How are you? I am fine. Here's some comicky news.
- This photo of a drawing that Charles Schulz did of Batman asleep on Snoopy's doghouse has been making the rounds. This is exciting not only because it is a drawing of Batman, but also because there is finally an adult existing in the Peanuts world.
- Peter Laird's Xeric Grant is closing up shop. For 20 years the Ninja Turtle co-creator offered grants to help artists self-publish their comics, but now he’s decided to focus on non-comics charity work. It makes sense, but it's a little sad to see a great thing go away. A lot of good cartoonists got their start with Xeric-funded comics, including a lot of personal friends. Comics fans owe a lot to Peter Laird for being so cool with his money and encouraging people to find success like he did.
- Matthew Thurber, cartoonist of note, posted all the songs by his band, Ambergris, on this website.
- Ron Rege Jr. designed the set for this new show called We Can Do It!. The show is produced by our pal, Liz Armstrong.
- Lyonel Feininger, the German expressionist painter who also made the amazing Kin-Der Kids comic, has a show up at the Whitney until October 16th.
Here are some reviews. Send art, zines, books, or nerdlery things you’d like reviewed to Nick Gazin C/o VICE Magazine.
Motel Art Improvement Service
At first I saw this thing and was like, “This looks like some bullshit.” But this book showed me that you can't always judge a book by its cover.
Motel Art Improvement Service is a comic about Bee, a pear-shaped, red-headed, 18-year-old virgin living in Brooklyn. She plans a summer-long bike ride across America, but is only a day or two into her journey when some guy smacks her ass so hard that he almost kills her, but ends up just ruining her bicycle. Bee stays at a motel while she figures out what to do next, where she notices a painting of a quaint barn. A couple of days later she notices a Ferrari driving past a hitchhiker had been added to the painting. Soon, she realizes that the mysterious man who cleans the rooms (Cyrus) is also stealing pills from the guests and subtly editing the paintings. When he leaves the job for a position as a maid at an upscale hotel in Newark, she goes with him. They secretly occupy vacant rooms in the fancy hotel, trying to avoid being caught by their employers. Bee ends up losing her virginity to this guy, and her first sexual experiences are fun and adventurous and carry with them the constant risk of getting caught.
The B story in this comic involves two Princeton students who are selling a huge bag of homemade MDMA to an off-duty marine and the problems that arise from Cyrus casually stealing drugs from every room he wanders into. The C story is about a gallery owner who is trying to track down Cyrus to give him the offer all artists dream of—a big show in a fancy gallery. The story comes to a fairly exciting climax when all the plots ram into each other.
This book perfectly encapsulates the nature of summer flings. The way short-lived romances build and fizzle out is expressed by the characters traveling together, and their emotional states are reflected in the quality of the different motels they stay at. I've known Jason Little for a few years now, but hadn't looked at his comics in a while. When I used to see him around he was the type who would wear straw boaters, but now he looks like Cain as from the Sandman comics. I wanted to ask him about this book so I did.
VICE: How long did this book take you? In what order did the story elements come to you?
Jason: The book took an egregiously long eight years. The first Bee book took about two, which is important for me to remember. I need to remind myself that I am indeed capable of doing a book in a reasonable amount of time. My wife and I had two daughters in the middle of the second book, and I did a hefty amount of house-husbanding, so my studio time took a big hit.
I think the hotel setting and the idea of hotel-housekeeper-as-voyeur came first. Then the paintings and drugs and sex probably came all at once. That was when I knew it was a real book idea. The bike road trip probably came later, as a device to get Bee into a more isolated environment.
Is Cyrus's hobby of making art in a way that will never, ever provide him with any money supposed to be a stand-in for comics?
Golly, that didn't occur to me. I think that's a reasonable assessment, in that Cyrus's feelings about art not being influenced by money reflect my own values. And yes, in a sense, I made Cyrus a painter because it's a form that's adjacent to comics in many ways.
Typically when male authors/comickers make something with a female protagonist, it's to tell a loosely autobiographical story. Are you Bee?
