The Comics Journal #106, March 1986
Two Generations of Weirdos
An Interview with Robert Crumb and Peter Bagge
By Michael Macrone
It is mercifully easy to glibly introduce Robert Crumb as “needing no introduction”; and Peter Bagge should at least be lodged in the “up and coming” cubby of your awareness—if you haven’t seen his Neat Stuff magazine, you have at least seen the advertisements for it elsewhere herein. This much of the task of introduction will be assumed because your familiarity with the ostensible topic of this interview—Weirdo—cannot be taken for granted.
What follows is a construction: an artifice. The interview is certainly “real,” but the piece is not of a piece. Crumb, creator of Weirdo and its editor for nine issues, and Bagge, who took the reins with issue #10, were interviewed separately. The air of a naturalistic exchange, the illusion of simultaneous presence, is (more than) a convenience. But consider this: when you read a “Q & A” interview, where in the room are you sitting?
With minimal ballyhoo, Weirdo #1 debuted early in 1981. The Kilroy-inspired “Etoain Shrdlu” drooled over a fence at the midground of the cover, bordered in with an illustrated catalogue of “abnormalcy”—“unnaturalness”—recognizable as a tribute to the early issues of Mad in magazine format. “Fanaticism,” “tedium,” “mutants,” “big legs,” “distractions,” “sexism ’n’ racism,” “perversion,” “chaos,” “horror,” “neurosis.” Was this an advertisement, an anticipation, of the content, supposed as the familiar unraveling of Robert Crumb’s psyche? Or: a retrospect of the collective psyche, an unraveling of what is already firmly lodged in place; a circular and continuous foundation for the discourse of “normalcy?” Is “weirdo” that which is “nature?”
This much was immediately clear: Weirdo would present statements by, about, and for “weirdos.” Crumb and Bagge would certainly brush aside the academic/interpretive baggage, but the import of their statements as follows is this: “crazy comics,” graphic narratives that project any spontaneity and power to them, counterpose the desperately and depressingly “normal” (i.e., safe, fantastic, mainstream, “boring”) narratives and the social networks they pacify. Crumb and Bagge write their contempt for mainstream comics large, and what get dragged into scorn along with them are suburbia, political and perceptual complacency, pretentious “graphix narrative,” and “render freaks”—Pavlovian comics consumers.
Weirdo has never been a “critics’ magazine,” although it might have been and might be. The early issues in particular drew fire for editorial nonchalance. Crumb, for reasons disclosed below, initially conceived Weirdo as a frame for spontaneous, ”crazed” cultural artifacts—the “bulldada” tracts of the SubGenius Foundation are one notable example. Weirdo wasn’t supposed to be a “comic book”; however, that’s what the market expected. Gradually, with the surfacing of a “new wave” of comix artists and an escalation of negative reaction, Crumb succumbed, or rather, Weirdo did. The magazine became more “coherent,” and at the same time, more of a full-time job. Crumb ceded the editorial role in late 1983 to Peter Bagge, whose “Martini Baton” (in collaboration with David Carrino) Crumb had immediately recognized as “as good as anything that’s been published in comics form.” “Martini Baton,” a continuing series which first appeared in the landmark Weirdo #8, certainly turned heads; like much of Weirdo’s content, the strip inspired both devotion and disdain with little middle ground. Sworn by, to, and at, Weirdo rocks a boat most people didn’t know was still afloat.
Peter Bagge has taken the opportunity in editing Weirdo to refine his narrative “eye”; and unlike Crumb, he is an editorial “activist.” Not that Crumb’s hand in Weirdo was invisible—far from it; but his Weirdo was a “looser” product, more unpredictable, less consistent, but still exciting and identifiable. Significantly, editing is relatively new to so-called “underground comix”: until recently, it was generally accepted that an artist’s work is beyond “censorship,” i.e., editorial input and revision. But Bagge has continued to tighten the magazine, eliciting and inspiring a “weird” consistency. Bagge’s Weirdo is different from Crumb’s but not radically so.
