After more than 20 years spent working in the world of cartooning, Bob Fingerman has seemingly worked in just about ever aspect of the field. Over the years his professional path has taken him from magazines like Cracked and Screwed to the world of literature, with his recent debut prose novel, the neurotic vampire tale, Bottomfeeder.
In between, Fingerman has also created a diverse oeuvre of sequential works, including the semi-autobiographical Beg the Question, the schoolyard zombie book Recess Pieces, and a stint working on Eastman and Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
In this second part of our interview with Fingerman, we delve into the artist’s early career, from porno mags, to memoir, to everyone’s favorite quartet of crime fighting reptiles.
I imagine most of the people you talk to assume that Beg the Question is fairly autobiographical.
It is, but it’s also been monkeyed with, quite a bit. That, basically, was a fictionalized version of my first marriage. It’s heavily fictionalized. I’d be a complete liar if I said that it isn’t heavily autobiographical, but it’s definitely been put through a lot of filters.
In terms of making it more interesting, or in terms of protecting the innocent?
A little of both. That to me is the whole thing. Let’s try to make sure that it’s funny and propel it at a decent clip and cut out a bunch of stuff. I mixed and matched chronology and took some friends and put them in and took others out. In a lot of ways, a lot of what is omitted is really what makes it fiction.
Did [your ex-wife] read the book at some point?
I have no idea. I’ve had no contact with my ex in 20 years, and I like it that way. If anything, she came off very well in it, I thought. That book had no axe to grind.
That was relatively early on in your cartooning career. Did you feel the need to get your autobiographical indie comic out of the way?
I don’t know. Sometimes, looking back at my own motivations, I don’t really know what they were, especially because it was such a long time ago. The first Minimum Wage came out in ’95. Basically I had just finished a project called White Like She. I did that in ’92, ’93. I did it in a style that was unlike anything I had drawn before, and I really ended up hating my work on it. I always look at my stuff with a hypercritical eye, but that’s the one book I look at that I just utterly loathe the art. I worked really hard on it, and it’s not as though I look on it and think it’s really bad, I just look at it and it’s not really me. ‘Who did this?’ I was going for something different, and I really photo-referenced the hell out of it, and I think photo-referencing it too much just really sucked the life out of the art.
So, when I decided to do Minimum Wage, that was partly going to be my birthday present to myself, because I turned 30 in ’94. I said the next thing I was going to do would be really loose and spontaneous, and I would draw it just as a cartoonist, which is what I had always been anyway, and draw it in kind of a more cartoony fashion, as sort of an antidote to White Like She, and I think I just figured that I might as well do the whole ‘write what you know,’ thing, but try to make it funny.
Rather than just depressing.
Yeah. One of the big problems I have with a lot of the comics done today is, I think that knee-jerk reaction of wanting to have respect or get respect is, let’s make them serious, forgetting the word ‘comic.’ They’ve stricken ‘comic’ from the meaning by calling them ‘graphic novels,’ but even that’s inexact, because most of what they are now are graphic memoirs. They’re not funny—I don’t think everything needs to be funny, but I think so many of the graphic novels or whatever being done now are so serious. That’s why my favorite book of the year now was Petey & Pussy. That was just the antidote. For me, that was so perfect. It’s exactly what I want from a comic. I want something that’s gonna make me laugh, and that book absolutely killed me.
Do other people’s work serve as an inspiration, if only as something to work against?
Not really. To clarify: plenty of other people’s work inspires me, but not as something to react against. I just do what I do. I do what’s going to amuse me. That’s the other thing—if you’re going to do a comic of a novel or whatever, and you’re going to spend six months of the year working on a project, it had better keep you entertained. You above anyone else, because if you’re going to start to get bored doing your own thing, what’s the point? For me, I’ve got very specific things that keep me entertained. For better or worse, humor is a very subjective thing. I hope they’re funny, and they at least keep me amused.
When I say that I do stuff that’s reacting against something, it’s not like I looked at any one specific thing. It’s usually more cumulative than that. Because that would just be parody. I don’t look at one thing and say, ‘I’m going to rip on that.’ It’s usually a whole genre or a whole sub-genre. In the case of Bottomfeeder, I don’t read much in the way of vampire fiction, because, frankly, most vampire fiction looks like it would just bore the shit out of me. But I do watch a lot of vampire movies and vampire television. So, for me it was not so much that I was going to rip on stuff. It was that classic, ‘what if,’ which I think is what most artists and writers do. I wasn’t really thinking that I was going to rip on Anne Rice, I was just thinking about what it would be like to be a vampire, but also be a regular guy. I hadn’t really seen anything like that.
So, for me to do this thing for IDW, From the Ashes, it wasn’t me thinking, ‘boy, these memoir comics really bother me, because they’re all so pretentious.’ It was more, ‘I’d like to do something with me and my wife, but I don’t really want to expose any of our real life. I don’t want to share that with strangers. I know, let’s make something up.’ And also, it really came from the climate of wanting to do something more political and more social and get some stuff out of my system, but to try and dress it up in a way that would make it popular entertainment.
[Concluded in Part Three]