationery
drawing and put these, this very
odd looking real mouth in there
to have the characters talk and
there's something very
disturbing about that.
There were a few occasions where
I had to leave the room when
Clutch Cargo was on.
Our, our household, in our house
we really didn't watch that much
TV to tell the truth.
My parents believed in books
and, and our, we had a house
that was filled with books and I
was, I was, I had an older
sister but I spent a lot of time
by myself and, and a lot of time
entertaining myself and by, by
looking at books and, and, and
in preschool I would pick up
books that were around and, and
examine them.
I would look at things like
this, this is a National
Geographic book and where an
illustration from Nat, National
Geographic book about life in
ancient times and it, it's very
disturbing, I, you know, there
was, there was just imagery, I
didn't know what to think of it,
it was like incredibly violent,
you know, beautiful, beautiful
painting of this, of this, this,
this scene, this, this gory
I don't know, I still don't know
what to make of this, I've never
read the actual book but I sure
spent time examining the, you
know, these, these fish people
that are administering, you, I
don't know, medicine or
something to this guy.
And I think a lot of, a lot of
it had to do with the fact that
I was looking at these, looking
at these images before I knew
how to read and, and I was
really making up my own stories
about the meaning behind these,
these images.
This is, this is an illustration
from a book that I, that I
picked up, you know, from my
father's books by, it's an
illustrator called Boris, I'm
going to pronounce it poorly
but, Artsybashev, I think, and
still, for me, it's like this
incredibly, this, this stunning
He was, he was an illustrator,
did a lot of Time magazine
portraits, but he did these very
oddball, surreal thing, this is,
I think this is for the steel
Again looking at, my Dad had a
book on, on comics or a book
about comics and it included
this image by Daumier and I know
that I had really bad nightmares
about just thinking about
headless corpses and little
child corpses.
It was, it was a very, I mean
such a potent image.
It was potent when it was,
potent for an adult to look at
but for a child I think it was,
I think it really, I really
internalized some of these, some
of these pieces.
And even something like this, my
Dad, my Dad was interested in
art, he had, he had, he had
books about comics, books about
how to, how to make your own
comics, he, he, he liked
sculpture, he was kind of a, he
was kind of a hobbyist but he
was interested in, in a lot of
different things.
So he had books around that were
kind of how, how-to books, how
to illustrate, how to do
watercolors, how to do all sorts
of things and I would, I would
look at those.
This was like some illustrations
about how to do folds in
clothing and in my imagination I
was looking at these things and
realizing these were clothing
that didn't have any people in
them, they're almost like these
ghostly, ghostly creatures that
were, were headless creatures
walking around.
I had a vivid am, vivid
One of the odd things that my,
my father had were these
reprints of Mad comics that
were, that were written
originally by Harvey Kurtzman.
So before, before there was Mad
magazine there was a, a series
of color comics that came out in
the early fifties and they were
parodies, they were short
stories, they were parodies of
popular American culture whether
it'd be movies, books,
television shows but, again, if
you keep in mind that I didn't
know how to read, I, and I, and
I didn't know what the, the
parodies were of, I was just
looking at the pictures and
finding my way into these very,
these very kind of strong black
and white images, very potent
For example, I had no idea who
Wonder Woman was in this parody.
Originally this story was in
color and these guys were
actually wearing skin tight
clothing but in black and white
they looked just like kind of
very menacing, naked guys with,
you know, a sub machine gun
pointed at this voluptuous
Wonder Woman.
So I had no real point of
reference to any of these, these
I mean if you look, this is a
parody of a Sher, Sherlock
Holmes story, the Hounds of the
[Laughter] And, and there's
something very moody and, and
intense about the, just the
atmosphere of the scene for me.
I loved the, the kind of dark
shadows, these, these characters
emerging out of the shadows like
that and I know that this kind
of imagery really was embedded
in the back of my head.
This is a good one.
I mean my favorite part of this
is the, is the lock that gets
broken on the drop seat, this
disgusting, disgusting butt
that's bursting out, I don't
This, I mean these are, these
are for comics for children,
One thing, as I mentioned
before, one thing my father did
was he kind of dabbled in all
kinds of hobbies and, and one
thing, like I said, he was
interested in comics so he
would, he would copy comics
occasionally so, one thing I
remember him working on was this
copy of these three panels which
was a, a parody of Flash Gordon
called Flesh Garden and it
appeared in Mad magazine and I
think what, just looking at his,
I wish I still had the original,
I think he tossed the original,
but he was using pen and ink and
he was working on board and he
had, he had, he could letter
very well but he was pretty much
tracing, doing a tracing of the
drawing and then inking it in
himself but I think just by
looking at his original art work
or seeing this kind of physical
object that, that someone had
made, I had some sense that
comics were made by a person, it
wasn't just something that, that
appeared in a magazine, it was
something that you could do with
your own hands.
So I kind of witnessed, you
know, him using a pen and, and
he had those tools around.
I think that that was a really
profound thing for me to, to, to
experience at that age and also
it just, it, I was also very
aware of the fact that, that he
was, he had this, he was
incredibly talented with his
lettering, it just looked
impossible for a human hand to
do, I was very impressed.
One thing he had and I, I never
really figured it out until
later, he had a scrapbook of, of
old like snippings, he had, of
old comic strips from the
forties and I guess into the
fifties perhaps, and he was
putting together and I remember
looking through and never quite
figuring out why, you know, why
he'd assembled these, these
images or these, these pieces
and it wasn't until later that I
realized that he was kind of
gathering, if you look up at the
upper right hand corner it says
F for female and standing, so he
was, he was using these as kind
of a, as a, as a reference guide
so he could copy them if he was
going to be doing his own comic
because I get, I think he'd read
about that in, in some how-to
comics book that you need this
kind of morgue of images that
you could use as reference.
He noticed that you can even
start to kind of paste in random
comics as well.
And at some point I noticed too
that he was just kind of, you
know, assembling a lot of images
of just very sexy girls too
[laughter] On, and another,
another side of the influences
that I had as a kid, a very
unusual thing for a, American
kid for the time that I grew up,
was to, to be, to read Tintin.
In the, in the late, in the late
fifties and early sixties there
were six books that were
published in, in America and my,
my Dad, once again, bought those
for me and they were really,
they were truly amazing books.
I mean, I still, they, for me,
they still hold up, they're
beaut, great characters and,
and, and the production on them
is really pretty amazing.
So those were the first books
that I had a real sense of it's,
of what my comics, something
that was handed to me and it was
something specifically just for
There were other comics around
my house like, I don't know,
Dennis the Menace and, I don't
know, Donald Duck and things
like that that I shared with my
sister but this really felt like
something that was uniquely
There were six, there were six
books published in the US and on
the inside, these are the end
papers of the, of the Tintin
albums, and what you'd see when
you opened them up was this cast
of characters and, and as a kid
I would be able to look through
and, and see some of the
characters I recognized but what
made me crazy is there were so
many other characters that
looked really intriguing that I
had no idea about and, and just
imagining those stories was, was
really, really just had a, had a
real strong effect on me.
On the back cover you had this
list of, list of the other
albums, the other books that
were available and I would look
at that and, I would look at
that all the time as well.
There'd be, here's a little
close-up, I'd look off into the
horizon and see this, this
crumbling castle off in the, off
in the water there and just,
that would, that would make me
crazy just thinking about what
that story was and the fact that
I couldn't read that story, you
know, was, was, you know, would
just burn in my mind.
And I think that the, I think
that the stories that I imagined
were probably more exciting than
the, than the actual book when I
finally read it.
On the other side there, on the
same back cover, there's, there
were just odd things like this,
I didn't know what that was, it
was like a, a mushroom or
something, but I didn't even
know what a mushroom was.
It was just this very odd
abstract thing off there and so
I'd, you know, I had to wait
many, many years before that
mystery was solved.
So here's, here's, here's one of
my favorite passages of, of
TIntin and keep in mind that you
have, these are books that were
read to me early on but I, you
know, I guess I slowly learned
to read while, while looking at
these but I primarily read them
by looking at them.
Here you, Tintin never looked
really upset, you see sweat
droplets flying off of him so
you know that he's scared,
because you never see him
scared, anyway.
Ha, ha, ha, ha, admit it, you're
scared, come closer to the door,
come closer.
Come a little closer, good.
Now look, there's an intercom.