While Crumb masterminded Weirdo from his home near Sacramento, California (not far from the “heart” of the “first” underground movement—the San Francisco Bay Area), Bagge set up shop in Seattle, importing to his new home and to Weirdo a New Yorker’s sensibility and contacts. A few of Crumb’s favored contributors—Spain Rodriguez and Algernon Backwash, Elinor Norflus, Dori Seda, Terry Boyce, and Harry Robins—have not (yet) reappeared in Bagge’s Weirdo (Dori Seda, for one, is likely to reemerge shortly). Bagge has attempted to at once diversify (introducing to the magazine Ray Pettibone, J.R. Williams, Carol Lay, and Carel Moiseiwitsch) and sustain a core of compatriots (Kaz, J.D. King, Ken Weiner, Bruce Carleton). Weirdo #14, current as this introduction is written, is, as Bagge says, “a real ‘repeater,’ and the best issue of Weirdo yet, without a doubt.” A meditative 10-page piece by Kaz, the first appearance in Weirdo of controversial “first-generation” artist S. Clay Wilson, the latest installment of Bruce Carleton’s “notebook” from Southeast Asia, stunning illustrations by Carel Moiseiwitsch, and the third installment of the manically brilliant “Martini Baton” are this issue’s anchors. Overall, the impression is of a sustained sophistication that almost no one has expected of Weirdo.
It would be unjust to Weirdo’s history to say that it has finally arrived.” But it is the slight that Weirdo has suffered that makes the compensation of this interview seem overinvested. That’s only “natural.”
Both interviews were conducted by Michael Macrone: with Peter Bagge at the San Diego Comic Con on August 2, 1985; with Robert Crumb at his home on August 25, 1985. Joanne Bagge, Peter’s wife, was present at the former. The interviews were transcribed and interpolated by the interlocutor.
MICHAEL MACRONE: First off: Robert, perhaps you should explain why you decided to start a regular magazine like Weirdo.
ROBERT CRUMB: I always had a dream of doing a regular comic book. When I started Zap I had that idea—I was going to put it out once a month; at least that was my idea. I whacked out two issues pretty quick, but then I quickly realized that, on that small a scale, the whole thing gets so bogged down in industrial realities that you can’t do an underground comic book once a month. Things weren’t set up to do it that fast, even though I could draw it that fast. I couldn’t put out a comic once a month now even if I wanted to; I can’t work that fast anymore. But finally, it just came to me one day: “I know! I’ll edit an Arcade-type magazine myself—and that way I’ll be able to get it out more frequently.” I was thinking bi-monthly when I started—that I’d actually be able to get out a regular book with a regular title.
MACRONE: Of course, Arcade was something more than an “underground comic”—and, further, at least at the beginning, Weirdo seemed to have resigned itself to the fact that undergrounds were no more.
PETER BAGGE: Robert, like almost everybody else, seemed convinced that the whole underground comix movement was dead—that any comics he would find that were interesting would be super-duper oddball stuff that some guy did just because it was in his system and for no other reason. Crumb had no idea that there were people like me and J.R. Williams and Kaz and Drew Friedman out there. I imagine he thought that nothing was going to happen anymore. And as far as mainstream comics go, there’s nothing that he likes; we both hate all of that stuff almost without exception.
CRUMB: Hate ’em. Despise ’em. Horrible.
MACRONE: Well, we’ve confirmed that one.
CRUMB: Absolute drivel.
BAGGE: Weirdo #1 gives the best idea of what the magazine originally was supposed to be—an oddball compendium. But it gradually changed because Crumb became aware that there are a lot of new cartoonists out there who really do want to get recognized for their cartoons. He just hadn’t known they were out there, but they are. Because I was one of those “new cartoonists.” I think I tend to be more sympathetic to people who are or were in the position I am in or was in. I do have all sorts of wacky things, a whole bunch of them back at the Weirdo clubhouse … all these old pamphlets from the ’40s and ’50s, toilet jokes and things like that. And for all I know, the average reader would get a much bigger kick out of something like that than out of interesting work by some new guy. That old stuff is really direct and would be a definite laugh-getter. But I think that running something like that instead of a two-pager by somebody who’s alive, who would benefit from having his work run in Weirdo, or who might, just by seeing it in print, get better … I mean, the guy who did the toilet thing is anonymous, and he’d probably be mad if we gave him credit [laughter] …
MACRONE: … if he still exists
BAGGE: Yeah, if he’s still alive.
