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Archive for February, 2013

 

 

 

“SALT” Archive Interrview # 1: JHONEN VASQUEZ

A brief history lesson is on order. This interview was published in issue three of my fanzine “SALT” in the summer of 2001, and represented a real breakthrough in terms of the kind of comics coverage I’d envisioned for the zine. I was fast learning to use the internet as my means of communicating with people that I wanted to interview, and after spying the email address enclosed in the first issue of the still- brilliant “I Feel Sick”, I wrote to JV, humbly asking for an interview. A terse but agreeable reply made its way back to me, and miraculously I had scored an interview with one of my favourite comic creators. I was a Vasquez obsessive then, and wore my Squee and Johnny t-shirts over my emaciated frame at any and every opportunity, even nightclubs. I still wince at some of the questions that I foisted upon Vasquez – especially the Eminem-themed one – but it elicited a very funny response, so I think he very much made the best of it. The interview inadvertently caught a crucial moment where Jhonen was just about to find great fame and/or notoriety for the incredible animation series “Invader Zim”, over and above his considerable comic achievements. It would take several more years before I’d even get to see an image of Zim, let alone a full episode. I wrote to thank him for his time and his responses, and for an address to send the finished issue into, but I never heard from Vasquez again. I hope he’s out there somewhere, still as bitter and as twisted as he was in this interview.

Life is a grim tide of loneliness, neglect, pain, homicide and flesh-eating alien doctors according to the comics king of schadenfreude, Jhonen Vasquez. And who am I to disagree, what with the UK suffering under Nature’s revenge floods, animals burning in the countryside and an all-purveying air of inhumanity to our fellow man hanging in our minds? The parade of Vasquez’s creations ranges from the reanimated torture experiment Fillerbunny, the love-struck and perennially heart-broken Wobbly-Headed Bob to Squee, the boy trapped in an unceasing vortex of fear to the monstrous but loveable philosopher/killer Johnny the Homicidal Maniac. They once seemed like satanic strangers to me, clawing at my unconscious and dragging me into the dark. But now that I’ve been thoroughly brain-washed and re-educated “Manchurian Candidate” style, I view the work of JV as that of a visionary misanthrope on a mission to doom humanity to death involving violent cackling from reading his comic books. I’ve taken ‘Nny and the wild contortionist venom of Happy Noodle Boy to my bleak irredeemable heart, feeble trash that I am: I’ve got the t-shirts and the nightmares to prove it. Buy his comics, bow down to your master. I consider it a personal honour to be threatened with physical violence by this man.

SALT: Although I’ve been reading “Johnny the Homicidal Maniac” for a few years, I wondered when your comics career first started?

Jhonen Vasquez: Aside from doing shitty, horrible comics in elementary school, starting these disgusting Sunday funnies style characters, I guess my real start was when I did the JTHM strips for “Carpe Noctum” magazine. It was my first time being published, something that had any kind of presence. Shortly after that, around 1995, I had my first actual comic books published by Slave Labor Graphics. The world has been weeping ever since.

  

You’ve probably seen asked this many times, but where on earth did the idea for Johnny come from? Compared to some of the recent creations like Hannibal Lecter or Patrick Bateman, he is far more compelling, funny and disturbing than the lot of them.

First real lesson was to laugh at horrible things. I do that a lot…A LOT. I’m obsessed with taking things that some people take VERY seriously, and treating it SO disrespectfully for amusement’s sake. NOT because I don’t think the subject matter is serious, but rather because I CAN make fun of it. Anything and everything is laughable. It’s just the absurd that interests me, taking something so far that, no matter what it is, murder, cuteness, love death, piggies, it’s a joke. Also, I like drawing monkeys. Johnny’s just a creature who’s taken his own theories and behaviour so far to the extreme that I have to stand back and laugh at him. He’s tragic in his own head, but it’s an obvious joke to observe.

When I read “Johnny”, I’m reminded of the bleak worldview of The Comedian in “Watchmen”, and his emphasis on getting the joke of living. Would you see parallels with that view in your work?

I’ve never read “Watchmen”. This makes me unlearned in the growing, fast-paced comics world of the modern age, yes?