So of course I don't know what
an intercom is, I've never seen
an intercom in my life, I have
no idea what the concept it.
When I'm looking at it I see
this voice coming out of the
wall and I see that as a, as
like it's a mouth that's kind of
inside this, inside, embedded
into this wall.
So there was something very dark
and mysterious about a lot of
the images that I was looking at
that, that, that I just wasn't
able to interpret that, at that,
that age.
And I was also, I was, I was a
prime candidate for the, I don't
know, there was a monster fad in
the early sixties.
I was just, I was just the right
age for that.
My friends had monster
magazines, I had to figure out
what I could trade to get copies
of those because I didn't have
access to them.
There were also things like ugly
stickers that Topps Bubble Gum
put out and there was, there
was, those made me crazy too,
like, you know, like, you know,
there was, you just, I didn't
have that much disposable income
so I could only afford a few
things so if you look at that,
the sticker, in the middle of
gym, I remember my, one of my
grade school friends realized,
he said, I, I realized you could
really draw when you, when you
copied gym perfectly.
I was also into, there was a
television show called the Outer
Limits and these were some kind
of garish cards that were, that
were taken from the Outer Limits
television show and they, they
featured a lot of very intense
They were, they were, whereas
the twilight zone was more
cerebral, more a mystery, the
Outer Limits was more science
fictiony and outer space
creatures, that sort of thing.
But you've got tha, if you, you
see the jelly creature on the
side there, I remember there was
a sequence where he's out in
some, some swampy, some, some
marshland and he's feeding swamp
grass into a little mouth in his
stomach, that was, that was a
good moment for me.
And as I said, as a, as a kid I
didn't have that much access to
comics, it was pretty much
where, you know, where you live,
we moved around a lot.
So I'm kind of relying on what,
where your parents took you and
what they were, what they were
willing to buy for you.
So early on there were pretty
much the things that were
available were, were mainstream
superhero comics and of course
you kind of had your choice
between Superman and Batman and
of course I opted for Batman
because it was kind of darker
and weirder.
Superman just, it seemed too
easy for Superman.
Just, there's just something
about, I don't know, the lines
and the, and the kind of
spookiness of it that I was very
attracted to.
A little bit later I was, I was,
I got into Spiderman.
This is, this is the early
issues that were, that were done
by an artist called Steve Ditko
who was a really, had this very
idios, idiosyncratic way of
Peter Parker, here's Peter
Parker, the very, very earliest
you see, he's, he's always a
nerd but he was, he had really
bad glasses, he was actually, he
was, nothing muscular about him,
he was very, very skinny and he
was, he was just kind of a
He was a guy that just, you
know, you try, he wanted a
girlfriend but he just was
always, he just couldn't quite
manage it.
He had to take care of his, his
ailing aunt and a, and a lot of
the stories really were a little
bit of a, of a soap opera and I
think at the time I, I, I
convinced myself that I was
buying those, those superhero
comics and the Spiderman comics,
you know, for the fact that it
was like this, this, I don't
know, this story about a crime
fighter in a costume, but I, I
realized, in retrospect, that I
really enjoyed the, the stories
about, you know, his personal
life a lot more, the kind of,
his bad romance, his bad, I
don't know, his, his, his lack
of luck with girls.
And here you see, here's like a
little headdress, so the, on
the, on the left there you see
Steve Ditko's more kind of
primitive and scary=looking
Spiderman and then they brought
in, when he got fed up with the
strip, they hired a new
cartoonist and you can see it's
a lot more sanitized.
The guy on the right actually
knows how to draw a neck
[Laughter] And, and, you know,
all of a sudden Peter Parker is,
is driving a motor cycle, he's
got a girl, he's got girls that
are interested in him.
He's dancing, he's got two girls
that are interested in him so
it's like, you know, suddenly,
you know, he took on a whole new
I guess I like the darker,
nerdier guy, I could relate to
that a little easier.
Just about the time that I
really, really was fed up with,
with mainstream superhero
comics, I was introduced to
underground comics.
I remember walking the halls, I
really think it was in ninth gr,
when I was in ninth grade,
someone said Burns, I just saw
these, these comics and you're
going to love them, they're
called Zap comics and they're
really dirty and sure enough,
you know, I got my hands on them
pretty soon.
So these are, this is a comic
that was, the early issues were,
were entirely done by Robert
Crumb who's still working and
still doing really amazing work
and, and then later he gathered
together other artists to
contribute, including well, a
lot of other, a lot of other
famous underground cartoonists.
His work kind of veered off
shortly after that.
He was kind of, he was the, he
was kind of the, the nice,
sweet, hippie cartoonist and,
and at a certain point he kind
of allowed all of this kind of
darker side to, to emerge so we
have, we have big ass comics,
weird sex fantasies with the
behind in mind, another one,
plunge into the depths of
See if there's anything good on,
why bother.
[Laughter] And also, I guess I
was probably, probably in, in
high school around that time, I,
I discovered some specialty
stores that, that sold old, old
magazines from the, from the
fifties, from the forties and
fifties and so I, I, I bought
these odd crime comics and again
these were for, these were for
kids but they were, some were
pretty gruesome and violent.
There was a whole crusade
against comics in the fifties
and these were the comics that
they were trying to get rid of
and they, they succeeded but I
succeeded in finding them in the
used bin in, in old comic
So I'd pick up the, you know,
very trashy, whore comics and I
was, I also really liked romance
comics, I still do.
I, I like the, they're a little
slice of Americana, they're,
they're, they're stories that
are, that are written by middle
aged white men that are, you
know, talking, you know, and
they're for, they're for
supposedly for teenage girls or
for preteen girls about, about
what they have in store for
[Laughter] And there's, and
there's also kind of a darker
side that emerged too.
There were, there were kind of
these, these kind of, I don't
know, bad girls or, or, or
people that are, that are, you
know, where romance is kind of
going, going astray.
You've got, here's a woman who's
saying and just what must I do
for those.
[Laughter] I don't know, great,
great lover romances are just
kind of sleazy and fun.
So some of my, this is, this is
some of my early work.
I did a, I'm trying to even
remember the title of this
comic, anyway.
Here's, here's an early piece
that was based on some of the
romance comics I was looking at.
Oh no, how will I face another
sleepless night with this
terrible image in my mind.
Why is it that every time I
think about Ron I have a
horrible vision of a burning bed
of flesh, all crispy and
[Laughter] Oh yeah, so this was
a series called Mysteries of the
Flesh and I did, they were, they
were, they were one page pieces
that I was, I was trying to find
outlets for my work after I got
out of school and this was in a,
in a punk fanzine out of Oakland
that was printing these.
Here's another one, I've finally
reached the point where it's
impossible for me to face her.
I was living a lie that was
consuming me from within.
Nothing's wrong, it's just that
something's come up and I won't
be able to see you for a while.
Look, I've, I've got to go, I
left the water running in the
Why do you have to lie to her
Brian, you're going to have to
tell her about it some time.
And other things I was working
on, I was doing some, some
comics or, or illustrations that
were really dealing with, not
really explicit in areas
[assumed spelling] but, but
piecing images together and it's
something that I still do, it's
almost a collaging, a collaging
of images together and, and here
I'm looking at some, some
romance comic covers.
I'm looking at advertising from
the forties and you can tell
from fairly early on I'm, I'm,
I'm interested in disease or the
idea of disease.
This is, this is a comic I did
for Raw magazine, Raw magazine
was mentioned.
It was published by, it was
published in the early eighties
by Art Spiegelman who went on to
do Maus and his wife, Francois
Mouly, who's now an editor of
the New Yorker, or cover editor
or art editor, and they were
putting together this very, this
big oversized comics magazine,
an anthology, and Art Spiegelman
was really probably the first
person, the first person, first
cartoonist, first real
cartoonist that I met.
He was the first person I feel
like really understood what I
was getting after and I remember
showing him this piece very
early on along with a lot of
other work I had and I remember
he was looking at it for a very
long time and I was starting to
get nervous and, and, and at a
certain point I started trying
to explain it, well what I'm
doing here is and he cut me off
very quickly and said no, no,
you never have to explain, and
after I heard that I realized
that he understood what I was
getting at and appreciated it
and I didn't have to explain,
which was great.
Here's an early water, early
watercolor again, you can, you
can imagine this was probably
taken from a romance comic,
slightly darker.