CRUMB: Peter’s right in saying that I wasn’t really that aware of the strength of this new generation of cartoonists who were coming up. I was vaguely aware that they were doing stuff; I’d seen Comical Funnies [a tabloid edited by Bagge in 1980–81, published by John Holmstrom], which I didn’t think very highly of, and some of that sort. And I suppose it’s true that I didn’t believe there were enough active underground cartoonists around that could fill a regular magazine anymore. Old friends of mine would say, “Why don’t you get those guys like [Robert] Williams, [S. Clay] Wilson, Spain, etc. etc. to do stuff?” And I said, “They can’t do it; they can’t turn it out.” They need to do other things for money….
MACRONE: And they’re barely getting out one issue of Zap a year.
CRUMB: That’s right. And I can’t pay them enough to motivate them to do this stuff. It’s just not there; it’s not happening. So most of what went into those early Weirdos were my own work, the photo-funnies [fumetti] and real off-beat, weird things I’d dug up, like Szukalski [Weirdo #1]. Peter’s right about all that. And I had a much more casual attitude about editing, but I quickly realized after a couple of issues that the “comic-reading audience” out there was highly offended that I was so casual in my editing. They were slapping down their $2.50 and the thing wasn’t cram-packed with comics; there was all this other cockamamie stuff in there. I just got this … virulent hate mail from those first couple of issues. It actually got to me; I actually got a complex about it. But I just recently went back and examined the first two or three issues of Weirdo, and I really like the way they are; I like the attitude that they have. It’s much looser and crazier, in a certain way. But more cartoonists started sending me work; some of it was good, so I decided to use it—and Weirdo gradually assumed more and more of an Arcade/underground-showplace format. Unfortunately, it became very time-consuming dealing with all of these new artists; I started carrying on correspondence with a couple of dozen young cartoonists. Weirdo became my life. Which is basically why I started looking for another person to take it over. And it’s a thankless job because nobody likes an entire issue; they all say, “I love Terry Boyce, I hate Kaz” “I hate Terry Boyce, I love Kaz.” Nobody ever likes everything. I had to deal with this all the time.
MACRONE: Although I think that Weirdo has become more consistent and more seminal, so to speak, I do miss the loose, oddball format of the first few issues. But even after, say, 53, which is when I thought Weirdo began to cohere conceptually, you continued to run “found” materials here and there—for example, Francis E. Dec’s ravings on the back cover of Weirdo #8, which were BRILLIANT.
CRUMB: [Publisher] Ron Turner just winced when he saw that; he said, “You can’t be serious that you’re using this for the back cover!” He’d just get a really unpleasant look on his face when he saw a lot of the stuff that I used. It always gladdens me to hear somebody say that they liked something like that, ’cause it’s so off the wall that … it’s just not very commercial, to say the least. The market that Turner sees, and that’s there, is the comic-reading market. And what do they want? They want comics; comics and more comics. Readable comics. Entertaining comics.
MACRONE: Fun comics. Stupid comics.
CRUMB: Whatever. That’s what they want.
MACRONE: Both of you have compared Weirdo to Art Spiegelman and Bill Griffith’s Arcade. In what ways do you see it as a predecessor?
BAGGE: Arcade was one of the last underground projects to appear on a regular basis before Weirdo. In fact, I think Weirdo is becoming more and more like Arcade all the time. But ironically, there were a lot of things about the format … compared to a regular, plain old underground comic, there were a lot of things about Arcade that I didn’t like. I didn’t like seeing typeset articles, and I didn’t care about people like Paul Krassner. I noticed that a lot of letter-writers complained too: “I don’t care about these … I don’t care if it’s William Burroughs or Joe Schmoe, I want comics.” I now see what it was Arcade was trying to do, or the purpose it was trying to serve, so subconsciously, or without any intention, the changes I’ve made with Weirdo—it’s actually gotten closer to what Arcade was, or what Arcade was trying to do.
