Junior Bookshelf correspondent Brad de Roo spoke with celebrated comics gentlemen Marc Bell (Vice, Drawn & Quarterly) and Mark Connery (Exclaim!, 4panel.ca) about Rudy (2D Cloud), an anthology of Mark C’s mini-comics and miscellanies compiled by Marc B.
First he gabbed over beers and records with Marc B, editor in chief (http://marcbelldept.blogspot.ca/)
BdR: What excites you about Mark [Connery]’s work?
MB:I like everything about it. The wonky drawings. It looks fairly simplistic (and it is easy to read) but it is also highly sophisticated and still fun. It makes me think of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse/Gary Panter/J. Bradley Johnson/Mark Beyer. I put his work up with that stuff which I regard very highly. It also makes me think of early 20th century Dada and Surrealism. I can imagine it being a classic comic strip that the Surrealists were into. Also, I enjoy the brevity of Mark’s work. Great little pieces adding up to a greater, crazy whole.
Why should folks pick up this book, instead of, say, a superhero saga or a totally 'realistic' graphic novel?
If it appeals to them they should pick it up. If they are freaked out or confused by it maybe they should get it and try to unravel it. It seems to me that Rudy could appeal to almost anybody. Hopefully it will make it to libraries.
What do the metaphysical tales of Rudy the cat, Ken the fish with legs, and Phil the living triangle, give them that other comic genres do not?
Well, I don’t know if this answers that question, but there is a tradition to Mark’s work. I guess, essentially, it is a funny animal comic with a set cast and other minor characters. I have heard the term “floating world” to describe this kind of set up. It works very well in comics: Nancy, Krazy Kat, Popeye… All the really good ones. Corner Gas (the Canadian television show) is also a good example of the "floating world" format. I wanted to mention Corner Gas because often people cannot believe or stand that I like that show.
I've read, and you've told me, that much of Mark's work first appeared in minicomics that he often distributed for free. What kind of places did he leave them? Did this kind of transient approach cause any aesthetic or practical problems in getting the book together? Could a complete collection of his work exist?
He would give them out at small press fairs and leave them in places to be discovered and mail them around. He visited me during the Kazoofest (2014) and I was a little ill and we didn’t feel like attending the zine fair that weekend (which is a good fair btw) and so he went over the walking bridge from my house and stuffed a bunch of his books into the sandwich board advertising the fair (for people to find). He was going to put them on the stairs leading down to the event but then figured they probably would have been trampled and made a giant mess. So, he likes to keep it fun. Rudy Comix and Fun #4507, 18,000 too many Rudys. I did manage to get my hands on and look at most of the Rudy material (I think) so it wasn’t too much of a problem given that Mark usually shares the work amongst his friends that he knows care to see it. And I did leave out a bunch, it was just a matter of trying to determine the “essential” material for the book. I did not count some of his other work: he also has made a great deal of other small self-published books that stray a little more from the comics format. I tried to stick to comics here to give the reader something to read. I would assemble another book of some of the other stuff if I had the chance and the time
Being an illustrator and comics artist yourself, did your past experiences with editors influence how you chose to edit or how you chose not to edit? Did you learn anything new about your editorial process this time around?
I am always learning. I love putting together books. It’s nice working with other people’s material, you can have a bit of distance that way. I really like to figure out how to do this or that and the other thing design-wise, so this book, and putting together my own books, is always a learning experience. The good thing in not knowing exactly what you are doing is that you have to try to keep things simple. I look at Nog A Dod from 2006, though, and that thing is very full (which, I guess works for what I was trying to do there). I like rescuing stuff that I admire from possible obscurity. In the case of Rudy, Mark is usually getting his work out there in interesting ways (including using the internet, currently) but this is a great way to make the past work readily available to a general audience.
We spoke before about the active drawing collaborations within your group of pals as collected in the book Nog a Dod (which you also put together). Have you ever collaborated on drawings or strips with Mark? If so, did you learn anything surprising or helpful from his approach?
I haven’t made any actual comics with Mark that I can recall but we have made a bunch of little books together. Books of drawings. About 6 or 7 issues of P.M.F. (with Amy Lockhart as a special guest in a few). And other things here and there. There is a new issue we drew of P.M.F. and I handed it off to Mark to put it through the shredder. He is very good at manipulating material in an analogue way on the photocopier. The old ways are still very effective and immediate. My comics style and methods are a little conservative, kind of uptight, but my freeform drawing style jives OK with Mark’s. I was a thesis adviser for a student at the Center for Cartoon Studies (in White River Junction, VT) and I introduced him to Mark and they have been making a great series of collage books. Put through the shredder. They are called Stuff To Look At (by Mark Connery and dw*).
Could you give an example of one of your favourite comics in this anthology? What does this piece do to you, for you? Why does it stick out?
