I suppose I assumed—or rather hoped—that Snake Pit would continue indefinitely, so long as its author was capable of putting permanent marker to paper. But a decade is a long time to do anything on a daily basis, so it really shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise when, in his latest book, Ben Snakepit announced that December 31st, 2010 would be the date of the artist’s last ever diary strip.
A lot can happen in a decade, of course. In Snakepit’s case, one important—and perhaps a touch surprising—thing occurred subtly over the past few years: Ben Snakepit grew up.
The author caps off the intro to his latest volume by presenting “yet another year of kinda boring comics.” Snakepit takes a moment to lament the loss of the punk rock version of himself that populated his work ten years prior, before the salaried job and the bank account and the car insurance payment.
And yeah, he might not be as impulsive as he once was, but the Ben Snakepit of 2010 sounds genuinely happy discussing his life on the other end of the phone. There are what sound like a dozen birds audibly chirping from wherever in Austin he’s decided to take the call.
Okay, so maybe growing up isn’t so bad, after all.
I wanted to start with the future and move backwards from there.
In the new volume, you’ve set a semi-permanent end date for the strip.
Yeah, that’s true. That’s correct.
What’s the reasoning behind that?
Well, I decided that December 31st of this year is going to be the very last one. There are a whole bunch of reasons I decided to do that, but I guess the main one is that it just isn’t fun anymore. I’m not really enjoying it. I’m not really getting anything out of it, like I used to. I kind of worked these issues out in the 2009 book. I kind of decided that it’s run its course and it’s done.
Was it ever fun, or was it more of an exercise?
Oh yeah. when I first started doing it, that was my whole reason for being. In the early days, the art was my life. I would make decisions—they would be bad decisions, and I would make them intentionally, strictly to make good comics later. That was great when I was doing it, but at this point, it’s like, I’m not anybody’s court jester.
Are you a grownup now? Is that what it is?
I guess that’s a way of putting it, yeah. Yeah, that’s one way you can say it. I try not to think of it that way. I try to think that I’m still not really living like a grownup, but when it comes down to it, yeah, I guess that’s what it is [laughs].
It’s funny that you admitted right off the bat that you’ve been doing stuff specifically to write about it in the strip. That’s something that not a lot of people cop to.
One of the primary objectives of a diary strip is to be “real,” in a sense. When you’re going out of your way to affect it, do you feel like you’re robbing it of that?
That’s a good point. I haven’t really thought of it that way. I guess, yeah. In the early days, there was definitely the feeling that everyone was watching me, and I had to do stuff that they were going to remember. I guess as it’s gone on, it was popular for a time and reached a real peak. And then it sort of went down. It’s a very visible trend in the popularity of the comic. And you look at the reviews it gets and stuff—once I got a girlfriend and settled down and started behaving like a normal person, people sort of lost interest.
You use the word “boring” a lot in the intro to the new book.
Yeah. You read the book—maybe it’s not necessarily boring, but it’s definitely not what it used to be. I don’t wake up in any ditches this year, and I don’t shit my pants, or anything like that.
I don’t know know you well, obviously, but I would assume you’ve never shit your pants to make the strip more interesting.
No, no, no. That’s true, yeah [laughs].
What’s an example of something you did do to enhance the strip?
Oh, I don’t know…It’s never any impulse things like that. It’s more larger things. Like, around the middle of the My Life in the Jugular Vein book, there’s a part where I’m in Milwaukee, and they’re trying to convince me to ditch everything and go on tour with the Fleshies. And I’m thinking about it. And seriously, one of the major reasons I decided to do that was that it would look really good in the comic, as opposed to, “well, I went home, went to bed, whatever.”
And it made that whole four-month period—it was the first time I ever got super behind with the comics. I wasn’t drawing them every day. I got a little behind. All of the panels I did afterward, I did with thought bubbles, instead of straight lines. That right there kind of set a precedent of, ‘well, if I miss a day, it’s okay. I can catch up on it a few days later.’
That kind of thinking got really out of hand, to the point where—right now I’m only 13 days behind, which isn’t too bad. Last year I got to be four or five months behind—hundreds of days behind. That’s kind of when it became work and not fun, when I was so far behind that it was this huge, overwhelming thing that I had in front of me.
Going on tour with the Fleshies sounds like a pretty awesome thing to do–
Oh yeah, it definitely was. But the whole time I was doing it, I was thinking, ‘this would make good comics.’ I didn’t necessarily specifically do it to make good comics, but that was definitely a major deciding factor.
It sounded earlier like a lot of things you did to enhance the comics—you were basically fucking up your life, to make it a better comic. It sounds like it’s had both good and bad repercussions.
Actually, yeah, you’re right. It’s been both good and bad. A lot of good things came out of living that way, and a lot of bad things, too. In financial terms, I’m kind of living the life of a normal 22 or 23-year-old person.
How old are you?
I’m 35. It’s one of those things. I have friends who are in their early 20s, and they’ve kind of got their shit together even more than I do, even though, for the past—god, it’s been three or four years since I’ve been “getting my shit together.”
What does that entail?
Well, you know, I’ve got a bank account and a job with a salary. I bought a car and have to make car payments. And there’s insurance on the car. You know, all of the freedom that I had in the early 2000s, when I didn’t have anybody to answer to, and I didn’t have a car, I didn’t have any responsibilities, I wasn’t on a leash. I could just get up and go, whenever I wanted. All of that kind of living is totally gone now. I’m totally a slave to the man. I have all of these bills I’ve got to pay and shit.
There’s no more getting around it. There’s no more punking your way out of the shit when you reach a certain age, I feel like.
Was the free living a symptom of the strip or was it a symptom of just being young and wanting to fuck around?
It’s definitely from just the way I was living. Granted, I would definitely make the wrong decision consciously, because it would make a better strip, or whatever, but after a few years of that, it gets to be what people expect of you. It’s like, “oh look, there’s the guy whose gonna shit his pants and puke all over everybody.” And it’s like, I don’t want to do that anymore.
And there’s someone who will step in your place when you’re ready to be done with shitting your pants.
Yeah, definitely [laughs].