It's not autobiographical because the events didn't happen to me. But on the other hand, Bee's attitudes about sex, and drugs in particular, are a projection of my feelings. I also enjoy inhabiting Bee and Lyla's characters while I'm working with them, it's kind of like a quiet act of transvestism. So in that sense, Bee represents my level-headed side, and Lyla my exhibitionist side.
Why do you think cartoonists often have a thing for big butts?
It's almost universally agreed upon that soft, plump body parts are fun to draw. My students always seem to enjoy life drawing more when the model is a curvy woman. I once read an interview with Frank Frazzetta wherein he explained that he had to make his barbarian women extra fat because when he tried to draw skinny barbarian girls they just faded into the background. But then he went way out of his way to explain that he didn't actually dig fat chicks. Personally, I love women of all shapes and sizes.
The way the characters sneak around to have sex in unoccupied hotel rooms really spoke to me. My first week of boning was spent wandering around in the woods and porking inside houses that were still under construction.
In high school, my girlfriend and I were the couple who hogged the bathroom at parties. Also the graveyard. That was a good place.
Yuck. I dig that your main character doesn't shave her armpits and that it’s never discussed. Redheads should let it all hang out.
Right. I'm hoping that women's body hair will become more acceptable. I notice more and more women my age giving up shaving. The hairless culture we have now is really boring, but it sure does freak some passers-by out—hairy legs in particular.
Agreed. Grooming is one thing, but it seems like people are trying to emulate dolphins with their smoothness. After Bee and Cyrus, the characters that interested me the most were the Princeton drug manufacturers. What kind of lives do they have ahead of them? Could you ever see yourself returning to them?
I don't anticipate using them again, but I agree that they're the most interesting characters in the book. I originally had them as a couple of long-haired hippie science nerd boys, like my friends from college. But then a trusted reader of mine told me to mix it up more and threw out "Korean Lesbian" as an example. It was so good I just went with it.
I think Alice will get her shit together, pay off her tuition, excel, and get a scholarship. Hector will always be a fuckup. If he starts using the hard stuff he'll end up in rehab. Probably not jail, I think his parents are rich, so they'd bail him out. I think he'll get kicked out of school and live off a trust fund. He might get it together when he's middle-aged if he doesn't screw himself up too bad in his 20s and 30s.
What's next? More Bee adventures?
My favorite question. The work I have yet to do is always more interesting than the work I've done. The next book is a biography of the English 70s prog-rock band RAM. It follows the story of their great lost album, The Sphere. It's a concept album rock opera about the discovery of linear perspective during the 15th century. The album contains a 3D comic book insert illustrating the lyrics and expanding the perambulating story of Brother Thomas of York. It'll be short, maybe 50 pages, but it'll be printed 12 by 12 inches, like an LP.
Thanks for talking to me, Jason. See you at the cons.
Captain America Dunkin Donuts Breakfast
VICE doesn't like me, but they need me because they know no one has the comic review goods like I've got 'em. So they refused to send me to the Captain America premiere, despite it being on my bucket list. Also, because they don’t pay me diddly, I don't have enough money to go see it on my own dime. What I can afford, however, is nourishment, so I headed over to the Dunkin Donuts where they are selling Captain America-flavored things. It's like you're eating the movie! Even though I can’t afford to have the Captain America experience crammed into my eye and ear holes, I did experience it with a different set of senses—taste and touch.
For a limited time only, DD is selling star-shaped donuts with star-shaped sprinkles on them. Also, Captain America's shield is on all kinds of starchy sweets that will stick to your insides like glue.
I bit into my first Captain America donut and saw fireworks over an opening credit sequence. Another bite and I watched with a mouth full of sugar as a young Steve America was turned away from the military before being shot up with Super Shredder serum and transformed into a superhero. Each bite was like pumping a quarter into one of those adult movie booths. With each chomp I was given more explosions and chunky guitar sounds. But soon, the bites brought other visions as well. My grandmother, the only person who has ever shown me kindness, appeared in front of me. I took one more bite and she gently picked me up and carried me to heaven.
The next day local Polack drunks discovered my dead body with a receipt for 19 donuts clutched in my cold, stiff digits. ALL BECAUSE VICE WOULDN'T SEND ME TO SEE THIS MOVIE. Thanks a lot, jerks!
And I'll see you jerks next week!