This kind of led into this
character called Dog Boy.
I was, I was, this again, this
was published in Raw magazine
and I was living in Philadelphia
at that time, working as a, as a
waiter in downtime Philadelphia
and I felt, I remember just
this, this idea of being a Dog
Boy came to me, I felt like a
dog boy coming back on the
train, felt cr, you know,
horrible and so here's a story
about, just this short, little
story about this, this guy who
can't afford a, a real heart
transplant so he has to opt for
having a Labrador dog heart put
into him and he obviously takes
on the characteristics, takes on
doggy characteristics.
And at first I really felt like
it was really kind of a one
liner, okay, you kind of get,
you know, it's, he has, he takes
on dog characteristics and, and
that's it.
So here's another little, a
little strip that I did, but
then I went on to do some other
pieces, longer pieces with him.
In this case I kind of placed
him in my, in, in my work
I didn't wash dishes but I was
around dishwashers and I was
around that whole kind of that,
that, that whole, the, the, the
kitchen scene there and so I,
its, it made sense to have dog
boy in there licking the dishes
and, and begging for bones.
Here's another, another early
story I did called A Marriage
Made In Hell and this appeared
in, appeared in Raw magazine as
At the, at, at this, in this
particular story I was really
using the kind of language in a
lot of the, in a lot of the
romance comics that I was
looking at, this kind of
overwrought language.
Our life, our, our, our life
together, sorry, our life
together continued, a monotonous
parody of marriage, seeds of
doubt had been planted in my
Was John's story about his
physical affliction really a
Was he secretly in love with a
Hollywood sweater girl?
All of my efforts to make our
marriage work now seemed
What's this, lipstick on his
collar and I know it isn't mine.
Sniff, sniff.
What's that smell, why, it's,
it's perfume and what's this
funny looking thing?
[Laughter] So here's a, this is
kind of hard to tell, but this
is a cover I did for Raw
magazine and in each issue they
had, again it's a very large
oversized magazine, in each
issue they had kind of special
This issue had a little flexi
disk, a little plastic record
that was a, an edited version of
a, a Ronald Reagan speech that,
I mean he sounded a little crazy
a lot of the time but this was
an amazing edit where he's
talking about cans of poison
meat that have a, attachable
stein handle [assumed spelling]
I don't know.
So anyway this, the, we had to
figure out in this particular
cover there were, we had a die
cut, meaning you're looking at
the black and white cover and
you're seeing the image behind
So on the cover we've got a
vinyl record inside with Ronald
Reagan Speaks for Himself and I
remember being very resistant, I
didn't want to draw Ronald
Reagan in my comic but it would,
you know, it had to be on there
somehow, so I ended up having
Ronald Reagan in a picture frame
holding a gun to a steak and so
during that time, early on I was
also looking anywhere to have
outlets to have my work
published and there weren't
really that many magazines at
that point that were, were
publishing the work that I was
doing or was interested in
There was a magazine, Heavy
Metal, which doesn't seem like
it's very appropriate but it was
a, it's a science fictiony sort
of magazine that, that, that
published a lot of European
comics and they started taking
American artists so I started
serializing this, this character
El Borbah who is a, oh you can
see for yourself, he's kind of
a, an odd, overweight Mexican
wrestler, he's got a little mask
on, smokes and drinks
incessantly and, and kind of
accidentally solves his, the
cases that he's hired for.
He was inspired by, when I was
living in California, I would be
able to go to Mexican stores
that sold Mexican magazines so
I'd pick up these beautiful,
import, I mean for me they're
beautiful, imported, imported,
imported Mexican wrestling
magazines and they, in almost
every one of them had these,
these great masks.
My favorite one, I don't have a
good photograph of it, my
favorite was this guy called the
Executive who, who just wore a
suit and tie and a mask and, and
came on with a little briefcase
into the ring.
So this is, this is my, the
first book, a, a French book
called El Borbah that collected
some of those stories.
Eventually those stories got put
together into, into an American
edition called Hard Boiled
Defective Stories and whenever I
got interviewed it was always
Hard Boiled Detective Stories
and I always winced whene, you
know, so I, I think there's a
few times where I was on, on
camera where I was making a face
when they said detective instead
of defective.
Anyway, this is the book
dump where it says buy my
book or I'll feed you your face.
For the, for the back cover I
created all these little, these,
these oh, they're, they're based
on pulp fiction magazines, pulp
detective stories that came out
in the, in the, I guess in the
So I did, I did a separate cover
for each story.
Throwing defective, crack
defective, spicy defective.
And this is a more recent
collection that Fanagraphic
Books put out, Fantagraphics
Books put out, it's hard to say
and [laughter] I couldn't resist
to, you know, stealing from my,
from my favorite author so I, I
took his, I took Ehrjay's
[assumed spelling] cast of
characters and, or the idea of,
of using that cast of
characters, and used that for my
end papers of the book.
This goes back a little bit
Early on again I was, there was
a period where I, I was looking
for any outlet to get my work
published and there was, I can't
remember what, I think maybe it
was the Village Voice, some,
some weekly periodical, weekly
tabloid paper, they had an
opening for a, a, like a little
panel strip like this so this
was my attempt to, to try to do
a gag strip and I just wasn't
very good at it but this, this
was, I call it mutantis [assumed
spelling] this, this was
published in a small Seattle
paper but on the far right you
see the very first permutation
of a character I came up with
called Big Baby.
Oh you're nothing but a big
I guess that's my idea of a
punch line.
And, this, this was a, this was
the illustration I did for a
French, a French comics magazine
and early on the, the character
was pretty, it was pretty nasty,
kind of a nasty kid, you got,
he's got his, his air rifle that
he gets for Christmas and you
can see his parents in the
But then I realized that I,
that, that, I, I, I, I'd like
the character and I, and I
really, I made him a lot more,
I, I kind of placed him in this
environment that I grew up with,
grew up in in the early sixties
and so he's this much more, I
don't know, much more benign,
benign character.
This is from a story I did
called Curse of the Molemen, it
was a little book that was
published by Raw Books in the
early eighties.
And here's the, you're looking,
this is kind of the, the front,
back and spine of the book and
spread out and we took, if
you're looking at the back it
says meet Tony an average
American kid with everything in
the world to look forward to
except nightfall.
The mom and the dad were islands
of sanity in a world they never
Mr. Pinkster, his obsessive
jealousy did not mix well with
booze and bullets.
Mrs. Pinkster, she wanted love
but all she got was a black eye.
[Laughter] So if you opened up
the book, there, there was a,
the end papers, these were the
end papers and I, I really
loved, I always loved the, the
design of books where, where
someone's really paying
attention to every aspect of the
book as an object and I love end
papers and, and beautifully
designed books so this is my
chance to, to, to do that, this
was, was kind of like looking,
looking at things that would
have been in my drawer or what I
wished was in my drawer when I
was a little kid.
So bubble gum cards, comics,
robots, toys, plastic spiders.
And I did another, I did a later
version of it for another
publisher and of course on the
back cover I once again stole
from Ehrjay, I even lifted, did
a version of the text that was
on the original American
I'll try to read it here but
it's on, it's small type.
It says what you should know
about blood club.
Blood club is the newest
addition in a brilliant series
of picture story books loved by
children and praised by parents
and teachers all over the world.
[Laughter] Each book in the
series tells a complete,
exciting story featuring Big
Baby, a slightly abnormal
American kid whose exploits take
him from his own backyard to the
darkest recesses of his
sweltering brain.
Big Baby's devoted readers
number in the thousands and
include not only children but a
handful of feeble-minded adults.
[Laughter] Here's what, and here
are some of the reasons why.
And I went on and included some
quotes that were taken from the
London Times Literary supplement
and then on the bottom I added
one by Dr. Jerry where he says
pictures within pictures for
children who aren't quite sure
what they're looking at.
And this is, this is another
illustration from a recent
volume of a, that's still
available that, that
Fantagraphics put out and of
course, some of, I don't, I
didn't have all those toys but I
probably, again I wish I did but
we have imageries from, imagery
from the Outer Limits there,
some Japanese monsters in the
background, Japanese toys and
then this little, this little
re-creation of something, a
little character that I created
when I was a kid, the Little
Green Man.
And, and later I was actually
able to design some toys, so
these are some toys that I
created for, for a, a Japanese
comp, Sony Entertainment in
Japan and these, these were
called mon, monster teens and
they're, they're very small.
