There should've been more pictures in all these mystical ancient books. Ron Regé's Cartoon Utopia takes care of that.
You’ve certainly had that moment in life—for some of us, it’s more like a prolonged “journey,” if you will—where you’ve decided to pick up some kind of esoteric book, and maybe it’s been a bit much, or difficult to absorb, so you put it down. Or maybe you kept going. Either way, any images in the book were old and weird and awesome, but there should have been more!
Enter Ron Regé, with his blocky, wiggly, cosmic drawings featuring clues and realizations hidden inside abstract stacks, towers, and fields. It's pretty trippy without being hectic, and people clearly like it because he keeps getting books published. He’s currently in the tail end of the drawings for a three-year project called Cartoon Utopia, a big book that focuses on texts stemming from magic(k), alchemy, ancient ideas, and mystery schools. He let me into his apartment to be really nosey and dig through his business and ask him about all of it. PS: Yes, he keeps a wizard outfit on his wall.
VICE: Hi Ron, show me what you’re doing!
Ron Regé: This is my binder.
Do you always work in binders?
No. A cartoonist friend of mine showed me a year ago, “Here’s my binder for my new book.” I’m always laying stuff out on the computer, which is a shitty way to work on a visual book. So now I work in binders.
Wait, this binder is actually your new book. So much is done! Whoa man.
These sticky notes are the pages I have left.
Look at your fancy wire.
It’s not fancy. I only do this because all other cartoonists do this. I thought, Wow, I have this wall in my new apartment, I’m going to hang up all my pages. And I’m slowly realizing I don’t want to look at my pages all the time. This week it’s working though.
How did you start doing this work?
I started making drawings of this size in 2008. It was crazy election year—remember how everyone was so hopeful and intense? So I think that spurred me to draw all these things, like a Cartoon Utopia. And putting in, “Let the grandmothers decide how to best heal the earth.”
From the 13 Grandmothers.
Yes! So it was like, elect Obama? Fuck that! How ‘bout 13 grandmothers? And that whole time, anything that was considered “left,”... the far left is so far right of me. When I started this I thought I was making a science fiction fantasy. And I was thinking, What can we do? Thinking about patriarchy and stuff. [Reading from binder] “Instead of going away for war, the women will teach the children to know nothing but peace on earth.”
“The men must go away for peace.” Is there a lesbian separatist chapter in here?
Ah, it’s about Lilith. A whole chapter about Adam and Eve and Lilith. The love triangle. I didn’t know about this whole Lilith thing until recently. And I was like, This is so fascinating! What an amazing idea! It’s in the Bible. Nobody talks about it. Because you know they couldn’t deal. Somebody had to be on top. So she split. And then he gets Eve. But Lilith is nature.
So we have global indigenous references, and the Bible. What else is in this crazy book?
Angels, Jung, alchemy, patriarchy, and then this is all Theosophical astral stuff. I’m really relating the whole Theosophical concept of thought forms, and there being these bubbles. The whole thing with comics and thought balloons and word balloons and this shit? It was all invented around the same time, the early 1900s.
What’s the connection?
I haven’t been able to find one. True or not true, it’s all thinking about thought forms and thoughts as these bubbles that form around your head. And that you have a cage around you… Annie Besant and Charles Leadbeater were Theosophists, and the former was a clairvoyant. They made this book called Thought Forms, and it’s all these beautiful paintings of what thought forms look like. It’s very scientific—they’d done all these experiments with people…. They had a whole system: There’s a person here, and your heart is in the middle, and your thoughts are around that like in a cage.
What’s the scattered vital force?
That’s the ether and everything in the universe. I’ve always been fascinated by where thoughts are, where the spirit is. Even in the deepest neuroscience we can’t find where we are.
How did you get started on this trip?
I went to one of Maja [D’aoust]’s lectures. She did a series on alchemy and relationships. And she really broke down basic alchemical stuff. I used to think about alchemy like anyone else, like, What is that? That’s turning lead into gold, that’s some crazy old shit. But then I became fascinated with all the systems before science and religion and philosophy were all split into different things.
The process is the same no matter which field you’re applying it to.
