In this third part of our interview with the modern cartooning legend, we discuss the difference between teaching and creating, not being too big to fail, and the importance of being a superhero.
You’re interested in discussing this idea of yourself as a child getting into the art, versus speaking strictly about technique. I was going to ask whether you’ve ever been an educator or are at all interested in that, but I guess that, in order to be an educator, you’ve got to get deep into ink techniques and things like that.
Exactly. It’s very difficult for me when people ask me to do a talk or an example of a page—how I break down a page and stuff like that. It’s not that easy for me. There are teachers and there are doers—I’m a doer. I don’t know how this stuff happens, it just spills out of me, it’s that kind of thing.
After a while, I’ll think about it and say, “oh, that’s how I do it.” But I couldn’t stand in front of a class and tell them how to do it.
Does that moment of realization help you as an artist?
Sure, I guess so. But I’ve always trusted the part where it spills out of me and it works. I don’t want to fight that, because I’m afraid it will ruin it and it will change it, or my art won’t be that distinctive. I’d rather just leave that to the gods.
Yeah, yeah. I don’t question. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t work, I have to think about it.
You mentioned earlier that you’re sort of beholden to this somewhat realistic style. Are you interested in creating more abstract works? Or more cartoony work?
Sure, but I guess I’m not so much a natural in changing my style. It would be like forcing it, and I guess that part of me is a little afraid that, if I force it, it won’t be as good. As I said, trusting my instincts is a better way to go, because that’s always been more successful.
But it’s important to challenge yourself, right?
Yeah. But I channel that in different ways—other than, say, trying to reinvent myself. That’s something I don’t understand, when they talk about artists, like, “oh, he did it again. He reinvented himself.” Then what he did before isn’t real? Is this the real guy? Or was that the real guy and he doesn’t want to be the real guy anymore?
So, it’s just something that I’ve never grasped. And part of it’s being lazy and part of it’s being scared to fail [laughs]. I’m not afraid to admit that.
You’re so prominent now that if you do fail, everyone will see.
[Laughs] Yeah! And I think that I’ve created a style that I’m comfortable with, where everything I draw it covers.
When you were growing up, was your style more similar to your brothers than it is today?
That’s hard to say, because you’re drawing like a kid. Our styles differed, because I knew what a Mario drawing was, as opposed to a Gilbert drawing. But there are people who can’t tell my drawing from Gilbert, who, the first time they read it, they go, “I really like your character, Luba.” And I go, “well, that’s my brother Gilbert,” and they go, “oh really?” It’s all the same to them.
It’s like being able to tell a McCartney song from a Lennon song.
Yeah [laughs]. Right, there you go.
Do you still hear from a lot of people who are new to the comic?
Yeah, that’s the cool part. I get a lot of people who approach me who say, “I’ve heard about your comic for 20 years, and now I’m going to start.” And I think that’s cool.
So it’s older people, primarily?
Yeah, yeah. And then there are people who grew up on my comic who are giving it to their kids now, which I think is pretty cool. I’ll take what I can get [laughs]. A lot of people won’t jump into it because there’s such a backlog of work. We get that complaint all the time. “Where do I begin with this? Where should I start?”
Fantagraphics thinks about that a lot, and they try to package it where it’s friendly and you’ll pick up one.
Like the Heartbreak Soup one that they put out.
Yeah, yeah. And so I get a lot of people who are picking up the collections of the first issues. I don’t know what they’re looking for, but I hope some of them won’t get turned off by the early science fiction trappings.
Are they trappings?
I don’t know what you want to call them, but the science fictiony look about them.
“Trappings” almost sounds like they’re a crutch.
Okay, well then not trappings [laughs]. But it’s like, “someone told me that these guys wrote about normal people,” and that might turn them off.
So it was more symptomatic of where you were at the time?
Yeah, and I’ve moved on. What interested me, I went in that direction. I don’t regret any of it.
It’s interesting that you point out the more realistic stuff, because you’ve sort of moved in the other direction with the superhero stuff.
Does that come out you being a five-year-old, drawing Batman comics?
Yeah, sure. I’m a kid again. And it’s also looking at today’s superhero comics. I grew up in the 60s, and I’ve watched it evolve and not evolve.
Yeah [laughs]. Once in a while, I want to show them how it’s done. And this last Ti-Girl story, I did that for that reason. For one thing, I just want to have fun and not have to worry about being so serious. And it’s also a chance to say, “this is what I think superheroes should be like.”
So, what should they be like?
For me, I think superheroes should not be part of the real world. There are just some things that don’t work.
So you weren’t a fan of the Dark Knight movie?
Those things are fine, because I still look at them as fantasy. They have hoodlums that steal money and go in the alley to count it. That’s still old school criminals. Things like that. For me, when they bring it more into the real world, it loses it’s charm. I do like superheroes.
I guess I should say, I like superheroes with their own rules. Not our rules. And I think that was cool when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko changed the rules. I think that was cool, but it kind of—they created a monster to me. I think you should go by your own set of rules. It was kind of like we were the intruders, instead of them.
It’s kind of like I say at the end of the Ti-Girl story, where Maggie says she always felt that Penny was this drawing cut from a comic and pasted on earth, but one of the characters says, “yes, but in this situation, you’re the fake.” And Maggie goes, “yeah, I figured that.” So Maggie was the weird visitor in their world.