Of course Bob Fingerman is kidding when he suggests that the title of this article ought be “Bob Fingerman: Portrait in Self-Defeat.” Well, mostly.
Fingerman doesn’t go out of his way to please all the people all the time—after all, that’s what syndicated Sunday funnies are for. In the most simplistic terms, his work often reads like an adult What If? comic. What if zombies took over an elementary school? What if a black man’s brain was transplanted into the body of a white teenage girl? What if vampires had a conscious about the whole killing people thing?
The results are strange, warped, hilarious, occasionally disturbing, and, above all, aggressively unique, which is no doubt one of the main reasons why the artist’s short-lived stint on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles book wasn’t exactly a match made in heaven.
But, while Fingerman has seemingly been less than eager to compromise his work for the sake of wide-scale acceptance, over the years, the industry has largely come around to his unique vision.
In this third and final part of our interview with Fingerman, we discuss the artist’s brushes with the mainstream.
You had some really strange gigs starting out. What was the strangest thing you had to do? You were doing a lot of adult stuff, right?
Yeah, but that wasn’t strange. That was just expedient. My only regret with doing any of that stuff was that I wish I had used a pseudonym. At the time, I was young and cocky and thought, ‘I’m not ashamed.’ And it’s not that I’m ashamed of that stuff now, but one of the books that I’ve done is a kids book, and I probably should have used a penname, because I don’t want parents who buy something to look for my backcatalog, and then suddenly you’ve got someone with jizz dripping off their face [laughs]. It’s not really going to endear you to book buyers with kids. But that stuff wasn’t strange, really. It was easy and it paid well. It shows how the economy and the fates have changed that the best pay I’ve ever gotten was 10 years ago, doing porno comics. When I was working for Penthouse Comics, I was getting $1,000 per page, which is unheard of, you know? That’s an insane rate.
Especially for an indie cartoonist.
Yeah, for independents, you get paid that for an entire book. There I was doing three pages a month for several months. It was the easiest work in the world. Come up with some funny tit jokes and get paid $3,000. It was great. Probably the strangest thing was doing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Oh yeah. You did that for about a year, right? Was it that long?
Yeah, pretty much. I don’t know if that was exactly the perfect fit of artist and material, and I know that when I was drawing them, they got sort of progressively crankier. I think my art always reflects my own state of mind. I did like a three or four issue run, and, by the time I got to the final issue, they looked like middle-aged mutant ninja turtles. They all looked so fed up and they had bags under their eyes. It was pathetic. It really was not a good fit.
How did that come about?
Well, Kevin Eastman, who is a really good guy—and I’m not even knocking the turtles. I’m just saying, I’m not really the right guy for it. I had done very few comic books at the time, and was just trying to get into regular comics, because I had just been working for Cracked at the time. I was also an illustrator for years, and I just wanted to get into regular comic books. All I had done at the time was a couple of things for Eros and a couple of things for Heavy Metal. Honestly, I don’t really remember how it came to be.
When you were looking to break into “regular comics,” were you looking to start up on a regular existing series?
No, I always wanted to do my own thing. It’s amazing how much the business has changed in the last couple of decades. In the ‘80s, it the whole black and white independent boom, and I didn’t really get in on any of that. The first actual solo comic of mine came it in like ’91, but I had already been doing comics professionally for about seven years. But most of them for magazines like Cracked. When I first got in, I started doing a lot of things for anthologies, because there were a lot of anthologies in the late ‘80s. Companies like Pacific Comics did a lot of almost EC-like anthologies.
It seems to fit in with this self-defeatist mentality that, as soon as you get established with comics, you decide that you want to break into the literary world.
Yeah, there’s something to that. I don’t want to perpetuate this ‘self-defeatism’ theme. I just like trying different things, and I’ve always wanted to do novels. Ultimately I’d love to have a balance where I could do one graphic novel one year and a prose novel the next, and just keep alternating. That would always keep things fresh. I’ve never really just stuck with one character, and it seems like almost everyone who makes it does a series and sticks with one thing. I just like to keep trying different things. It’s sort of a very catchphrase culture that we live in. People like familiarity.
The majority of the stuff that you do seems to be driven by the spark of a story idea, rather than by a character. Like, ‘what would happen if a bunch of zombies invaded a kindergarten?’
Right. The funny thing there is that I was actually thinking a little more commercially. I actually did see Recess Pieces as being the first book in a series. That was definitely going to be setting up future volumes, but it didn’t exactly work that way. I had actually seen that as a book-length pitch for a video game. I thought that would be great to have a bunch of little kids blowing zombies to bits. I thought it be funny to do a survival horror Resident Evil sort of thing with pre-pubescent kids, because you couldn’t do it as a movie and you couldn’t do it as a TV show, but video games are sort of the last bastion of where you can get away with this stuff.
And comic books.
Yeah, exactly, because I think they’re both a little less policed.
What would the sequel have been?
I was going to advance it by a few months and take it into the dead of winter when all of their parents and adults had been dead, and it was just going to be this group of survivalist kids living in this completely snow-bound area, fighting zombies. I think that would have been fun.
We keep coming back to this idea of self-defeatism. It looks like a children’s book, and it’s about children, but it’s incredibly gory.
If I’m doing PR for Dark Horse, who am I pitching this to?
Yeah. Well, I guess you have your title for this article. Bob Fingerman: Portrait in self-defeat. Kidding. That’s a joke. Slap a bunch of winking emoticons and cheery animated GIFs all over that shit. 2009 I’m in it to win it!