Interview: Ben Snake Pit Pt. 2 [of 4]

Categories:  Interviews

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“I get compared to Porcellino and Kochalka a lot,” Ben Snakepit explains in the second part of our interview, “but I don’t feel like I’m even in the same boat as those guys. Those guys are actual real artists who can make art. I’m just a dumbass with a pen.”

No can can accuse Snakepit of taking himself too seriously–at least not in the context of his decade-old daily diary strip. And that almost certainly is part of the project’s appeal. Few if any look toward the comic as the source of ground breaking sequential aesthetics, but in terms of ego-free honesty, it’s hard to outdo the artist.

You can’t count on two hands the number of times Snakepit refers to shitting himself over to course of 40 minute interview. But antics like that, for better and worse, are rapidly becoming a thing of the past, as Snake Pit draws to a close at the end of this year.

[Part One]

From what I’ve read, it sounds like you didn’t set out initially with the intention of creating a popular strip. What was your original motivation?

I think I’ve always made clear in the comics that playing music is more important to me than drawing or doing art. I just draw the comics because they’re fun. The music is the part that I’m trying to be serious about. In the late-90s, I was playing in this band, and we were trying to “make it.” We were struggling around and we had this drummer that just kept flaking out. The day before a tour, he’d be like, “I’m gonna quit the band,” and we’d have to cancel the tour.

It’s always the drummer.

Yeah! It’s always the drummer. Honestly, I think their brains get fucked up with all of that thrashing around. Anybody starting a band, I want to give them this advice: if you can find a sane drummer, you stick with them, forever.

Anyway, this drummer was flaking out, and it was frustrating. I reached the point where I wanted one creative outlet where I had total creative control and didn’t have to count of someone else. I didn’t have to be embarrassed when that person bails out.

I decided to do a zine. This was 2000. There was no Internet. People still did zines when they had something to say. They’d go to Kinko’s and make copies of that shit. And that’s what I did. I did a zine. It was all comics. I never typed out my feelings on drinking coffee, or anything like that—it wasn’t a zine in that sense, but it was a zine in the sense that it was a self-published thing that was really just me trying to get out what I was trying to say. I wasn’t trying to accomplish anything or achieve any sort of fame.

It was basically the same format from the beginning? It was always a comic?

It’s always been the same three panels a day of what I did. I never tried to approach it as a “comic book,” per se. I wasn’t trying to be in the same boat as James Kochalka or John Porcellino or anyone like that. I was just this dumb kid who couldn’t draw, who was just going to do my shit any way. That’s always kind of been the point.

But because it’s diary comics and because it’s simply drawn, I get compared to Porcellino and Kochalka a lot, but I don’t feel like I’m even in the same boat as those guys. Those guys are actual real artists who can make art. I’m just a dumbass with a pen.

Were you a comics fan when you started?

Not really, no. When I was a kid, I read a lot of X-Men and shit like that, but as far as underground, indie comics, I didn’t really know much about the scene. A friend of mine turned me on to a really, really early Kochalka comic—Magic Boy. This was like 97 or 96. And that showed me what people were willing to accept as art [laughs]. Like, “wow, this guy can’t draw at all, either, and he’s got books published. I’m sure any retard can do this.” It was that kind of mindset, I guess.

Actually, I want to go on the record as saying that I ripped off Jim’s Journal, from The Onion. That’s totally what I was going for. I had no idea that Kochalka was doing a daily diary comic until I had been doing mine for six or seven months, honestly. Granted, he published his stuff was before me, but I absolutely arrived at that idea independent of him. I want to going on record saying that [laughs]. But I absolutely ripped off Jim’s Journal, without a doubt.

It’s a different approach from American Elf. His strip is often a single panel, and yours is really a laundry list of what you did that day.

Yeah, yeah.

I assumed that part of the impetus for the strip was keeping track of what you had done on any given day or week. Has it served that purpose, as well?

Oh yeah, many times. There was a time—I want to say 2000 or 2001—I was working at the Sound Exchange record store. I had gotten a raise, and the paycheck hadn’t show up on the right day. The boss didn’t believe me, so I pulled the mini comic off the rack and showed him the day I got the raise, and he was like, “oh, okay, you’re right.” He had to adjust it.

Are you still publishing as a zine, or is it just the collected volumes?

No, it’s just the collections. Right now the only currently published this is the 2009 book.

The Microcosm stuff is out of print?

I’m sure Microcosm still has copies left, but I don’t think there’s any plans to reprint it if they sell out. The only thing I know is out of print for sure is the first book, the yellow one that’s just called “The Snake Pit Book.” That one’s been out of print for maybe a year now. It’s funny, if you look it up on Amazon, they have the robot programs that will seek out when something is out of print and then just raise the price. I saw it for $1,000, the other day. Someone was like, “oh my god, your book is worth that much?” No, but no one else is selling it on Amazon, so the robot did that.

Man, you should start selling your old books on eBay.

I actually don’t have any. The only thing I have left is 2008 and 2009. Everything else is pretty much gone. Definitely the early shit, if you’ve got it, you should eBay it, for sure.

It sounded in the book like you weren’t entirely sure that you were stopping the strip. But now it’s definitely going to stop at the end of the year?

Well, yeah. Definitely as far as three panels a day, with the date in the top left-hand corner and the name of the song I was listening to in the top right corner—that whole format, yes. I’m done with that shit. I’m over it. I’m not going to say that I’m never going to draw comics again, or whatever. I’m still going to do a column for Razorcake Magazine. I do lots of artwork for t-shirts and records and shit like that, and I’m still going to do that. I’m definitely going to do some kind of comic in the future, it’s just not going to be the way Snake Pit has been.

[Continued in Part Three]

–Brian Heater