They maybe that tall and, and I
remember going back and forth
with, with the, with the, the
people who were, I was working
with and I remem, I originally
was saying, well they, you know,
have them all, they'll be like
Goth kids or something like that
because I'd, I'd come up with
the first one, that's got this
girl, this kind of, this green
girl there that looks kind of
Gothy and I remember having
explained to me like the
Japanese people do not
understand the concept of Goth.
I thought that's, that's weird,
why do I see that magazine
called Gothic Lolita, I don't
know, where did that come from
[laughter] anyway.
So later I was showing you some
of the, the pieces that I grew
up with that were, you know,
made by Topps Bubble Gum and,
and later I actually got to do
work for Topps Bubble Gum.
These are some pieces that were
from, I don't think anyone
probably knows about Peewee
Herman anymore but Peewee Herman
was very popular and they, these
were from a Peewee Fun Pack and
they were these really
ridiculous little masks that
would never fit, you know, even
the smallest child but they were
fun to do.
I did iron-on T-shirt designs,
they were fun.
I didn't come up with the
concepts but I was more than
happy to, to do these.
[Laughter] I actually, I
actually had to in order to scan
these I actually, I didn't have,
I didn't have the original
artwork anymore so I actually
had to iron these on a T=shirt
material to scan them so that's
what you're looking at.
When I'm talking about my work I
usually primarily talk about the
work that, I mean the work that
I create all by myself, meaning
my comics, but I've always,
another side of my work is, is
doing illustration.
I've always kind of gone back
and forth supporting myself by
doing illustration and
advertising and I guess the,
the, the, it feels, it all feels
like it's my work, it's all my
work, on the other hand, the
work I do, one, on one side it's
work for hire, it's, it's,
someone's hiring me and, and
wanting me to execute their
ideas primarily or hiring me to,
to, to, for my style.
So this is a, this is a Rolling
Stone illustration about Heavy
Metal so of course, of course I
like robots so, I got to draw a
Little Richard, sweating Elvis.
To see Lou Reed, a young Lou
Reed, I guess his parents gave
him shock therapy because they
thought he was gay or they're
worried about him being gay, so,
going to try to burn that out of
his brain.
This is Iggy Pop.
And I was lucky enough to, mo,
I, I, I did a few album covers,
I haven't done that many.
There's something about, for,
for me anyway, there's something
about an association with the
music and the artwork that
appears on album covers that are
very, very, they're, they're
completely locked together and
I've been offered to do album
covers by musicians that I'm
just not crazy about so I, I
usually turn those down.
I just don't want to, I don't
want to have my work associated
with music that I can't stand.
So there's been some, I, I can't
remember the names of people
that have asked me but I haven't
done that many but, of course, I
grew up loving Iggy Pop and the
Stooges so it was my chance to,
to do an album cover for him.
The only thing, the, the, the
funny story here is that the,
the, it was done by Virgin
Records, I guess, and they were
a little concerned about the
girl smoking the joint on the
cover but then I explained that
well, yeah, there's this song on
there about a girl smoking, a
cute girl smoking a joint, so
that seemed legitimate to me.
But the character in the center
there with the red hair,
originally, I guess, he looked a
little bit too much like Roy
Orbison so [laughter] Roy
Orbison who I have great respect
for but he had just died
recently and I guess he was on,
I guess Virgin Records was, you
know, was putting him out so I
had to doctor him up a little
bit so he did not look so much
like Roy.
It was an odd, it was an odd
thing to get edited on.
And I've done, I've done some
very mainstream, some
surprisingly mainstream things
like Time magazine covers.
Usually that has to do with when
it's a down, a down time in the
news, you've got to, you've got
to have something on the cover
so, anyway, we got covers like
this, or this, something about
the yin.
Here's the New York Times
magazine [laughter] This is,
it's funny, things, there's
something that's so iconic about
this image obviously and I've
seen it, I mean obviously I was
stealing from the original and
I've seen this actually used and
people have stolen this for, I
don't know what they're trying
to sell, used cars or something.
And I, I did a couple, I've done
some illu, I've done a lot of
illustrations for the New
Yorker, I did a few covers.
This was done around the time
that everybody was talking
about, I don't know,
cholesterol, so, bad joke.
And, I don't know, I was always,
I was always, as far as New York
was concerned, my Dad grew up in
New York in the Bronx and was
interested in Reginald Marsh and
people who were showing, I don't
know, Coney Island, scenes like
that kind of, I don't know,
working class scenes, that was
things that I looked at, so I
wanted to do some, something
that kind of related to that,
that feel, that time period,
let's look at Coney Island.
And this actually, believe it or
not, this came close to being a,
a New Yorker cover but this was
actually, it was run in the
magazine, there was a, they
asked a bunch of, of artists to
do their version of the New
Yorker mascot Tilly, so this is
Mutant Tilly.
So here's getting back to some
comics here.
I did, I did a number of comics
that, that kept on going back to
this, this idea of, I don't
know, a plague or a teen plague,
a disease that manifest itself
in teenagers and so I, this is,
this is part of a, this is a
page from, I think it was a 3 or
4 page story where you got this
kid who's got a rash that's
slowly creeping up his chest and
he knows that eventually it's
going to reach his face and he's
going to be outed.
Everyone's going to know that,
that he's got the bug.
And here's another short piece
that I did for Raw magazine.
It's, it's more to do with the,
the, the living dead, I suppose.
Walking down a cool, dark road,
set of teenagers who won't stay
Creepy crawling into the back
door late at night after Mom and
Dad are safe in bed.
They stay a while, maybe watch
TV, make a sandwich, always
leaving something, a stain on
the sofa, a clump of hair, a
decomposed finger and always
that same odor, hard to define,
something wild and rotten, the
smell of shallow graves.
So initially I think I, I,
before I worked on Black Hole I,
I, I had a couple of false
starts, I had the idea that
maybe this story would be about
kids coming back from the dead
or, or living out in the woods,
having this community out in the
woods and, you know, kind of
crawling back and, you know,
coming back to what's
comfortable and normal for them
at night.
And then it, that just seemed,
it seemed to, I don't know, it
seemed more like the er, I
wanted to, I wanted to do a
story that was really much more
character driven, that was much
more about the--
I don't know what
I was going through at that time
in my life and what my friends
were going through or at least
what I felt like I was going
So this is the first page of
Black Hole where you've got
this, this big graphic image.
I mean, most people I knew, at
least in America, not a rite of
passage but something that
almost everyone did was did a
dissection in, in, in science
class, biology class, so I
wanted to start with that.
It was so weird, happened in my
third period, biology class.
We got divided into groups of
two because we were going to, we
were going to be dissecting
I lucked out for once and got
Chris as my lab partner.
Chris Rhodes, she was a total
All the other girls were
squealing and stuff and the guys
were sort of taking over and
putting on the whole tough guy
I guess I was trying to do the
same thing.
I went ahead and pinned the arms
and legs down like you were
supposed to and was just
starting to cut it open when it
As the skin opened up a bunch of
formaldehyde spilled out.
You could see the guts through
the slit I'd made and they
looked all hard and white.
I froze, I can't explain what
happened, it was like a deja vu
trip or something, a
I felt like I was looking into
the future and the future looked
really messed up.
Keith, what's the matter, are
you okay?
For a while there I was just
It was this totally black space,
I'm sorry, totally black place,
it felt kind of spacey but it
felt nice, nice and safe.
And then it was like things
started pushing into the
blackness, voices, blurry
I must have passed out, I was
lying on my back.
He just keeled over Mr.
Fullner --
You should have seen the look on
his face.
And the next thing I know, I'm
looking at all these faces.
Mr. Fulner was saying something,
back up, give him some air.
Keith, what happened, are you
all right?
I didn't say anything, I felt
like a total dipshit.
He must have wimped out looking
at the frog guts.
Yeah, what a pussy.
Everybody was laughing their
fucking heads off, everybody
except Chris, she wasn't even
So when I, when I originally
was, was putting together the
book, I, I'd always conceived of
it as a, as a long story, a full
story, but I, I put it out, I
serialized it in, in comic book
form, kind of a traditional
American comic book format and
one thing I always aware of, I
really, I really wanted, if
you're looking at, these are
some of the covers, I, I, I was
always interested in the, in
the, the graphic effect, having
a very strong graphic effect
with, with, with all the images
and, and I would have the title
on each cover but I didn't put
my name on it, I didn't put the
publisher's name, I didn't put
the price, I really just wanted
the artwork to speak for itself.
