The Jack Survives artist discusses his disinterest in “old people,” the breakdown of filters, and inhabiting the mind of a 12-year-old girl.
Back to this concept of having “adults” in your life—does it upset the dynamic when you’re a teacher and you’re supposed to play the grownup to your students?
No, I’ve got upperclassmen students. I’m not the upperclassman. I was never really uncool, because I played the cool game, but there were definitely these upperclassman. It’s lifelong. It doesn’t bother me, though.
There’s still a mutual respect.
I suppose so. From me to them, yeah. But in the anonymous version of the classroom and the teacher, I want to meld in there. I used to love it, back in the early days, when people coming in for the teacher couldn’t find me, because I looked the same age. Now, of course, there’s no problem [laughs]. But that’s only the surface. It’s the same age of people over the last 40 years. I realized that I’m the old guy that should be yelling, “get off my lawn.” I’ve got no regard for old people. I have no regard for teachers. So I’m stuck in this place. These are the people I grew up disliking as a kid. Nothing horrible happened, I just though they were oppressive authority figures.
In you personal life, you don’t tend to associate with people your own age?
I don’t associate with many people at all. But my own age—I’m not looking to join the Elk’s Club or go golfing. I may wear old colorful shirts like I belong in Florida, but that’s just because I love these colors. I’m not beyond it. I’m probably aging like some other person, having the same thoughts. I’m sure I’m not original. But I keep reminding myself, ‘don’t be an old fart.’ When you feel your brain turning to cement—no new thoughts…I can’t tell you how many new thoughts I’ve been having. Maybe it’s old age to not have new thoughts. I’m amazed at the new stuff from myself. Maybe no one else likes it…
Is part of it the release of the new book?
That was closing that door down, completely. The most recent stuff is the inside cover, which is, Jack Revisited. But most of the other stuff in there is 15 years ago or more. I’ve got a whole new thing called Sally, which is about a 12-year-old girl, now 13. When I turned 62, that was the 50th anniversary of my puberty, right? It was time to go back, which was 1950. This was pre-Playboy, pre-Barbie. Puberty was a complete mystery to me. You’ve got these Police Magazines that you would see in a barber shop. They had Marylin Monroe a little later—there were sexy movie stars, but there wasn’t any investment in it. so you were a little freaky. ‘What’s going on here? I was looking at Combat Kelly last week, what’s this Sheena of the Jungle thing?’ Sheena was a secret favorite of all of ours.
Anyway, I decided that I was going to revisit that as me, as a boy, but I thought that was kind of lame. Why not as a girl? Because they’ve remained mysteries. I married one, I’ve had tons of girlfriends, but the idea was, back then, they were total mysteries to boys. I thought, ‘well, this is going to change my colors.’ I’m not saying that my idea of what a girl would think has any validity. That’s what I’ve been doing for the past 10 years. In Kramer’s Ergot, that’s Sally stuff. In the last one, in the big one.
I like the opposition to the previous one. Jack is a middle-aged man. Sally is a 12-14 year old girl. I decided to cut her off at 14, that’s the age I was when my father—the real Jack—died. I figured, she’s not going to have memories past that. That’s where her real childhood innocence stops. Because that’s where Jack begins.
These stories exist side-by-side to you.
Yeah, they do. Because they’re both me. When I put my father in it, he’s not Jack, he’s my father. If I’ve got a picture with me in it, he’s not Jack, he’s my father. When it’s Jack, he’s my father and he’s me.
You’re very much not Jack, though.
I’m not Jack, except for part of my nature. Jack wasn’t social, but my father was social. And responsible and had four kids, and did really well. He was a white collar, working class guy. No, he’s not me. I’ve lead a very different life. But he supported me. This guy who began his life in an orphanage and had to leave school in ninth grade. He didn’t have a relationship with art, but he loved listening to light classical music. He was pretty deep for someone of his background. And he stood behind me while I painted. It was bonding. It wasn’t hunting.
So do you think about his as part of your audience?
I do. He’s still standing behind me. It’s not spooky like that, but I still feel it.
But you’re not writing the book for someone like your father.
No. I don’t even know if he’d approve of it. In the sense that I think I got much further out than he would ever relate to. There probably would have been a discussion later. I don’t know. Chris Ware asked me that same question. He’s dealing with father issues himself.
It would seem so.
I think that’s one of the attractions he had to my work. It’s not an issue with me. I was sad that my father died so young, yet he stopped, so there’s this old guy that maybe I wouldn’t get along with. Or maybe I would… I’ve got my mother. She’s 89.
You said before that you feel the same age as some of the students you’re teaching.
I do, really, but I have to step out of the thing and realize what I would think if I was their age, looking at me.
Where do you feel like you’ve leveled off, in terms of aging?
Probably about 28. Somewhere around that. I think 28’s my number. With more wisdom than I did have back then. Though that wisdom’s not of use to anybody but me. I can’t say, “well grasshopper, do this.” I don’t have that kind of—you sort of accept things. But then I heard this things, which cracked me up. The old brain starts to lose its censoring centers, which explains why grandma is saying foul things.
The filters break down.
Yeah, which is kind of nice, in a way. I never had to filter to begin with, so it was never really a problem for me. But maybe other forms of censoring that I have put int here that I didn’t know are breaking down. and I think that’s great. Because they weren’t socially useful, either way. That’s something that’s interesting, but I can’t tell you how grateful I am that this art thing has been a lifelong business. I’m just on fire with new thoughts and new ideas. Who would have thought? And it’s not true with every artist. So I feel superior to these other artists [laughs].
[Concluded in Part Four.]