We begin to dig much deeper into Hans Rickheit’s psyche in this second part of our interview with The Squirrel Machine artist, well beyond the prose artists he rattled off from his book shelf in previous piece. Rickheit discusses the ways in which his scrapbooks of medical images, the collective unconscious (or something similar), and his friend’s The Empire SNAFU Restoration Project all played a role in the genesis of his latest book.
You feel more influenced by prose authors than artists?
Oh, I don’t know…let me think… I’m as influenced contemporary cartoonists and movie makers. I think I’m just a mishmash of everything I’ve absorbed. I’m just my own regurgitation machine.
As a Philadelphia resident, are you a frequenter of the Mutter Museum?
Oh yeah, it’s a beautiful museum. It’s a lot of fun to spent time in there. I’m particularly fond of the Soap Lady and the giant asshole. The Soap Lady is sort of a fossil made of soaplike material that filled in the cavity that was left by the decaying woman’s corpse in some cemetery. Some bits and debris of her own remains are still in there.
How do you draw inspiration from keeping a scrapbook of medical images?
Oh, I mostly keep the scrapbook as a way to kick my brain into gear. I look at things and draw connections between random images and words and they suggest ideas that I wouldn’t be able to come up with on my own. I was working on some comics jams with friends and we were fascinated by the idea that a third mind was sort of composing the story as a result. It was nothing either of us would have composed on our own. Nor would we have necessarily wanted to.
It’s sort of that idea of the collective unconscious.
Sort of. It’s kind of like a third brain came up with the idea, and it’s hard to access that kind of thing on my own, independently with all of these tools that I have, the scrapbook and the cut up writing technique or any other weird mishmash of things that I tend to do in order to come up with ideas.
So it’s possible to duplicate this groupthink idea by yourself?
Kind of. It’s sort of a transmeditiative state, I guess.
When you’re sitting down to create the work, your mind is somewhere else.
I guess so… I guess it’s sort of a digestive process of the brain where you have the end product on paper and the end product sometimes resembles fecal matter.
Is it really to the point that you’re in a trance? If someone came by during the process, would you not entirely be there?
I suppose that’s true. It’s hard for me to think about, because that would require somebody objective.
A third party.
I know I spend more time drawing than any other activity. Mostly that’s because if I weren’t doing that, I wouldn’t be a sane individual. It’s my solution for my innumerable personal and emotional problems, and—there’s nothing else I’m going to add to that statement.
You do feel as you’re on the edge though, sometimes?
Oh no, not really. I would be if I didn’t draw, but if my hands were chopped off, I’d probably find some other creative outlet, but I wouldn’t be very happy about it.
I don’t imagine that most people would be happy about having their hands chopped off.
Not likely, but people do cope. You’d be surprised.
And people are into weird shit sometimes… In terms of these images that are jumpstarting you into a comic or a book, can you point to something specific that helped get The Squirrel Machine off the ground?
Yeah, I think I could. I think the biggest influence, undeniably—the introduction, written unsolicited by friend E. Stephen, who is also the curator of The Empire SNAFU Restoration Project. According to their Website, he was a wandering homeless visionaire who built shrines to human frailty and technological decay. This friend is responsible for these shrines that are sort of like peepshow dioramas of, I guess you could say, semi-surrealistic landscapes made up of junk and found material and all sorts of things. I think I grew up surrounded by a lot of that stuff, because this friend and I were the two weirdos in the small rural area I grew up in in New England—which the book is also partly about. The Empire SNAFU stuff is definitely a big influence, and the aesthetic is parallel.
The project is all the work of your friend?
Well, he is responsible for…keeping it in good shape.
Yeah, he’s documenting it. That’s for certain. He’s been doing that for at least 15 years.
After reading the book, I went back and looked at what of your stuff is available online. There definitely seems to be a consistent aesthetic through out. Has the SNAFU stuff been an influence throughout?
Yeah. I think there’s even been some blatant rifpoffs. But then again, I think if anyone took the time, they could probably find the source material for most of the book somewhere, albeit transmutated. But I’m not worried about that. Comic book history is full of people “appropriating.” I’m part of that proud tradition.
That’s been consistent throughout your work in comics?
I think I cannot deny it. The comic stuff is all mine. My brain chugging along at its own speed, doing its thing.
[Continued in Pt. 3]