So there were 12, there were 12
issues that came out, serialized
to, to tell the complete story.
And here's just, just to show
you a little bit of the way that
I, that I work.
When I'm working I, I use the,
the cheapest school notebooks to
take my notes in, either to draw
I, I always feel a little
intimidated by beautiful sketch
books, I always feel like I've
got to fill them up with
beautiful drawings.
So maybe I'll do one beautiful
drawing and then set it aside.
I always buy like, really cheap
books and I guess most of my
notes end up end up being
written out, but then I'll just
make visual notations.
So these, I was coming up, I was
trying to come up with a cover
for Black Hole and these will
probably be the first, just kind
of first scribbled notes that I
was making.
And I arrived on this idea of
this, of this cover, and I make
a little -- it says, "The cover
with Frankenstein, famous
monsters" so on the right there,
you see what I am referring to,
which is like an old, an old
cover from a monster magazine
that I've remembered.
And when I'm drawing, I, the
first image is the one on the,
on your left here, I started out
very, very roughly, almost
gestural drawings.
There are some drawings that I
do that are, that almost look
I'm really putting the basic
shapes down.
And so I work on layers of
tracing paper, so just build,
building up images that way.
And then I put another piece of
tracing paper on and refine the
drawing that way.
And so here, I actually flip the
drawing over sometime, so you're
seeing a mirror image.
If any of you draw, you can try
that sometime.
You can either look in a mirror
or you can, if you have a
computer, you can look at it as
a scan and flop it over, and you
can really see, your, your brain
becomes very adjusted to looking
at drawing after a few hours,
and it gives you a clear, a
clear view, or, you know, a
clear view of the drawing.
So I do that quite often, I,
I'll flip it over, so I've got
a, a mirror image of it.
So there a, a more tight drawing
on the, on the right there.
And then on the, I'm sorry, on
the left.
And on the right, you see a, the
inked version of it.
And back then, this is before I
was working on the computer, I
had this odd technique of a,
doing a, doing a black and white
transparency of the, of the
black and white artwork, and
then doing the color from
behind, almost like an animation
And then on the right, you, you
see the final cover.
And one thing I was trying to do
when I was, was working on the
book was, was really thinking
about how the book was
constructed visually.
For each of the title pages, I
would have a corresponding image
on the, on the left there.
And for the, when you open up
the book, open up the comic, I
would have end papers that
would, that would fill up the
entire book, there was end
papers in the front, and end
papers in the back; they would
be usually slightly different in
this case.
The only difference was a little
bit of splatter.
And this was, this was an issue
where there was some reference
to a bucket of tadpoles that got
Put it at the end of the story.
This is Rob Fasencandy [assumed
spelling] from my ninth grade
art class.
[laughter] If you look really
carefully, you can see a roach
clip on his, on his lapel there.
[laughter] Keep in mind this is
ninth grade.
[laughter] This is, I'm trying
to remember his name, I forget.
Anyway, he lived down the street
from me and he was a mouth
[laughter] So in, another thing
I did on, in the serialized
version of Black Holes; there's
a page that had a copyright and
indicia information.
I would do this kind of before
and after drawing.
So this is the guy down the
street and he got what he
[laughter] And I was taking
these from, I was taking these
from my high school annuals, and
this is a really, really nice
girl that did not deserve this,
but I couldn't, I couldn't
[laughter] She was really nice.
Good Christian girl.
And this is, yeah, so, something
I worked on for a long time,
there was something I, Black
Hole was serialized and I never
really want to admit how long it
took, but it took a long time.
But I was bouncing back and
forth, doing illustration work,
so I was always kind of starting
and stopping.
And in a lot of ways, I think it
was really helpful to do that.
It gave me time to kind of step
back and, and think about the
story, and, and I think that a
lot of the decisions I made
were, were better because I had
time to reflect.
So more recently, this is, this
is a book that came out in 2010,
it's the first book in a series
of 3.
And if any of you remember that
little mushroom image from
Tintin, you can see that I
haven't, haven't stopped
[laughter] I'm using the exact
same format as the Tintin books,
and if the page count isn't
exactly, isn't quite the same,
but it's pretty close.
But I decided I wanted to do a
color book and it made total
sense to kind of immersed myself
back into, to the world of
So I've got 2 major threads in
the story, one that deals with
this character who is unnamed in
the first story, but we'll call
him Johnny 23, and then we've
got Doug, who's really his real
world counterpart.
It's not really explained, and
I'm probably explaining too much
Here's a little sequence.
Pardon, I, English, do you speak
English, mouth, eat, no thanks.
[ Laughter ]
>> Hey, hey mister, you don't
eat that.
You don't eat that junk.
It will make you sick.
So one thing that I became aware
of while I was working on this
book is I was, I guess I was,
there was something great off
the Internet, but I was looking
up foreign editions of Tintin
and actually finding pirated
These are, this is a cover of a
Chinese, Chinese version of a
Tintin book, "The Shooting
And something about this,
there's something about it that,
that, that really intrigued me.
In a way, it, it kind of, it, it
felt like I was, the same
impression I had when I was a
kid, looking at, before I could
actually read, there was a kind
of mystery there of looking at
the text that you couldn't
actually read.
I, I remember seeing some French
editions of Tintin when I was
really young, and I couldn't
read French and it was
incredibly frustrating, so it
kind of held that same sort of
mystery for me.
Here's a couple of other Chinese
editions that, that are
incredibly bizarre [laughter]
You got to, I mean, Tintin
shouldn't look that happy
holding that gun, it's just a
little [laughter] and, and
Captain Haddock shouldn't look
that angry either.
[laughter] So I actually took
that idea and created some--
woops, sorry-- created some
foreign alphabets and did these
kind of fake magazine covers
with keeping that in mind.
I did some kind of fake Nitnit,
Tintin spelled backwards.
Tintin covers.
[laughter] And I actually went
so far as to actually do a,
well, kind of a cut up version
of my story.
This is, this is Johnny 23,
which was published at same time
as X'd Out and it was, it was
put out by a small French
publisher, and I just asked him
whether he would do a, a cut up
version of my story in, in
purple ink with a, with a fake
So I, I, with, a friend of mine
who knows computers, took my,
took my, I did a typeface, a
foreign typeface, and just, just
re, reassembled, did a new story
with this, with this fake
A cut up, as it were.
Little did I realize I was, it's
a real alphabet that corresponds
to a keyboard; little did I
realize that someone was going
to sit and translate that or
break the code, so somewhere
online you can find the
translation of it.
And it's pretty much gibberish,
but I was still, I was writing
in some William Burroughs'
phrases, I was writing in some,
I don't, some obscure things I
was thinking about.
So it was interesting for me
because I was touch typing and I
didn't realize, I wasn't really
paying attention to what I was
writing, so they corrected some
of my mistakes, but it's out
there somewhere.
I'll be like this forever.
I'll never find a way out.
There's a river flowing under
me, dragging me downstream.
I'm on a raft, I'm drifting
away, swept up in the flood, a
raft loaded up with all my crap,
all the things I can't seem to
let go of yet.
We were happy.
We really were.
At least for a little while.
I try to control it, try to
focus in on the good things,
waking up with Sarah on a clear,
beautiful day, walking with her
through Chinatown, the sky
impossibly bright and blue.
Everything bright and clean and
new, but my eyes always drift.
I always look down.
[ Silence ]
>> There's a, there's something
in my eggs.
What, that?
That's nothing.
Sometimes the eggs get
fertilized by accident, but it's
no big deal.
Hey, it's all protein.
If you don't want it, I'll eat
Come on, get over it.
It's a nice clean place; you've
got nothing to worry about.
And that is that portion.
[ Applause ]
>> So I'll be more than happy
to, anyone want to put on some
lights in here so we can see
No one needs to look at me in
the light here.
There, that's better.
So any questions?
>> Is X'd Out based on any
particular Tinin comic or just
sort of a hodgepodge of them
>> There's like, you know, not
the very first, just little bits
and pieces that find their way
in and it's, it's really just a
kind of the images that I
internalized, so you, I was
showing you that intercom in the
beginning, and if you noticed,
on the last pieces here, you see
an intercom, so that kind of,
those, those things, whether
they're very specific or not,
find their way in.
