We all have bad days, and weeks, and months—sometimes even years. Thing is, when most of us are whiling away the hours with bouts of self-pity, we don’t have to take a break to conduct interviews with some upstart comics blogs. Last time Joe Matt spoke with us, he was smack dab in the middle of a funk, which manifest itself as a three-part Q&A. After publishing the interview, Matt respectfully asked that we take it down. We obliged.
With the release of Matt’s new book, Spent, less than a month away, and the artist’s promotion tour beginning even sooner, the time seemed ripe for a do-over. We spoke to Matt from his Southern California home, about Spent, his upcoming book, and six hour Fritz Lang marathons—but before that, we had to ask: what was up with the last interview?
So, um, what happened, last time?
I was so preoccupied with money—financial matters—that all I could think about was how poor I am. I don’t think that’s what anyone wanted to hear that. No one cares.
You’re famous for not censoring your activities as they’re portrayed in the strip. What about the interview that you didn’t want out there?
It was just too negative. When I’m in a bad mood—or I should say, “mode,” I feel like everything negative stems from that. Like, “I’ll never have a girlfriend, because I have no money,” and “girls don’t like me because I’m not fashionable, because I don’t have any money.” Everything seems to stem from that fact. “I’m fat because I’m eating pasta because it’s cheap, because I don’t have any money.” It can be the root of all of my problems, but I don’t really care about money all that much. I’m not really materialistic. It’s hypocritical.
I just want people to buy my books, but I don’t make them with any expectation of them making any money. I don’t equate the two. I don’t think of doing comics as a job that pays anything. It’s done simply for the gratification of the object—having the object in my hand. That’s why I do it. Any money that results seems accidental, and I’m just grateful. It seems okay to think like that, in your early 20s, but when you’re in your early 40s, you start planning ahead for your first bypass operation.
If you were ever put in a position in which you had to hold down a day job, would you be doing comics on the side?
No. I’m doing nothing now, and I’m not doing comics on the side. I can’t really imagine having a day job. I haven’t had one since I was a teenager, working at Roy Rogers. I don’t think I’m built for anything—maybe working at the post office or the library. That’s about all I could do.
Do you ever think that holding down a day job, like Bukowski or someone, might give you good fodder for books?
No, no. fodder is everywhere. Things are happening everywhere. To me, good comics, or movies or books—it’s just in the way that you tell it, as opposed to what you’re telling. At this point I have plenty of fodder—more fodder than I need. I’ve got a lot of stuff that I still want to recap. They’re be a lot of flashbacks in this next book that I’m currently working on, about LA.
This is specifically focusing on your run-ins with HBO?
Yes, but I’m still in the note-taking stage. I haven’t really started the drawing, yet.
This will be a big undertaking—you’re not going to be serializing this, are you?
I don’t think so. I’d like it to appear as a finished book, years from now. I don’t want to serialize because I don’t want to lose my momentum. Every time I’d get an issue of Peepshow out, it was only really 24 pages, but I’d waste all this time doing the covers and stuff, and for two months, I’d be just waiting for it to come out. I always thought that I’d accomplished more than I really did. I’d waste too much time.
It might be more financially sound to have your work come out in installments, though, right?
I don’t think so. I don’t really make much money putting out single issues, and then when it comes out as a book, orders are lower, if just a collection of previously published work. If the content’s never been seen, I think orders will be higher. And if it came out serialized, I’d have to conform to the chapters. I’d feel obligated to give people a satisfying read, per issue. I don’t want to do that. From page one to 100, I want to go on a rant, without stopping. To me, it’s like writing a really long letter to somebody. I don’t want to break it up into nice bite-sized chunks. I’ll lose my train of thought, if I do that.
Are you working on anything smaller, in the meantime? Anything for anthologies?
No, no. I’m watching the Sopranos [laughs]. I just watched Season One in two nights flat. That’s 13 episodes. Before that I watched this great silent film, [The Testament of] Dr. Mabuse, by Fritz Lang. that was like six hours long. It was great. I just fuck off, all day, usually. I walk around, bike around, sit in coffee shops and read books, maybe watch movies on DVD, then talk to my friends. I just saw Hostel 2, the other night, and wrote a blog about it. It’s horrible. Not my kind of movie. I’d never even heard of it. My friends just dragged me to it—I didn’t even know what to expect. I was traumatized.
You said that you don’t have any expectations, as far as sales, but going into Spent, do you see this as possibly being your biggest book, thus far?
I don’t know in terms of ‘biggest.’ It’s my fourth book, and of all my books, it’s the one that I’ve put the most work into. The coloring makes it look the best, and the lettering, too. My craft has gotten better. The more I do, the better I get. The lettering and the ink lines are clean—the cartooning’s a bit simpler. The Poor Bastard was grotesque—there are big hands and feet. With Spent, I tried to look at Maus closer. I tried to emulate the eight-tile grid from the present day scenes in that book. I find that really appealing. I put a lot of time and effort into Spent that I didn’t put into the other books, and I’ll probably never put that much effort in again. Even the LA book that I’m currently working on is going to be sloppier. The other way is too anal-compulsive. I was inking with a very small brush, and trying to get everything perfect. It was just too self-defeating and unpleasant. I didn’t want to work, with the process being so unpleasant—that being said, I couldn’t be happier with the results.
How big of an appeal do you foresee the storyline having?
Um..none [laughs]. I don’t think of it as having a storyline. I think of it as a picture of me talking in my head to myself. I think the only entertaining scene is the lunch scene with myself, Chester, and Seth, because it’s, “oh look, it’s three guys talking,” but in my head, it’s still me talking to myself, with Seth as the voice of reason. It’s not so much a storyline as the examination of an addiction. My perception of the book is that it’s very still, and noting really happens. I made a point not to include any girl chasing or relationships, even though I did have them. I just really focused on the addiction aspect and nothing else.
It’s interesting that you speak of it being very internal. Though there is some of that, there aren’t any thought bubbles or exposition. You don’t really see the character maturing as a result of anything he does. While there is an internal/external conflict, there’s not a whole lot of resolution in the book.
It’s true. I was reading Seth’s Clyde Fans, in which he has the main character talking to himself at the beginning of the book, for many pages. I was also thinking, as a medium, film seems suited for such subject matters as roadtrips. Roadtrips work well, because you feel like you’ve had an adventure. A roadtrip would never work in comic form.
I tried to think of the strengths of the medium. What subject matter suits it? Something internal and personal seemed perfect, because the reader is ideally reading this alone, in a room. The fact that the character is alone in the room, I think it lends itself well to that. That singular introspection seems appropriate to me, and it’s something that I’d want to read.
[Continued in Part Two]