CRUMB: That’s true. Quite true. And you run more comics. It’s …
MACRONE: Can you elaborate?
CRUMB: More comics. It’s gradually got more and more packed with comics. Arcade was densely packed with comics—except for the little literary texts they had in there.
MACRONE: Right, right, and I think Spiegelman was behind the textual material, more so than Griffith, as he’s assumed it into RAW.
CRUMB: One difference between Arcade and Weirdo—and this is a big difference—although I think Arcade might have sold a bit better than Weirdo does, the reason Weirdo is hanging on and Arcade didn’t is that the Print Mint, and Bill and Art, had very high hopes for Arcade. Hopes they just couldn’t realize. They couldn’t resign themselves to the actual circulation, or it just wasn’t feasible. And I think that maybe around then the Print Mint went out of business as a publisher. [The Print Mint is now the “Reprint Mint,” a Berkeley poster and print outlet.] And they had worked with a much bigger budget; because of their high hopes, they had a much bigger budget than we do. Whereas we just automatically assume … we’re just happy with whatever Weirdo sells. I did hope I could bring up the sales, and I think I might have made some dent … at least sales have leveled off. I don’t know; it might have been selling worse and worse with Crumb.
MACRONE: I’m not sure what Arcade’s circulation figures were …
CRUMB: I’m not sure either. I don’t think they were very high … but definitely still higher than Weirdo’s. There was still more of a market then, better distribution then. But I don’t think Arcade’s circulation ever topped 15,000.
MACRONE: And Weirdo is about level at 10,000?
CRUMB: Yeah. A little less, actually—probably about 8,000.
MACRONE: A lot of things I hear about trends in Weirdo’s circulation just don’t jibe.
CRUMB: I don’t think even Ron Turner knows the exact figures. Nobody knows [laughter]. But there’s some truth we can glean. Circulation took a drastic dip after #1; #2 didn’t sell well at all. That issue got the most hate mail of all. And I look at it now and I really like it; I like the way it is. It’s a really wacko issue, but …. And then sales came up somewhat from that; and, supposedly, it’s lately gone down a little again. But nobody liked [Norman] Pettingill [“Comic Post Cards,” Weirdo #2] at all; nobody liked my one-page cartoons. They want more drawings per page. Bill Sherman wrote a scathing review of Weirdo, back around #3, for The Comics Journal. It was very discouraging. Disheartening. They were all down on me for a while there, in that period. THEY ALL HATED ME.
MACRONE: Well, Gary Groth has just done an interview with you. Not long ago, People magazine ran a flattering piece. I’ve wondered if that latter article has “impacted” sales of your work—in particular, of Weirdo.
CRUMB: I’ve been meaning to ask Ron Turner, but I haven’t yet, if he can tell if sales have gone up at all. Weirdo is mentioned in the article … it was a pretty extensive article; I think I mentioned Weirdo in there, but didn’t tell ’em where to get it or anything. But since eight million people read that magazine, you’d think it might have some kind of impact.
MACRONE: I’d like to pursue the Arcade parallels a little further. Aside from physical format and frequency, there’s a common ground of tribute to Mad magazine, manifested, for example, on the letters pages. Peter, you’ve assumed something like Arcade’s “Sideshow” onto the letters pages of Weirdo—abbreviated strips by new people, such as Mary Fleener [“Madame X from Planet Sex”] and Ken Struck [“Tootles”]. Your old “pal” Ken Weiner has been in there regularly.
BAGGE: People just started sending me those things. And a lot of people suggested that running them with the letters would be a nice touch. I like the idea of having a wacky-crazy-mixed-up letters page, just so it doesn’t get more boring every time you look at it. I’d like to stretch it out, but I don’t know how that would go over. You know, five or six pages with all sorts of crazy stuff.
MACRONE: What kind of mail have you been getting recently? I know that for a good while most of the letters were from other cartoonists. What’s the balance now?