I think, I mean, I know that
people in the U.S. are, are
reading Tintin now, and there's
the movie that came out, but
over in France and Belgium, it
is, it's like so incredibly
popular that, that every single
reader of, of my book instantly
knew like, what all the most
obscure references were,
so...yeah, I mean, it's not
necessary to understand the
book, but it's something, it's
just a part of who I am, so it's
something that just kind of rose
up to the surface and something
that I wanted to include.
>> I read it when I was a
kid for what it's worth.
>> Charles Burns: Okay.
[Laughter] It's funny
but when I talk to other
cartoonists my age, none of
them really read it.
Like, if there was like, if
there was a limited run of
American books and I guess they
just didn't do very well, like,
I've never come across someone
my age that, that was influenced
by Perjay [phonetic] Like,
people who are younger, you
know, now they're accessible and
they've been around for quite
long, so, it's much, you know,
it's much more prevalent.
Right there.
>> Okay. I thought I remembered
reading in an interview with you
that at one point you had spent
a lot of time in museums, too,
and were looking at a lot of
paintings, and I'm just curious
if you've been focusing on kind
of the comic stuff...
>> Yeah, yeah, that's true.
>> I'm just curious which, which
painters you responded to.
>> Well, I skipped, I skipped
around, I mean, I pretty much
showed you the, the most direct
I think the things that I really
internalized were the things
that I looked at, you know, when
I was 5 and 6 years old or
something like, you know, going
into 7 years old.
I think those are the things
that, that, that bubble up from
inside of me.
But when I went to, when I went
to college, I went to study
finance, I was someone, I was
like the kid that could draw in
school, and I remember going to
college, I remember going to the
University of Washington.
I stayed in Seattle, you know, I
got in there, and I thought, oh
great, I'm in here.
And I had this very naive
attitude that, you know, that
somehow I would study something
and by the time I got out, I'd
be an artist.
I just was clueless.
But at that point, I, I went in
and I studied printmaking,
because that seemed like it was
close to drawing.
I didn't want to paint.
I didn't know anything about
And I quickly found out that I
didn't know anything about
printmaking either [laughter] So
I bounced around; I did
photography, I did sculpture, I
was really lucky enough to kind
of work my way through all those
different things.
And, and there was a point
where, you know, I did some
really bad paintings.
I realized I don't have to do, I
don't have to be a painter.
But I looked at a lot, I looked
at a lot of work, my wife's a
painter, so, you know, we both
shared an appreciation of, of
going to museums, so, and yeah,
I'm not someone that's just
influenced by print comics, but
I guess, if I'm thinking about,
I'm thinking of some of the
Chicago imagist painters,
there's a group called "The
Hairy Who, but I never really
responded to, they weren't, they
weren't doing pop art but they
certainly were doing work that
was influenced by the pop
imagery that I was, that I had
grown up with, and, and I still
liked their work, but, then I
can look at, I can look at, you
know, Italian, Italian
Renaissance painting, I can look
at all kinds of things and
Like I try not to limit myself
to anything, you know.
[ Silence ]
>> I was just wondering what
made you choose black and white
over color for Black Hole?
>> It's a story that, for me, it
could only be in black and
It really, there was so much
about the actual, the actual
feeling of that black and white.
Some of my earlier comics, I
used to use grey tones, I used
to have, there were some tones
that you could, you could cut
out and apply to your paper, and
I would even do crosshatching
and things like that, but my
work slowly moved towards just
being purely black and white,
and in this case it really had
so much to do with the character
of the story, feeling the story.
There's a, it's somehow, just
like sometimes, just like a
texture, or like a real visceral
feeling of what those shapes
are, what those images are, just
the textures, the forest; it
starts to be a real character,
for me anyway, of the story, the
It's created by the lines.
So it's something just about the
lines themselves that have a,
have a real, they're very
And, you know, color just
doesn't seem like it would enter
into the story at all.
It just seems like it would be
When I approached the story that
I'm working on now, I didn't
want to just do a colorized
version of my black and white
I really want to utilize color
as part of the storytelling, so
I've been, I've been very aware
of that, how I can, how I can
use the color to tell the story
and that's been, that's been
really fun, a new thing for me
to do.
I've also, if you look at the
story, there's, a lot of the
work is much more open and
allowing, you know, I'm not
using so much black, I'm letting
the color work that way,
so...there's just a real
difference, a different feeling,
a different atmosphere to the
character of, you know, pure
black and white.
>> I've seen many different
illustrators and artists who
have very similar artistic
styles before.
But I've seen ones who have
many, I mean, many of the
similar ones, but ones that also
have very different and unique
What are some of the most unique
ones that you've seen before?
>> Unique artists?
>> Well, unique artistic styles
for comics.
>> G-d, I don't know, I mean, it
was mentioned before that I
worked with some Italian artists
and when I was, I lived in Rome
for, I lived in Italy for a
couple of years in the early
80s, and what was nice was being
introduced to a group of artists
that had very different
Somebody was talking about
painting, and here, it was nice
to see a group of artists that,
they, most of them did color
work and, and did very painterly
looking work and a lot of their
influences were from painting,
so it was nice to see that, I
mean, most cartoonists I know
grew up with very similar things
that I, you know, same
You know, we all were, you know,
looking at those kinds of comics
that were available to us, so it
was nice; it was nice to see
those kinds of influences.
So, so, yeah, I don't know, just
some of the Italian cartoonists
that, that I was aware of early
It was funny; I was, I was
around those guys for a couple
of years working with them,
doing work, and I remember at
one point, one of their
girlfriends said, "You know, you
have been here for 2 years; you
know, your work should start
changing; you know, why isn't
you work changing, you know,
you're still doing this black
and white stuff."
And I had tried some color
experiments but, yeah, my work
is pretty much, it's, it's going
to be the way it is, yeah.
Yeah, it was not going to be
changing any time soon.
I, I can't, there's some, I
mean, I guess I'm always
attracted to some of the, the
underground cartoonists,
there's, when I say underground,
it's not, I don't know, I guess
less, less commercial
In France, there's a lot of, I
don't know, I don't even know
what the right terms would be,
but there's some, there's some
interesting underground work or
alternative work or
non-commercial work that comes
out, so I like looking at that
Work that's not trying to sell
anything, I suppose.
That's all.
That's not a very good answer,
>> Just from a process
standpoint, you tend to populate
your panels with quite a lot of
I've always wondered, do you
approach it from the shapes to
begin with and then apply the
black as shadow and element or
do you ever work in reverse, you
know, white on black?
>> No, I have, everyone thinks
that would be the logical thing
to do, kind of a scratchboard
technique, to pull the whites
out of the black, but no, I, I,
it's always, it's always from
white to black, so it's very
simple tools; it's just like
making lines and [laughs]
building up those blacks, but
that's, yeah, that's, the way I,
the way I work, I showed a
little of that, but when I'm
constructing, when I'm
constructing the pages and
designing the pages, I'm, I'm
always thinking about how a book
works, and how a book is read,
so you're thinking about 2
facing pages, and I'm always
designing with that in mind, how
you read a book, and how the 2
pages play off of each other.
So it's very clear in Black Hole
that each of the pages, or,
they're always playing off of
each other.
They're mirroring each other or
they're playing off of each
So I would, I design the pages
in very, you know, very rough
thumbnails, very rough sketches,
and then everything really
starts in very rough form and
slowly, slowly materializes.
And that has to do with the
writing as well.
I write everything down in, in
crappy notebooks.
I just, I make an enormous
amount of notes.
And I repeat myself.
Sometimes I'll think I've found
an amazing solution to some
passage that I'm working on, and
I go back in my notebook and
I'll see that I wrote the exact
same lines down 6 months
So it's that kind of struggle;
I'm just, I'm taking all of this
material and slowly, slowly
refining it.
It has to do with my drawing
style, as well as the, as the
writing style.
So, I didn't have examples,
really, but when I'm, when I'm
working, I do very, very
gestural drawings, and I'm just
building shapes, and everything
is built up internally, it's
slowly formed.
So, the drawing, you know, in
pencil at first and then more
refined, more refined, lined,
and the final marks are made
with a brush on paper, so I'm
using a light box so the image,
the final drawing is, is, a
light box, I draw that out and
ink everything out.