The tenets of alchemy existed in every part of the globe.
How did you have access to all this information?
[Maja]’s lectures at the time were at the Philosophical Research Society. She was the librarian there. And she said, “Hey, if you want to look at anything…”. Also, I think being in LA and there being so many fascinating things like this here in this city.
Yeah, why is all of it here?
I can tell you what Manly P. Hall thinks. He’s an interesting guy because his stuff is so mystical, but he’s also super right-wing. I was like, Um, what is this Da Vinci Code shit? And what is this New Age stuff? Because when I look at it from the outside, it looks like the same thing. Why is one bad and scary? Manly Hall wrote the book The Secret Destiny of America. And it’s what a lot of the GOP’s stuff is based on: Extreme Manifest Destiny. That from Atlantis to ancient Egypt to the rise of Greece and Rome to the rise of Europe, this culture that was started—supposedly in Atlantis—fed the East and was supposed to go all the way around the Earth and then end in California. And that California is where all races and all creeds and religions will get together with this new thing called Democracy and we’ll bring about the New World Order. And it’s like Whee! Cool! Yes! Noooo.
Anyway, one thing led to another and I became fascinated with all this stuff I’d never experienced and I started doing comics about it.
So in a lot of this are you quoting other books?
Yes. Almost all of it. I have a crazy job of footnoting to do.
What do you see this as?
I see it as what I’m going to be working on from now on.
So this is the beginning, an introduction? A way of making this kind of information accessible?
You see pentagrams and you see the occult and you see Aleister Crowley: Cheesy! And you see crystals and purple stuff and you think: Hippy People! There’s reasons why people in our culture and our pop culture dismiss both of those things. I feel like you can present all of this information in comic book form, and hopefully people will appreciate it. I also feel like in the world of fantasy, comic books, superheroes, and science fiction, people I know in general—there’s a lot of people who are like, “Oh I kinda like that.” My goal is to present it all to people through my work, and to push myself in this specific way.
It’s pretty intense to do a 150-page book that is all narration, and there’s no word balloons and there’s no characters, no storyline, no plot.
And there’s nothing that explicitly connects one section to another.
Except the subject matter. And that’s something that has to do with the rest of my career: Pushing the medium as far as possible. I’m not interested in making a bunch of storyboards or writing a script. Comics are the visual representation of language. So comics are the most ancient and the most vital and most important art form that humanity has ever known. It’s also the oldest.
Cave paintings, having the form of an image that represents an idea, is what comics are. I wrote an essay called, “Fuck Other Forms of Art.”
Them’s fighting words.
It’s not just fighting words, I’m right! Photography and the moving image are so modern.
What about writing, Ron?
Writing is comics. Every letter is a pictogram. The letter “a” is a cartoon character.
OK, maybe you are right. Is there any one message or thesis here?
It’s pretty jumbled. I’m taking a lot of this lightly, and taking it from a lot of different sources. I guess my main message is, “Hey look at all this stuff. Isn’t it really fun?” I’m having a lot of fun getting into this stuff. And besides that, it all really is super important. Save the world. And that’s not a joke. But let’s take it lightly. And I’m in Lavender Diamond, which even though it’s Becky [Stark]’s thing, it’s the more hardcore aspect.
Hardcore peace and love.
Yes, don’t fuck around with that. It’s not a joke.
Why’s it important for people to have this information?
There are bits of it that no matter what walk of life you’re from, it can be beneficial. I also feel like there’s a lot of people—modern intellectual, post-spiritual, non-secular people who’re super interested in science—who think something’s missing. And there’s an opposition to a lot of this stuff. I just want people to consider it. Isn’t this interesting? Can you benefit from this fairy tale? Because that’s where all of the fairy tales come from anyway.
Fantagraphics is publishing his book toward the end of 2012. We might need it beforehand but them's the breaks. In the meantime, you can follow Cartoon Utopia here. Ron's also working on a record with Lavender Diamond, and that comes out sooner next year than the book. Plus, tonight he's experimenting with cymatics and a theremin (which he calls cymatic theremapy) at Family; show starts around 8 PM.