Categories: Features, Interviews
In this final part of our interview with the Squirrel Machine author, we discuss Rickheit’s day job of “administering death,” interacting with fans, and how the self-described introvert is gearing up for his first ever book tour.
Even if the book doesn’t turn into a giant runaway success, the act of being on Fantagraphics in and of itself will bring your work to a much larger audience than ever before. Is there any desire to tone things down, so people don’t write it off as something intended to shock them?
Naw, Fuck that. I’ll draw what I want. I went into it thinking that I would never get rich doing this. I’m going to draw what I want. And if people don’t like it, then oh well. And if I make a living drawing comics or not, I’m still going to do it, and I’m going to draw them the way that I see fit. That’s the way it is.
Do you ever find that your work has a tendency to attract any “unsavory” sorts of people?
I don’t know, you’re going to have to define “unsavory” for me.
Have you ever been frightened by fans?
Oh, I don’t know. Not yet. I guess I’ll break that hymen when I get to it [laughs]. I’m sorry. This is all very new to me.
A lot of people are going take well to the book, certainly, but as you go out and do the book tour, it’s going to be a very interesting year for you.
I hope so. The idea of publicity and having a readership at all is completely novel to me. I think the response to all of the mini-comics and things I’ve published has been mostly from friends—people I know and have kept in touch with, and maybe the occasional reader who liked it and was kind enough to send me a note. The idea of having a fanbase or a wider group of readers is a whole new level that I’m probably not prepared for [laughs]. I hope that’s what happens. It’ll be interesting. Maybe I’ll make some bread doing this.
What is it you do during the day?
I kill people.
You kill people?
I work in a tobacconist. I administer death in installment plans by providing people with tobacco and cigars.
Behind the counter?
It’s mostly a retail shop, but it’s also a distribution center, so they move lots and lots of cigars and tobaccos and things like that. That’s my day job. It’s an all right day job. It’s the sort of thing I can do during the day and then forget about when I get home.
It sounds as if you’ve got a bit of a hang up, the way you describe it.
Well, I have hang ups about everything I do [laughs]. I do have a personal ethical problem with it. Not so much with killing people—I feel like everybody should be allowed to destroy themselves at their own leisure. It’s more that the whole tobacco industry to me is really corrupt and is built upon the slave labor of smaller countries, where the people working in tobacco farms are really just screwed. That’s a whole other tangent though.
How did you get into the business?
Happenstance, mostly. I started working at one tobacco shop, and then you just start to pick up all of the trade lingo and experience, and then I moved to Philadelphia, where there’s another small tobacco company, and they hired me, and now I’m even more intensely engaged in that world, because it’s really a distribution center. They move a lot more product with a lot greater variety. To me it’s a humdrum day job. I don’t really think much about it. I might as well be a janitor.
In some cases, it seems like a good thing to have your day job more removed from what you ultimately want to be doing. It doesn’t end up infringing on your creativity.
Yeah. I’m sure I’d like to not be working at all, and spend all of my time working on books.
It does give you the opportunity to engage people face to face, which you don’t get as a cartoonist.
Yeah. I suppose so. You’re talking to an incredibly reclusive, introverted individual. I don’t get along with people really well. I view the human race at an arm’s length.
So how is this book tour going to work?
I don’t know. I’m sort of learning as I’m going. I’ve called a lot of people and had schedules made up. I’ve kept it simple. It’s not really that ambitious. About ten locations, all within easy driving distance. Most of the places I know people who will let me crash on their couch. It’s really a book signing tour done on the cheap.
But in terms of actually interacting with people…
I’ve actually pondered the idea of hiring a good looking actor—or actress—to be me. I’ll do a rubber life mask of my face and have them wear it, and they can be friendly and say all of the right things.
You can be like the Blue Man Group and syndicate yourself out to different cities.
Ooh, maybe I can get the Blue Man Group.
But you are looking forward to it?
I genuinely am. It will be an experience. It will be interesting to find out who reads and likes the books.
Are you going to be at SPX?
I will be. That’s actually at the beginning of the book signing tour. I’ll be at the Fantagraphics table doing whatever they tell me to do.
Smiling and looking pretty.