So that's how I work.
It's, it's, it takes too long,
unfortunately, but that's the
way my brain works, so I, that's
the technique, the very, this
convoluted technique that I've
come up with.
Anybody else?
There's a person right there.
>> [inaudible question]
>> No, he was, he was always a,
he was always someone who kind
of dabbled in different things.
I guess, I guess the primary
influence was that, those things
were not frowned down upon.
He was interested in in pretty
mainstream American daily comic
So some of the things that I
showed you that were in the, in
the, in the notebooks that he
had, that would be an example,
the things that he was clipping
from newspapers or looking at,
which again, it's like, Terry
and the Pirates, very mainstream
sort of adventure comics.
But in the, he didn't really, he
didn't, he, when he was working
on projects, there always
something, he would do
sculpture, but it would be a
copy of something, so he never
really created characters of his
If he was doing a water color,
it would be a water color based
on somebody else's drawing.
So I, I was aware of that side
of it.
So he was just, he just had an
interest in those things.
The one thing that was really
nice is I had access to those
tools very early on.
I could, I knew that, you know,
I had books that kind of
explained what tools you were
supposed to use if you were a
cartoonist, you had to work in
ink, with India ink, with pens
and so on.
So what was nice is that I had
access to those things and
could, you know, could
experiment early on.
I didn't, you know, you have to
do really, really bad, bad
versions until you get slowly a
little better.
There was a certain line quality
that I liked, the line quality
that I have now, which is this
kind of tapering, fluid line; I
had no idea that that was
created by the brush, so I would
use a pen and draw one side of
the line, draw the other side of
the line, fill that in until I
realized, oh that's a brush.
Just do it that way, one mark.
So yeah, so he, yeah, my father,
my father is still alive and he
still likes comics.
I just bought him a collection
of Prince Valiant, so it was
like his last gift from me, so.
Yeah, he still, he still enjoys
He, I think that the subject
matter of my comics probably is
a little bothersome for him.
At some point, I remember when
Black Hole was coming out, I
said, "I'm not going to give you
this book.
You can, you can search it out
on your own.
If I give it to you, that means
I condone you reading it.
So, you know could, just don't
let my mom read this" is what I
told him.
[laughter] It was a little bit
like, I was talking about,
meeting Iggy Pop, and I did this
album cover.
He was saying, "Yeah, this new
album's coming out, but I don't
know what my mom's going to
think because I swear a lot, I
I think like, are you kidding,
you're Iggy Pop and you're
worrying about what your mom
[laughter] There was something
kind of sweet about that.
Anyway. "I use the "F" word a
I don't know what mom's going to
>> Right here.
>> Yeah. You've talked a lot
about your, your visual
influences and, you know, how
you, you go through that.
But it's kind of interesting how
you, you're able to make good
use out of your writing as well.
First off, do you find that
daunting, as a, as a part of the
process, because you're unique
in that you do both parts.
And then also, second question
is, where do you find influence
for, for your writing for your
>> Yeah, I, I think that most,
most, most cartoonists that I
admire do both.
I know that there's a tradition,
especially in America, of kind
of breaking up that, you know,
in the commercial counter,
having someone that writes,
someone that draws, someone that
inks, someone that letters, but
the people that I really admire,
Alison Bechdel came here, Lynda
Barry [assumed spelling] Art
Spiegelman, Dan Klaus, Chris
Ware, the people that I think
are, you know, amazing artists
and writers, they do both those
And, and, and good comics are
really that, that, there's
some-, it's not prose, it's not
film, it's not illustration;
it's really, it's combining
words and pictures in a way
that, that tells a story that's
totally unique.
That being said, I think that, a
lot, I think that there's
cartoonists that, that come from
a very visual side, which I
would put myself on that side,
and then there's cartoonists
that, that are, they're, they're
much more from the literary, or
that, I don't know, the prose
And I think that, I really did
have to teach myself to, to, to
tell stories, you know, so the
writing part was something that,
that, that, I won't say it came,
it was something, I mean, I had
stories to tell, but it took me
a while to, to really learn how
to tell a, a story well, I
And, and as far as like, writing
influences, that's a harder
thing for me to, to nail down as
far as direct influences, I
can't, I can't think of a really
specific author that would, that
I can, that I can think of, in
this book here, in the book that
I'm working on most recently X'd
Out, I, I use William Burroughs
as, he's, he's certainly an
influence there in the story,
but that's primarily because
the, the protagonist is, you
know, going through a certain
period of his life that I went
through and I'm basing it on
some of my experiences, so
there's a certain point where I
was reading a lot of William
Burroughs, and I, I, I really
responded to his, his very kind
of dark humor and his, his very,
I don't know, his kind of
visceral, very visual writing
style that, that I appreciated,
especially at that point in my
And I also am using some of his
kind of collaging, collaging
techniques that he did as well.
Yeah, I, if, it's harder to come
up with, like, a very, like, you
know, someone I can directly
think of.
I guess I can think of someone
like Ernest Hemingway that would
tell very clear, very lucid
short stories, like, I don't
know, that was someone I'd
respond to early on, but,
there's not that, that direct
correlation there.
I'd, it's hard to say.
There's someone that was right
here, no, okay.
>> You mentioned the Zap comics,
and I know in later issues Crumb
did a lot of like jams with
Wilson and Imascoso [phonetic]
and stuff.
Have you ever considered
collaborating in such a fashion
with some of them?
>> I, I actually have, yeah, I
have with, I've, I've done, I
mean, the thing, what you're
talking about is, a, a group of
cartoonists get together and
they basically pass a page
And, and add to each other's
And it's, it's, it's fun to do,
it's a nice, it's kind of a
social situation.
Cartooning for me, anyway, is a
very solitary activity.
It's really, it's me sitting in
a room and I can spend, you
know, 8 hours, 9 hours by
myself, working by myself.
And I, that's the kind of person
I am.
I'm fine with that.
I have no problem with that.
But occasionally, it's really
nice to socialize, especially
with other cartoonists, and
that, yeah, so for me I find,
you know, there's a, there's a
dividing line there.
It's kind of, it's a little more
lightweight, but it's fun and
it's fun to see what other
people come up with, so I've
done, I've done strips with Art
Spiegelman, I've done a number
of things with Gary Panter.
I did, I did some, a piece with
a French, a French artist called
So, usually, it, it's almost the
way I just described; you're
sitting having coffee or drinks
or whatever it is, and you're
passing; it's fun, it's looking
over someone's shoulder and it's
social activity.
But it's, it's just that, yeah,
it's fun.
>> Hello. Like one of the
motifs, like, I kind of got a
bunch of your like,
illustrations, at least, were,
like, the wounds, and how it's
like, very gruesome.
Do they ever bother you drawing
Or, because...
>> There's been, there's been
times where I've, it's maybe,
maybe it's just the ideas that
I've come up with,
especially...I know, in
retrospect, I know there's a
certain period where I was, I
didn't think I was censoring
myself, but there was certainly
some censor -- you know, I was
self-censoring to a certain
degree, and when I worked on
Black Hole, I really made this
effort not to censor myself, so
when I was writing and thinking
through ideas, I just, I really
worked hard to delve into
subject matter that, that was
difficult for me.
Difficult, I mean it was
revealing, it was revealing a
lot about myself too, or it felt
like it to me.
I know that Dan Klaus, another
cartoonist that I admire, was
saying, "A good story is a story
where you reveal a little bit
more about yourself than you
feel comfortable."
And that, that's what I was
trying to do.
I was really, I was trying to be
as honest as I could.
I was really trying to put
myself into the characters and,
and there were certainly
passages where I thought, "I
don't know if I can draw this.
I don't know if I can do
this..or" And it wasn't so much,
I just didn't, it seemed kind of
overwhelming, like, like it was
too much, too much there, so
there was, not so much to do
with something gruesome, but
maybe something that was just
kind of, I don't know,
overwhelming emotionally.
I don't know how to explain
But I really made an effort to,
to get it out there.
That's the best I can say.
[ Silence ]
>> Are there still plans to make
Black Hole into a movie and if
so, what are your thoughts on
adapting your work into film?
>> It's a, that's a good
Yeah, Paramount Pictures had an
option on Black Hole for, you
know, about a year after the
book came out that recently, I
think they've gone through how
many periods.