BAGGE: Most of the letters we get are either from cartoonists whom the reader probably knows from Weirdo or from somewhere else—that’s about a third of the letters—or come attached to submissions, even though the reader doesn’t know that—about another third. I get very few letters with no strings attached. I try not to run letters by well-known artists or by artists who appear regularly in Weirdo; I figure they get their way by having their work in there anyway. I mean, I know they get a big kick out of seeing their letters in there, most of the time—unless, of course, they come across sounding like real jerks; then they’re not so thrilled.
CRUMB: Actually, I think it’s good to print letters from artists who have been in Weirdo, ’cause they have such interesting things to say about the magazine. I don’t think you should hold back on that too much. But there’s the fear that it becomes too “clubby”—like a little clique of people just talking about each other.
MACRONE: I enjoy seeing those letters: for me, one of the “values” of Weirdo is that it can serve as a sort of forum, as the center point of a cartoonists’ “network.”
CRUMB: It’s kind of funny; it’s become sort of a cartoonists’ magazine, an underground cartoonists’ magazine. When I first started it, I didn’t envision that happening at all. But it’s definitely become a sort of forum, or showplace, or focal point for all these people.
MACRONE: It brings together so many strains from within the field, and it’s loose enough that people can have some fun, can write crazy letters.
CRUMB: Whereas RAW is much more serious, more precious about the work. I never wanted Weirdo to be like that; I always wanted it to be a loose and wacky thing. I think the name “Weirdo” is appropriate for that reason—it’s a sleazy name [laughter], which keeps it from ever becoming something too snooty.
MACRONE: It’s forced not to take itself too seriously. But RAW …
CRUMB: Artie takes it very, very seriously. So does Françoise …
MACRONE: Obviously, the format of RAW is more luxurious. And obviously it’s a very different product from Weirdo … but I assume there’s a substantial overlap of audience, or rather, readership.
BAGGE: Oh yeah; I’d say that about 80 percent. But it seems that only people who are heavily involved see a big difference. One guy said that it’s like two sides of the same coin.
MACRONE: And that coin is the old Arcade. One thing that seems to me indicative of the difference, at least in the mentality applied to the two publications is … well, 1 don’t know what a first edition of Weirdo #1 sells for these days [belly-laughs erupt]; but when I was recently in New York City, I went to Sohozat on West Broadway, where they had the first five or so issues of RAW under glass at the counter. The first issue was going for a thousand dollars.
BAGGE [stunned]: A thousand?!?! [Crumb runs out and soon returns with smelling salts.]
CRUMB: It’s amazing how many copies of RAW Artie can move. He sells 12,000 of those or something. An expensive item, but …
MACRONE: Well, for an “art object,” it isn’t expensive.
CRUMB: Right. And that’s what it is: an art object. Weirdo is just a sleazy Mad imitation [laughter].
MACRONE: I’ll return to Mad in a bit. But as to Weirdo’s “sleaziness,” it seems to me that much of the magazine’s content is deliberately slapstick and crude. And, politically, very “incorrect.” You went out of your way to run stuff that’s politically incorrect, I assume just to get a reaction out of people. One example is Tom Bertino’s “Liddle Brown Rahdin’ Hood” [Weirdo #4], which was widely criticized as racist. Peter, I think you’ve done this as well—for example, with Wilson’s “Checkered Demon” strip in #14—run stuff that’s funny but offensive; stuff that “sensitive” people are going to be upset by. And I suppose you think that’s important …
BAGGE: To upset sensitive people? [Laughter.] Yeah, I guess you like to … I like to rankle people. One thing I like to do is run letters that’ll get a lot of other people to write back. Sometimes a really crazy letter will inspire more letters than a comic. There are certain letters that … like Gary Groth’s letter [Weirdo #13] [laughter] inspired a lot of response, I think just because Groth wrote it.
MACRONE: He pointed out the magazine’s “rampant illiteracy,” I believe, and its “punk smart-ass” attitude …
BAGGE: A lot of people agreed with him. Others thought he was a real stuffed shirt. And I got a lot of people asking why he’s publishing Neat Stuff [Fantagraphics Books’ all-Bagge title] if he feels that way about my work with Weirdo. And that’s a good question [laughter].