I’ve seen the photo evidence of mutation that occurs when people read “The Bad Art Collection”, but this hasn’t happened to me. Am I reading it wrong?

If you’re a drinking person, or possibly a fan of drug use, you should perhaps get some of that in you before settling yourself on high ledge somewhere. Then start reading the book from front to back while hammering yourself in the crotch with…a hammer perhaps. This results in the best reading experience. I myself do not drink or do any sort of personality-enhancing magic, so I hate this book.

You’ve done a few fun pages with Roman Dirge in his great “Lenore” comic: any chance that you two will work together on a bigger project?

I think Roman and I are far too into doing our own projects to put the time into a collaboration. Last time we tried something like that, there were all those killings in the Middle East. Remember that? That was us.

Have you experienced much in the way of protest or censorship of your work?

I’m pretty isolated from ANY of the effects of my work. I think my work just happens to be well-aimed enough to make it exclusively into the hands of the right people (elderly Mormons), so the response is generally good. I remember some bullshit with Hot Topic a while back, deciding not to sell some of my books because they were offensive or some other business. I didn’t care, since my books did well before Hot Topic ever carried them, and they sold fine afterwards. I’ve no idea if the books are back on the shelves but, again…I have other things on my mind – like behaviour-altering electrodes.

I think that Happy Noodle Boy is the funniest, most fatalistic character in comics of recent years – and that Dubya Bush is just like him! What do you think?

I think you’re funny.

 

Your recent book “I Feel Sick” was one of the most lucid things I’ve ever read about the creative process, and felt that as close as autobiography as you’re prepared to get. What were your motives for writing it?

All the right ones, I hope. For me, anyhow. I dragged those books out of a hideous time in my life, a time that continues to this day. The idea of having to almost kill yourself just to produce something personal, and ultimately more satisfying in the claustrophobic atmosphere of a more commercial setting is nothing new, but it was something different for me at the time. Before that point, my books existed as the only work in my life, and they have a feeling of being untouched by that kind of hatred. But I do well with hatred, and working in animation, working so much that I have no time for anything resembling the life I had doing comics was me REALLY LOVE the time I have to do comics. “I Feel Sick” was something that I worked on in the few moments I had to actually get away from the “Invader Zim” animation, so it was only natural for it to be a series about someone losing their mind not because they were weak, but because something was standing in the way of the very thing that gives them incredible strength to stay sane, that strength being their passion for their work. The more personal work. Sickness became this manifestation of a sort of “governing” mind, whether it be a corporation, or even an audience that now expects you to do what IT wants to see, rather than being happy with the next thing you do for more intimate motives.

Would I be right in thinking that you a fan of Steve Albini and his music?

You have neat shoes.

 

Despite everything he is put through, Squee is your most resilient character, even more so than Fillerbunny! Does he represent a more hopeful side of your personality?

No. No, you are incredibly wrong. Squee’s resilience keeps him in a perpetual state of terror, the optimal condition for laughing at what happens to him. His emotional equilibrium never goes so far to one side as to have him get used to all of the nasty shit that goes on around him. Rather, it stays right there, teetering in the middle, keeping him a blubbering yet somehow stable mass of fear and confusion. He’s so cute.

Would you say that you are a well-read man? In your work I see references to Nathaniel West, Edward Gorey, Greek myths, The Brothers Grimm and much more.

I read when I can. It’s not the kind of shit you see in the impulse buy section of a grocery store. But I don’t get a lot of time to read these days, or go looking for things to read, so people just throw books at me, and I get to them when I can. At the moment, I’m going through some short Bukowski books. I like.

After the parodying of your fan mail that you did in the final issue of “Squee”, would you say that “Stan” by Eminem echoes your sentiments accurately?

I need to smack you in the head with something. Got any tuna?

You mentioned that life was pretty hectic for you at the moment: what projects are keeping you busy/

Just one. “Invader Zim”. By the time anyone sees this interview, the show will already have premiered, and likely have been cancelled. It’s a great show, but it has destroyed anything resembling a pleasant life I once may have had. Still, I guess it’s kind of funny losing my mind like this.

Lastly, what are you most looking forward to doing as the year progresses, comics or otherwise?

I look forward to pigs.

 

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