Interview: Ben Snakepit Pt. 3 [of 4]

Categories:  Interviews

bensnakepitworkwasokay2009

The more Ben Snakepit discusses his decade-old strip, the more reason he seems to hit upon explaining his upcoming retirement. And while he makes no bones about being flat out tired with the whole process, none of his pronouncements seem quite so telling as the following statement,

I call myself Ben Snakepit, after the comic. In the early days, that was just a zine thing. I was trying to be like Aaron Cometbus or Iggy Scam or one of those people. As I get older…Ben Snakepit is a cartoon character. I’m a person. I’m Ben White.

Snake Pit is a diary strip, sure, but no matter how confessional it might get at times, it’s important to remember that, at it’s heart, it’s just a cartoon. It’s a distinction that has been seemingly difficult for a number of fans to make upon first meeting the artist.

As he gets further and further along on his strip, the lines have also seemingly begun to blur a bit for the author himself.

[Part One][Part Two]

You went to art school.

Yes [laughs]. I majored in fashion design in college.

How did that happen?

[Laughs] It was one of those things. I was in high school. My generation, when we were in high school, we were pushed into going to college. “What are you going to do in college? What are you going to major in?” They just kept pushing that. I’d liked art class, so I decided to go to school for art. I don’t know…

It’s one of those things, you just agree to be part of the machine, and they just push you through it. I went to art school, and they were like, “okay, you’re in this class, and you’re in this class.” There was very little teaching or human interaction. “We’ve judged your performance freshman year, and we think you’d do best in fashion design.” Okay, whatever. I just kind of went with it.

It was such a cookie cutter kind of situation. There was a day I went to class, and they had this guy from an ad agency, and they said, “this guy is gonna tell you about the new jobs you’re going to have at the ad agency.” He literally described the details of a job. This was junior year—I still had a year left of college.

I raised my hand and said, “what if you don’t want to go work for this ad agency that you’re plugging?” And they said, “oh, well, if graduate from this program, you’ve got a guaranteed job at this ad agency.” Everyone else was totally into it and totally down. It’s what they wanted to do.

But it wasn’t my thing, and I literally dropped out of college that day and never went back.

So the strip was really an opportunity to keep drawing?

I guess so. I think it’s just kind of in my blood. I’m literally doing it right now, as I’m talking to you on the phone. It’s just one of those things that I’m always—it’s something to do. some people smoke cigarettes or chew gum or they have to have something to do with their hands or their feet. I’m always doodling and drawing.

So I think, in that sense, I’m always going to do it. I’m always going to enjoy it. But I don’t know if I want that to be my life or what I’m known for.

I call myself Ben Snakepit, after the comic. In the early days, that was just a zine thing. I was trying to be like Aaron Cometbus or Iggy Scam or one of those people. As I get older…Ben Snakepit is a cartoon character. I’m a person. I’m Ben White.

You don’t have the skull shirt on right now?

Um…actually, yes, there is a skull on my shirt right now… And it is black, yes [laughs]. But you know what I mean? It’s one of those things where the cartoon character is kind of taking over. That was another reason why I wanted to quit.

Like I said, there’s a whole lot of reasons why I made that decision. That’s another one. I don’t want to be pigeon-holed as, “here’s this guy who always shits his pants and he’ll drink with you, and he wants to party.” I’d like to think that I’m a little bit of a deeper person than that.

People no doubt assume that they know you when they approach you, because Snake Pit is, more or less, your life.

Yeah.

Do you bump into a lot of readers who immediately attempt to engage you in conversation, as though they already know you?

All the time, all the time. And you know what? I don’t honestly mind that part of it at all. I think that part’s really cool. You know, here in Austin, we have SXSW, which is a giant festival. And while that was going on this year, these two random kids came up to me and said they were from…I don’t know where, exactly. It’s the middle of nowhere. Iowa, maybe? Some state I’ve never been to. I’m going to just say Iowa. They said, “hey, we’re from Iowa, and we have this list of things we wanted to do while we were in Austin. One of the them was smoke out with Ben Snakepit.”

And I was like, “I’m here to make your dream come true guys. Let’s do this.” [Laughs]

Is it just that people can find you where you work?

The video store, yeah. But I guess you can come to town and ask for me. I don’t think I’d be that hard to find. I’m definitely not a recluse or anything. I’m always out and about in town.

I’m not sure if I would recognize you, if I saw you in the street, given the artwork in the book.

Maybe though! I’m surprised by the number of people who say, “you look just like your drawings.”

It’s funny, I was talking to J.T. [Yost, of Birdcage Bottom Books], and he was saying that since he’s got the neck beard, people bumped into him at MoCCA, assuming it was you.

[Laughs] That’s pretty funny. I’m definitely a good five or six sizes larger than.

You’ve definitely started drawing yourself huge in the comics.

I try. But there are still people who give me shit about it. In the early days, I was kind of—the camera took off a few pounds. But enough people gave me shit about it, to the point where you can definitely see a conscious change around 2005, or so. I decided to draw myself more realistic.

It never seemed as though you were attempting to paint yourself in a particularly flattering light. So many of the strips are: I went to work today, it sucked. I smoked out and went to sleep.

Yeah, yeah.

[Concluded in Part Three]

–Brian Heater