MACRONE: Well, he directly praised your work while singling out [J.D.] King as an example of somebody he thought didn’t …
BAGGE: Gary’s had a real thing against King because King did that “Elfquest” thing [“Elf-Squelch,” by J.D. and Jane King, Weirdo #9]. But I don’t think it was just because [Groth] likes Elfquest. I have no idea if he does or not. He hated “Elf-Squelch.” But the thing is … needless to say, neither King nor Crumb has any admiration or respect for Elfquest at all—except maybe they both think it’s well-drawn. And I guess they thought that because Weirdo and Elfquest are sold on the same shelves, the fans might get a big kick out of it. I didn’t think it was too great an idea; I thought it was a funny thing, but Groth thought that as satire it was really badly done. He thought that to make the pivotal joke [“I’ve got a teeny weeny pini”] a pun on their last name—he thought that was a terrible, terrible thing to do, a real disaster. He was comparing it to … any time you do satire, people are always going to compare it to what Kurtzman did. They just expect you to do it the same way, with the same political slant. I can’t speak for Groth, but maybe he was expecting something along these lines.
MACRONE: Actually, I don’t think “Elf-Squelch” was exactly “satire.” I thought it was closer to pastiche. The Kings appropriated characters and style more to slam the marketing strategy than the strip itself; and that it was the overall “cutesiness” of the phenomenon that was reacted against.
BAGGE: Yeah, there’s an overwhelming urge to show characters like that in an offensive light, because it’s all so pretty. But I think Elfquest is far from the worst offender. At least the people who are doing it … it’s a really homespun outfit, or at least it used to be; Marvel’s publishing Elfquest now. But I would rather have spoofed something that was a big industry. But anyway, it wasn’t any big thing in my eyes. But ever since then, Groth has been hyper-aware of King and what he doesn’t like about King’s work—the really adolescent, notebook sense of humor. I mean, King’s humor is adolescent; it is real notebook-scrawl type stuff; but I don’t think that makes it bad. He’s really good at it. You might say, “Aw, any high school kid could do that”; but while it might be true that all high-school kids write crap in their notebooks, some high-school kids are a lot funnier at it than others.
MACRONE: And some people sing better in the shower.
BAGGE: You’ve got to give those talented high-school kids praise. Funny is funny, and I don’t care what kind of funny it is. I like that wise-ass kind of humor. People always complain that the whole comics genre is by nature wise-ass; that comics are in and of themselves too “male,” that they appeal fundamentally to adolescents. But the thing is, that if you feel in your soul that you want to express how beautiful the trees are or something like that, you’ll probably sit down and write a poem. But if you want to express how much you hate your gym teacher, you’d write a comic. You wouldn’t write a poem to express your hatred; without thinking, you’d automatically make a comic. It’s the perfect medium for tearing people apart. There’s something automatic about it that lends itself to destruction. So I think what King does is totally natural; he’d be a phony if he were doing anything else.
MACRONE: There’s not much difference, qualitatively, between the impulse behind King’s work and the impulse behind Kurtzman’s Mad. It’s how that impulse is structured and articulated that makes the critical difference.
BAGGE: It’s just kind of a drag that any time anybody tries to do something satirical in comics, they’re going to be compared to Kurtzman. And Kurtzman seems to have established a status quo as far as satire and politics are concerned. Kurtzman at the time he edited Mad must have been a super-liberal, and very daring for the ’50s. All people knew in the ’50s was that it was a hell of a lot better than the ’30s and The War! And they weren’t about to change it. Now people compare the ’80s to the ’50s, and I guess people think that if another Kurtzman is going to come along, he’s going to be real daring and really liberal. But this isn’t the same as the ’50s. In the ’50s people didn’t even know that they had their own unique mentality then and there at that time; they didn’t think, “Wuh, that’s a ’50s thing to do,” you know? The audience was totally different. Kurtzman just touched a nerve. If it’s going to happen again, you couldn’t even say it’s going to happen in comics. And it’s always going to be bad news when people have to compare what you do to those early Mads.
