Released by Fantagraphics, the consummate cataloguers of sequential art, Second Coming marks the first time that the 40-plus year history of Frank Stack’s pioneering religious satire, The New Adventures of Jesus has been anthologized. The Daily Cross Hatch sat down with Stack to discuss his book, which has been widely acknowledged by experts (including the artist’s close friend and fellow Texan, Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers creator, Gilbert Shelton).
Stack was happy to discuss his place in place in American satire, and we were, of course, more than happy to listen. As such, we’ve broken the Interview up into two parts. Part one can be viewed over here. Part two is available after the jump.
You were living in France for a while, right?
I live there as much as I can [laughs].
Crumb lives out there, Gilbert Shelton live out there—why do so many American cartoonists wind up out there?
I went over there and interview Crumb and his wife, and Shelton and his wife on the issue. There seems to be no clear answer. Every once in a while, one of them will say something that’s illuminating. Then of course, why did Mark Twain go to write Pudd’nhead Wilson, or Hemingway hanging out in Spain and Italy and France as much as he could? For one thing, the first time I ever went to France, I felt like I was an honorary citizen, because I was an artist. As soon as people saw me drawing and painting out on the street, they gave me a certain kind of…deference. Here, they think that you’re just some kind of a passing spectacle, and throw mud at you. In the Midwest, they genuinely think that you’re a weirdo, if you’re some kind of an artist. If someone says that Crumb is a weirdo, my response is: ‘what? You think he’s weirder than you?’ I think I have a special regard for creative people, and more than a citizen of the United States, I consider myself a member of the art community, more closely related to Rembrandt [laughs]. I really like the fact that, over there, you can do you comics about anything. One of my favorite artists is Georges Pichard, who recently died. He did beautiful, beautiful drawings, and just as dirty as you could get. Even someone like Richard Corben. I’d like to meet him, but in a way, we come from two different tribes. Gilbert and I agree that comics should be funny, but not to people like Richard Corben and Todd MacFarlane. I was in at a comic convention in France, last year, and one of the big awards-getters was Frank Cho. I like him, but god, what a juvenile sense of humor.
It seems like a lot of the stuff that you, Gilbert Shelton, and Robert Crumb do isn’t always necessarily above being juvenile.
No, and I’m approaching 70-years-old. [TCJ publisher] Gary Groth rejected a piece that I did. I had put a lot of effort into it. It was several pages worth of comic. He said, ‘Frank, you’re just farting around.’ And it was just the old fart and shit jokes. The idea behind it was that people are taking comics too seriously. What we need to do is go back to the basics [laughs].
Sounds like an excuse to make a bunch of fart jokes.
Well, I did slip one in to The Comic Journal. It was one of those little things at the bottom. It was about what America thinks after 9/11, and the basic joke, after a couple of pages, is, tthey weren’t thinkin’ anything’ [laughs].
How soon after 9/11 was that?
I started getting annoyed with that bullshit immediately! Why celebrate your tragedies? That’s almost all we do celebrate….It’s like I said before, satire is supposed to pull out irrational things about the way that people behave, hoping that they will either reform their foolish ways, or be such an object of ridicule that they’ll lose their power. You can’t hope that George Bush will ever become aware of his own foolishness, but you could hope that Stephen Colbert, John Stewart, and Michael Moore might be somewhat influencial, and I think maybe they have been in making people look harder at him. Humor is, in a way a lot more even-handed and cruel, because it takes no prisoners and plays no favorites. All foolishness is subject. A good example of the wrong impression of humor is the Mao Tse-Tung quote, ‘we don’t make fun of our friends, only our enemies.’ And of course, you have to start with yourself, if you’re going to be a true humorist. You have to prove that there is no sacred territory. I asked Robert Crumb one time, if he ever dreamed that his most popular foolish character would be himself. He said, ‘well, it wasn’t a plan, but I did’ [laughs].
How your Harvey Pekar collaborations come about?
I wrote him a fan letter. So I actually did a story about him before I even met him.
Our Cancer Year is probably your most famous collaboration.
Yeah. It won all kinds of awards and stuff.
Does it go against your philosophy that comics are supposed to be funny?
Yeah, it’s a real ordeal, but there is a lot of funny stuff in it. I suggested that he not call it that. I still don’t like the title, because, god does it turn people off. But I tried to make out his antics in the drawings. I tried to make them correspondingly strong when people were acting lively. I actually enjoyed doing it, but when he asked me to do another, I said ‘no.’ I didn’t want to commit to that long of a project again. I got more adventurous with the graphics, as we went on, but there were a lot of pages—as there always are when you’re meeting deadlines—that had a lot of not very inspired drawings. I noted one time to Gilbert Shelton when Rip-off Press was still publishing in San Francisco, and they were publishing Bill Griffith, long before he ever dreamt up Zippy the Pinhead, that I thought his drawing was really improving fast. And he said, ‘yeah, when you’re meeting daily and weekly deadlines, you start learning how to draw’ [laughs].
Is there something that stands out in your own career as something that you’re particularly proud of?
Proud of… One of the reasons that I kept doing comics is that I was always interested in storyboarding action. I like doing slam-bang action that is believable. I like a lot of the stuff like ‘Jesus Saves the World’ and I took a lot of pleasure in ‘The Greatest Movie Ever shown.’ Amazons is when I really got to do some slam-bang action. One of my women friends sort of scowled at me about it. And I said, ‘yeah, well, I had a lot of fun drawing it,’ and she said, ‘well, I didn’t have a lot of fun looking at it.’ I have peculiar taste among comic artist since I come from classical art. I think my all time favorite is Roy Crane, who did Wash Tubbs and Captain Easy. I think the one that gave me the biggest belly laughs is E.C. Segar’s Popeye. It’s big-foot, but boy is it great big-foot.