I love it all, particularly the run of “Ken” strips in there from Exclaim! (pages 58-83) but I will pick “Phil and Rudy” from page 114. It is credited to “M. Connery, G. Hollings, and T. Murphy). I suppose they must have been sitting around and talking and Mark came up with this strip based on that. OK, and how about the strip on the top of page 50? That is pretty to the point. It is hard to pick just one.
Have you got any new projects, editorial or artistic that you would like to let us in on?
As I leave by the hook I will say: “I am getting a new Graphic Novella of my own work ready for next year…also, I am compiling a book of classic comics by Joey Haley……” Next, he corresponded with Mark Connery via email. There were intermittently beers and records on his end, but he can not confirm what Mark was doing at the time. He likes to think he was typing, while making new comics.
BdR: How was Marc as an editor? He told me, in my own words, that he was a friend and a pest? Is it helpful or problematic to have a fellow illustrator/comics artist compile your work? MC:
I was blessed to have Marc edit my work. He was deeply involved in the work and at times I was annoyed by his questions or ideas. Mostly that had to do with me being stressed out about other things and not being able to focus on the point he was trying to get at or remember what it was he was asking about. It's extremely helpful having another artist perform that role. Marc Bell has a great gift at bringing a sense of groove and rhythm on a design level while respecting the integrity of the source material.
Where does Rudy sit in the storied evolution of cartoon cats? Is he like his peers? Does he purr in a different register? Are there glints of his feline cousins in his black and white eyes? Would he get along with Garfield or Fritz or Krazy Kat? Or does he shit in his own litter box? In your opinion, why do cats keep rubbing up against the comic form?
Rudy's more like Felix and Waldo than any others, though Krazy Kat -- the strip, not the character -- is a huge influence on Rudy. I think cats function as some basic archetype of the urban wild or some kind of semi civilized pyschopathy. I've been kind of interested in cat imagery lately... A lot of people also think Rudy is a dog which is kind of fine with me.
Is there such thing as a comics metaphysics - a way of being or a world that comics express better than other mediums? Does the shapeshifting nature of your characters in Rudy reflect this metaphysical realm?
Like a comics ontology? I dunno. I guess. I'm interested in the strange place between image and word, symbol and scrawl, and themes of transformation run through works of these sorts. Big influences on me are Taoism, alchemical illustration, Blake, Stein, concrete poetry, Surrealism, and Gysin and Burroughs. I was a very poor Philosophy student because I was precisely interested in what wasn`t true -- I loved reading Wittgenstein for all his weird things about having two bodies and used to play around with that.
Marc has told me (and shown me) that you worked mostly in a mini-comic form, examples of which you would often distribute for free in untraditional places. What do you like/dislike about the mini-comic form? Does releasing a book in anyway complicate what you are going for? Do you have a political or aesthetic motivation for giving your comics away to unsuspecting readers?
I love the idea of people discovering the work by chance and seeing it with different eyes. There`s nothing I dislike about the mini-comics form, it is economical and forces a conciseness. I don`t see this book as complicating that -- it`s largely a compilation of those, but not exclusively so. I spend a lot of time in public transit and moving through relatively `dead`public spaces and anything that livens that up is welcome. I don`t expect any particular results.
Marc mentioned that you work as a youth worker. In the past, I spent a lot of time working with kids and teens with disabilities. I often found this world to be radically imaginative and full of all sorts of magically weird images and jokes. Has your work in this field influenced your art? Do you see any continuity between the two vocations?
I totally get you on that. I think there`s a lot of overlap in terms of the skills and head spaces required. I`m less sure that it`s the best job for someone who actually wants to make art. I find myself drained a lot of the time and think maybe a job that required less emotional and intellectual involvement would be better. I`m trying to figure that one out.
What is your opinion of other comic genres? Do you ever find yourself reading superhero comics or manga or more 'realistic' autobiographical stuff? Do such genres ever unexpectedly influence your work? Or do you find most of your influences outside of comics?
I read some comics, I feel like I should read more. I just read Photobooth: A Biography by Meags Fitzgerald and loved it.
It seems that both correspondence and collaboration play important roles in the comic circles that you and Marc turn around in. Do you enjoy drawing and writing with other artists? Is there anyone you would like to correspond or collaborate with that you haven't yet?
There`s a bunch of people I`d love to collaborate with. My ongoing collaboration with dw is a real hoot and a half. I`ve a couple of others in process but don`t want to jinx them.
What's the future hold for Rudy and World? Will there be another book be forthcoming? Are you working on something else you'd like to discuss? Is there anything else you'd like us to know about anything else on your mind?
I`m pretty excited about some of the writing I`ve been doing -- not sure where that will go -- and some of the GIF animations I`ve made which made up in a longer video -- with long being a minute or so... I also contribute to 4panel.ca and will be doing stuff for the 2D Cloud site on some kind of regular basis. *
BdR: As far as I can tell dw is a comics artist/editor too