“Recently, I was reading an interview with Bill Watterson,” Ben Snakepit begins. “It’s an interview about why he quit doing Calvin and Hobbes after 10 years. I kind of agreed with so much of what he said in it. He basically said, ‘I don’t have anything left to say. I got it all out of my system. To keep going now would just be a lame cartoon of itself.’ There are bands now that should have broken up in 1987 and they never did. They’re still around and it’s like, ‘god, they’re still doing that. It’s so embarrassing.’ I don’t want to end up like that. I don’t want to end up a parody of myself, even though that’s kind of what it is, from the get go.”
In this final part of our interview, the Snake Pit artist’s justifications for quitting the strip after ten years really begin piling up–some provoked, others not. Say what you will about his self-imposed comics retirement, but Ben Snakepit clearly put a lot of thought into the decision.
In the 2009 book, the artist still came across as a bit indecisive regarding the end of the strip. Speaking to him halfway through 2010, the decision seems fairly concrete. Fans will get one more annual Snake Pit collection, and Ben Snakepit will get his life back.
How’s your music career going, these days?
It’s going really good. I have a new band, Shanghai River—I’m sure you read about the creation of it in the 2009 book. That’s my thing—that’s my baby. That’s another huge reason for why I’m quitting the strip. I really want to focus on this band. I don’t want it to be huge, I don’t want it to be on MTV, or anything like that, but I definitely want to make this band the main focus of my creative energy.
I’ve been working really hard on it, and the other people in the band have been working really hard on it. I’m really happy with how things are going. We’ve got a new record that will be coming out in June. We’ll be doing a tour in the middle of June. We’re touring to California and back. And we’ve got a seven-inch coming out, later in the year. That’s mainly what I’m trying to focus on.
I’ve also got another band called Ghost Knife, which is kind of a side project. It’s with Chris [Pfeffer], who was with me in J. Church. He’s the drummer. And Mike Wiebe from the Riverboat Gamblers. He’s playing guitar and singing. But that band is more of a sideproject for all of us, because we’ve all got other things that we’re trying to focus on more.
Not to get too far into the minutiae of the book, but there was a strip where you mentioned that you were no longer enjoying practicing with Ghost Knife. Does putting something in a strip ever tend to backfire on you?
Yes. Definitely. It has definitely, definitely backfired on me. And, once again, we’re coming to another reason why I want to quit doing these comics.
All roads seem to lead to the same place.
Yeah, yeah. Well, I’ve gotten in trouble for all kinds of things. I’ve gotten in huge trouble with ex-girlfriends and ex-bandmates. You always run that risk when you’re using real names and you’re telling the real truth and you’re publishing it for anybody to read.
The worst of it I’ve weathered. I’ve seen as bad as it can get, I hope. But that’s definitely something that influenced my decision to quit. People get really butt-hurt over a tiny little comment. It’s how I felt at the time that I drew the comic. That’s always been the thing. The day that I sit down and draw out the panels.
I don’t always draw out the comics, but I draw out the panels and write the captions. I do that part every day. The things I say, that’s just how I feel at the time. Maybe I’m drunk or tired after a long day or I’m pissed off at something. And a lot of times that mood will come back to haunt me, years later. Somebody will say, “I can’t believe you said my band sucked.” “I’m so sorry, dude. You were the 800th band I’d seen that month. I was a little burned out.”
It’s little things like that. And I understand that it’s in a book. My life is no more important or no more better than anyone who doesn’t have a book out. But because there’s that book, people seem to think that I think that I’m more important than them. But I really don’t.
When you’re going back and filling the panels in, do you ever scrap things because you were drunk or angry when you first wrote them?
No. Actually—I guess it’s never really been made clear, but I don’t use pencil. I use pen, straight on paper. If I spell something wrong, I’ll use Whiteout. But for the most part—that’s why a lot of the drawings suck so bad. You throw out the first line, and it’s like, “fuck! I didn’t want anything like that.” You just have to work around it.
I’ve always thought that penciling and doing shit like that is kind of cheating—at least in terms of what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to get that initial feeling right down on paper, right away. And it’s not always pretty.
I know the format has remained fairly constant throughout, but do you feel as though you’ve grown, in terms of writing or storytelling?
I think you can kind of see my improvement. Definitely through the first book you can see me going from a complete incompetent to somewhat having my shit together. And then, about 03 or 04 is where is kind of peaked. And I don’t think I’ve gotten any better at anything I do since then. It’s been about six or seven years, and I don’t think that I’ve improved on bit since then. And that’s another reason why I feel like it’s time to just call it a night.
Recently, I was reading an interview with Bill Watterson. Somebody had posted it on my Facebook page. It’s an interview about why he quit doing Calvin and Hobbes after 10 years. I kind of agreed with so much of what he said in it. He basically said, “I don’t have anything left to say. I got it all out of my system. To keep going now would just be a lame cartoon of itself.”
There are bands now that should have broken up in 1987 and they never did. They’re still around and it’s like, “god, they’re still doing that. It’s so embarrassing.” I don’t want to end up like that. I don’t want to end up a parody of myself, even though that’s kind of what it is, from the get go.
Do you worry that you’re going to lose an important source of structure in your life?
No, I don’t think so. I do honestly feel like I’m going to draw something every day. It might not necessarily be a comic for everyone to see, but I love drawing too much. I’ve got a drawing table in my house. I don’t think I’m going to stop that, but I don’t think that everyone needs to see everything I draw.