Anyway, they're still
interested, they're still
working on it, they're still,
it's Hollywood, so, so for a
while David Fincher [phonetic]
was attached as the director for
awhile, and then, as far as I
know right now, there's a script
that has been written; they
think they've got a director,
and they think that they've got
a new -- it used to be Paramount
-- I think they've got, I can't
remember the name of the,
I hear, I get periodic phone
calls, and it's a very funny
Hollywood, all that Hollywood
talk is real and I, I can't, I
can't I can't mimic it.
[laughter] I was writing down
phrases and reading them to my
wife after talking on the phone
last time and I was like, I
can't remember, there were some
really good Hollywood phrases,
but yeah, that's still being
worked out.
As far as how I feel about it,
my feeling is, gee, I sure hope
they make a good movie and I, my
feeling is that I kind of doubt
a movie will be made; that's
just because it's Hollywood.
So I just, I don't know.
I've done 1, I've worked on 1
movie and it was, it was a good
I don't know that I'd do it
I really, I was working with a,
a small production company in
France, and it was under really
ideal circumstances; they really
wanted me to, they wanted my
vision to be there upon the
I was involved in every aspect
of the, of the production,
including sound effects; now
that was fun.
But I, what I realize was,
working on it is, is that it's
such a collaborative medium; you
are just so reliant on other
people for the final product.
The one thing that's great about
comics is that you, you know,
you're responsible for
You can, you can do everything
For Black Hole, I designed the
cover; I was able to choose the
paper stock, the binding, all
those things.
I really, really, I really had
control of like, that object was
mine, and if, if it, if there
were any problems with it, if it
was a crappy story, then that's
my fault.
So that's what I really like
about it.
I also like the fact that it's
something that anyone can do.
You can sit on a...sit at a
table with a felt tip pen and a
piece of paper and you can, you
can do a, do a story.
I like that, I like that about
So, as far as a movie, goes,
yeah, I'm hoping for the best,
but it's not a world that I,
that I'm very concerned about,
to tell the truth; I mean I, I
concern myself about the story,
something that I have control
I know that if I got involved, I
would make myself crazy, so,
that's about it, yeah.
Someone's got the mike, so
they're in charge.
>> I was wondering if you had
any memories related to reading
National, or a, yeah, National
Lampoon magazine, in the 70s?
>> Sure, sure, yeah, yeah.
>> Because that, that was some,
pretty interesting cartoons in
that magazine that were along
the lines of ...
>> Sure, kind of like another...
>> ...stuff that came out later,
I thought.
>> It was kind of like the next
stage up from, a, from Mad
So sure, yeah, I was always
looking at everything that was
out there, and as I mentioned
before, there were not that many
outlets for comics and cartoons,
so I was always keeping my eyes
There was actually a little, a
little comic section in the back
of National Lampoon for a while,
that, that I tried to, you know,
tried to send them my comics.
I'm actually glad that, they
actually accepted the comics and
then rejected the comics.
So I'm pretty -- in retrospect,
I'm glad that they rejected the
It was pretty bad.
>> I remember a dog-faced boy,
live action...
>> Dog-faced.
>> It's called dog boy, but
>> Yes.
>> So the character that was
showing you on my slides.
>> That was based on...?
>> ...a short-lived MTV series
called "Liquid Television" where
someone was reminding me about
Beavis and Butthead, which is
going to be revived recently,
but that was, that premiered on
the show as well.
So, he was a, 10 episodes of a
live action story that I
actually wrote, but it was
directed by this British,
British director, using British
actors who were trying to be
American, having American
accents, so I guess they sounded
okay to him, but they sounded
really strange to me.
And also, he was, he was
directing it and kind of ran out
of money after a while, so, I
had the script, and he just
like, there were just like,
whole scenes that he didn't
include because they ran out of
And so I said, "Well, what about
this scene and that..."
and he said, "We couldn't film
And so, when I finally saw
everything put together, I
couldn't understand the story
that I had written, so
[laughter] it wasn't a good sign
for me, anyway.
So I will do 2 more, does that
sound good?
The microphone's whirling
>> Would you tell us anything
about your recent projects?
>> About my...
>> Most recent projects, your...
>> The most recent project is,
you saw, X'd Out, which is the,
the, a book that came out in
2010; I'm, the next book is a
continuation of that.
There will be 3 volumes in all.
So that's coming out in October,
so it will be 3 books in all;
I'm working on the third, and
when it's all put together, it
really tells one big long story.
A few other little side
projects, but that's primarily
what I'm working on right now.
Okay, 1 more, 1 more question.
There's one right in the center
there that's been holding her
hand up for a long time
>> [laughs] I was wondering if
you had any advice for anyone
who wanted to become a
cartoonist and you know, what
that process is like to kind of
get started.
>> My, my advice would, would be
to, I'm not going to even be
able to verbalize it very well,
my advice is like, not to, not
to, think, think about what's
commercially viable, but think
about what you care about.
If you're trying to do the next,
I don't know, Buffy the Vampire
Slayer adaption, or whatever it
is that you think is going to be
a commercial hit, chances are
it's going to just not going to
be very interesting for you or
for anybody else.
I would say to draw and write
about what you care about or
something that is going to
sustain you.
If you approach it as a
commercial project, you can do
that, but I just, my advice is
to approach it for your personal
satisfaction to begin with.
And like, again, the people that
I admire are telling good
stories and the reason they are
good stories, is because they
are heartfelt and they care
about them and they've worked
their asses off, you know,
creating those things and you
have to have something to
sustain you.
You have to have something that,
you know, at the end of the day,
that you are happy with, that
feels like it came from you and
it's not something, I don't
know, a roller derby vampire
story, with, you know like, I
don't know [laughs] you know,
something that you care about.
[laughter] That's my best
Oh we got one, very last, no,
there you go, very last one,
right here.
>> [inaudible]
dark imaging in Black Hole?
But as I was just reading Black
Hole, I couldn't help put it
alongside some other things I've
been studying which was
"Razorhead," by David Lynch and
William Kentridge's "Re
Envisioning of Jarry's Ubu,"
which reminded me of Netnet.
So I was just wondering, I see
in common predominantly, is this
world like, sort of jumbled with
lack, of these characters almost
becoming objects damned by their
own sort of efficacy towards
this love object that they'll
never touch, you know?
So I was wondering if you could
share any personal like, if
you've been, if this has been in
your head this whole time since
the beginning or is it something
that has been really bugging you
during Black Hole.
>> I don't know, I'm not even
sure if I fully understand the
I mean, you're respond, you're,
you're, you're comparing it to a
couple of other pieces -- but
what was the -- what was the
primary, you're, the question
that I've...
>> It's just, it seems where in Big Baby,
you see this drawer with just
tons of toys...
>> Mhm.
>> ...that are just terrifying
and cool at the same time.
And then later in Black Hole,
his room is just strewn with,
with, like, almost the new
version of that drawer, kind of,
and, but it's just all sort
>> All me, yeah.
>> But at the same time,
everything is just so stressful
regarding like, vaginal images
and phallic images, and these
Like, the men, these characters,
look like men because of the
phallic, they're just like going
after this vaginal image, you
>> I'm hearing...I'm trying
>> And, I'm just wondering where
the [laughter] okay, like in
this, in this like world of
lacking desire, you know, where
everything is just built up
around the lack, I'm wondering
>> It must...
>> Go ahead.
>> It must have to do with what
I was saying before, maybe, I
mean, obviously it says
something about me.
My wife was saying, I can't
remember what it was; she was
looking at the, the, the
animated movie I did and she
said, "That looks like me,
you're doing a story about me?"
I said, "No, I wrote that story,
you know, before I even knew
But sure enough, you know, short
hair, and looking too masculine,
or something, I don't know, I
mean, all the stories, I mean,
there's something, there's
obsessions and ideas that I come
back to again and again.
And you're talking about some of
the vaginal imagery and these
kind of obvious phallic imagery.
For some, In some cases, I'm
really playing with that kind of
doing obviously over the top
Freudian imagery that's just,
just fun to play with.
But, again, kind of, is built
into the texture of the story.
So if you are out in the woods,
you're seeing this, this very
kind of rich texture, and, I
don't know, but I don't know if
I can explain what, you know,
what you're getting after and
what you're question is...
>> Okay.
>> So that's the best I could
>> Thank you.
>> Okay, yeah.
[ Applause ]