In this third part of our interview with the Nuts artist, we discuss the importance of maintaining a childlike sense of wonder and fear as an artist.
Does the digitizing of newspapers and magazines affect you as a single-panel cartoonist?
Yeah. And you think maybe this whole area will fade away, which is possible. But, as far as the gallery thing is concerned, paintings on walls as a business, that is not going to be affected in the tiniest bit. I think it’s compatible—it goes on. That’s another little thing. I’ll have that too. I’m itching to get into it, more and more, I find.
You mentioned Goya, who fits into a lot of these dark themes that you play with in your work.
Do those themes carry over into your gallery work?
Oh yeah. He’s the best, I think. He’s fantastic, extraordinaire.
Let’s talk a bit more about Nuts, since the collection is coming out.
It’s a strip about small children.
Yeah, about kids. The way I got started into is, is, in the Lampoon—they were a bunch of crazy, wonderful people, who wanted to shock and astound and horrify everybody. So they would egg you on to make things worse. And they had this notion of putting the comic pages at the end of the magazine. So they asked me to make a strip, and I was trying to think. They said “make it horrible, make it really horrible.”
I was playing with monsters and so on, and all of the sudden, I was thinking of what is really scary, and I thought, ‘being a little kid.’ It’s just amazing. When you’re walking along the street and see grownups and a little kid, zero in on the little kid, and really watch it. Not as a little kid, but as a human being. Really watch the little thing. It’s just astounding what they’re going through. They’re so alive and they’re so open. This is all open, all this shit.
It’s hard for us to figure out this stuff. For them, it’s completely fantastic—every moment.
You don’t have to create monsters. They’re just around when you’re a small child.
Oh yeah. They’re trying to handle it. What do they do next? I’m this little thing here, and there are these great big people, and what is that over there and so on? It’s this enormous challenge. It’s an extraordinaire demonstration of just how strong we are that we survive it and become what we call grownups. I think a lot of us lose a of what we had when we were kids…
It’s something. I’m really quite serious. If you see a little kid, watch that little bugger, and you will be amazed and thrilled. You’ll see how he or she is doing it. It’s thrilling.
You read a lot of horror books growing up.
Do you continue to read them?
Is it important to stay scared? To stay in that mindset of a child?
It’s a transitional sort of thing. You do grow up. I think a thing that separates artists is that they manage to hang on to—not the immaturity—they keep this state of wonder, which I think to be awed on any given day of the week is terribly important, if you’re going to be worth a damn as an artist. When you go to a museum and there are these extraordinaire paintings—El Greco and Cezanne—and you look at them and it’s scary to see how much they saw and how they could put it on a canvas for you to see it. It’s just incredible. It’s because they’ve got this thing that a lot of grownups have lost. It’s quite tragic—they’ve lost the understanding of just how incredible this all is. They make sense out of it and reduce it.
They’ve lost it. They’ve lost this thing that little kids have got and you have, but it’s not easy to keep it. But you’ve got to keep it, if you’re going to be an artist.
You’ve done a lot of children’s books.
It seems to me that a lot of these strips and books about children is that a lot of people tend to project adult personalities onto kids.
Is it easier for you to get into the head of a child, as an artist?
It is, yeah. The legendary ones like L. Frank Baum—the really great children’s classics are again staggeringly perceptive. It’s very difficult to even begin to describe them. They’re usually an allegory, and there’s almost always wonderful events, or at least things are perceived wonderfully.
And they’re also often very scary, which you don’t see in a lot of modern children’s books.
Yes, because the word for a kid is often very scary. It’s a huge challenge, and it is often scary. I mean, people die, and what the hell is that all about? I explore that sort of thing in Nuts. The stuff that happens to grownups happens to kids, too—these amazing, awful things. And these often terrific things. And they have to somehow wrap themselves around it. I don’t think there’s been a human being yet that’s fully conscious, though I think there are some that are more fully conscious than others. I don’t understand why this and that are happening.
[Concluded in Part Four]