We wrap up our interview with the Jack Survives author by discussing the Sears-inspired art of his formative years, the transition from collector to creator, and the importance of pornography.
My real transition into comics came when the collector became the creator, as a little kid, wanting to become the art kid in the classroom. Somebody else was the art kid, and he discouraged everybody else. And they’re the art kid because they could copy Spider-man. The problem there is that art is about copying, which is not my position. And other kids get discouraged and they give up.
I came across the art kid and I wanted to become the art kid. So I traced like crazy, but then the line crossed, and I was in some closer proximity to Superman, because I could drawn Superman. You see how that works? It’s a very logical progression. Once you cross from reality to fantasy in a very real way, meaning, you’re making it, that’s an interesting transition. Because now you can see that that’s a real physical place. That’s where the comics came in. that’s the earliest art I saw. There was no art on our walls, except for something from Sears, or a print of some dumb thing that doesn’t inspire you.
A bowl of fruit.
Yeah, exactly, exactly. It was a bowl of flowers, actually. It had a little tiny mirror frame that was nicer than the picture. But nevertheless. It’s not coming from being grown in this precious pot. It’s coming out of growing up in this lower middle class background out of Binghamton, New York. Back then it was industrial. There was no art around outside of comic books and great magazines like Saturday Post, which was full of illustrations. And men’s adventure magazines, like True, before it became a little more risqué. I illustrated for girly magazines in the 60s.
All of those early comic artists seem to be from a working class background. It doesn’t come much more working class than the Kurtzmans and the Jaffees and the Kirbys.
Ditko, too. He lived out in Wisconsin, somewhere. I’m just fresh on that book. And the irony is, I read this book, The Ten Cent Plague, and there’s a picture of comic burning in Binghamton, New York, at the age I would been reading comics. I never heard anything about that. I think he sort of pushed that further with all of the horror—“don’t read this.” That didn’t happen that much I was there, three blocks away from St. Patrick’s, where the burning was.
They used to let you sit on the floor of supermarkets and read comics. You didn’t have to buy them. Is that repressive? I don’t think so. The shopkeeper looks over, and there are little kids sitting on the floor, not buying them, just reading them.
But the Code did have an effect, right? A lot of the EC stuff did go away.
Yeah. But that was the whole McCarthy crap and the whole over-the-top religion stuff, which is always—it’s still around.
It comes back in waves.
Yeah. That’s why I love pornography. It’s the freest form of all. It’s a guilty pleasure—just like comics become, at a certain point.
But now, like comics, it’s become mainstream in a way.
Yeah, so I have to reinvent it across the line. With my scanner, I’m making new books all the time. But the whole point is, it immediately is on other side of the oppression. It’s dehumanizing, in a lot of ways. Okay, I’ll give you a little bit of that—but I don’t know how much. That’s the whole feminist thing. I don’t know how far you can go with that. But the fact is, my whole art beginning was in girly magazines. I’m talking about the wannabe Playboys—Escapade, Swank, Nugget.
They had these forward-looking art directors, younger people who wanted to get into bigger magazines, and they would hire the farthest out illustrators, because they wanted to have really good portfolios to go the next magazine. and there was no censorship. So all of these people had a chance to have a vaudeville act and try it out before they went on the road with it. And I’m an ex-Catholic from the Latin mass days, the spooky stuff. But the idea is, once the underground started, is art is supposed to be free—“art” meaning, anyone making pictures about their insides, that’s art all the way.
They seemed to push it so hard, so fast. The Crumb stuff just sort of went all the way, as quickly as possible.
Yeah, right. I mean, I was particularly amazed, because I had been away from comics for ten years, and I had a student that was a dealer at a comic convention. He brought in a Frontline Combat. And I was thinking that I was going to pretend to like it, because I’m a teacher. I thought it would be sad. I took it home and I fell on the floor. Not only was it better than I remembered, it was inspiring. I thought, ‘how many other things since that period have I not seen?’ so I started going to comic cons, and that’s where the collector in me started to awaken.
And then the collector became the artist.
Yeah, the crossover was always at that flashpoint. I always start as a collector and then the flashpoint happens. I started collecting these things a couple of years ago [gestures to his brightly colored shirt] now it’s all in my paintings. Really, I love that. I didn’t plan that. Ninety-nine percent of everything sucks. One-percent is good, and that one-percent is different.
That one-percent is not homogeneous.
That’s right, that’s right. And that’s the way it should be. There should be passion for that one-percent. But in the hierarchy of art, it’s always been that painting knew that, but they would say that it was the 99-percent that matter, not the one-percent, meaning that painting was superior. Ninety-nine percent of illustration—which I was in at the time—sucked. But it was the 99-percent that was the definition of illustration, not the one percent. Same thing with comics, because the illustrators were shitting on the comic people, saying they were superior.
But there are a lot of really great comics. It feels like a relatively high percentage.
Yeah, but if you really look at the mass of it, you find out that the sliver is still there. It’s the same way with music, movies—there’s brilliance in that one-percent.