MACRONE: Robert, the very first book you did, with your brother Charles, was Foo, the original “sleazy Mad imitation.” Then you worked with Kurtzman on Help! It’s really the canon, that stuff: there’s no way to escape it at this point. I think perhaps Peter is hypersensitive, but I believe he’s taken quite a good deal of shit for not measuring up to the grand tradition.
CRUMB: Yeah, well it gets tricky whenever you try to do Kurtzman-type satire, ’cause the context nowadays, like Peter said, just isn’t the same; it doesn’t work the same way, somehow. You have to do something much more radical than that kind of satire now.
MACRONE: Obviously, in the ’50s, people were much more innocent of cultural self-consciousness.
CRUMB: Peter said something very astute: in the ’50s, things were much more cohesive. Anything that turned the mainstream media around and made it look like something else was just very powerful; it just knocked you over. I’ll never forget when I saw that Mad cover that looked like a Life magazine. I was about 11 years old when I saw that, and it hit me like a bolt of lightning. Here was this thing that took a highly respected mainstream medium, a part of real life, and just turned it into a completely insane, lunatic thing. It was just great; it was such a liberating, consciousness-raising thing just to see that, at 11 years old. Things are simply different now; everything’s more disintegrated, fractured; it doesn’t work the same way somehow,
MACRONE: People have just got so used to that kind of inversion; it’s so taken for granted. people are jaded. Any time you go to a movie or pick up a magazine, you take for granted that it’s going to incorporate references to other cultural artifacts.
CRUMB: Kurtzman took risks, and he paid the price for it. Even in the ’50s he was punished; he was too radical for that time. He lost the battle, and ended up going to work for Playboy. To do “Kurtzman-type” satire now, you have to really take risks. I’ll show you something that I just did for Weirdo, which I know is going to be so offensive to a lot of people … [pulls out an inked board; the piece is a one-page parody of “missing children” grocery bags].
MACRONE: Oh, lord.
CRUMB: I’m really attacking something sacred with this one. A lot of people will think it’s callous and heartless and cruel. “What if your child were missing? You wouldn’t like that.”
MACRONE: Everybody draws the line somewhere between what he considers to be funny and what he considers to be [chorus:] “bad taste.”
CRUMB: “This time you’ve gone too far! Cancel my subscription!”
MACRONE: Theoretically, nothing should be beyond play.
CRUMB: You’ve just got to know what you’re doing. This [the “missing children” piece] could be a very snide and cruel thing if it’s not funny—it could be. You’re making fun of this thing where people are suffering: there’s misfortune involved. It’s the same with racial jokes. You have to know what you’re doing.
MACRONE: One is always toeing a line in that situation—a line that every reader is going to rub out or redraw. Some people are just not going to laugh, whether it’s “funny” or not.
CRUMB: No. They just look at it on its surface. They can’t get past that.
MACRONE: I’m reminded of Drew and Josh Friedman’s piece, “They Need Your Designer Jeans” [Weirdo #5]—“Send your designer jeans to starving refugees in Jordeche.”
CRUMB: That was great, but it offended a lot of people. The whole thing is so damn touchy.
BAGGE: If you’re always worried about being politically correct, you’re still going to have problems. One thing that makes me feel bad sometimes is when someone makes a real honest-to-God “statement,” even if it’s really liberal, or knee-jerk, or “sensitive.” Sometimes I’ll get a submission that’ll be a clear-cut anti-nuke or anti-poverty or anti-Reaganomics piece; I sort of feel like I should run something like that. A complaint that a lot of people have about Weirdo, again, is that it’s too insensitive; like what Groth said: it’s too “punk wise-ass.” And a lot feel that what underground comics were about was being part of a cause—which really, generally, isn’t true. They just came out at the same time as everybody was doing all kinds of protesting. But right from the start, undergrounds spoofed on all the bleeding hearts and do-gooders.
CRUMB: Well, undergrounds were and weren’t part of the “hippie movement.” The underground movement was right in line with the drug culture, loose sex and all that. Sex and dope were a really big part of it; it was part of the hedonistic aspect of hippie culture. But then the other half of the hippie movement, the politics—you know, the goody-goody, New Age, Aquarian, silly Peter Max aspect of the hippie thing—if underground comix dealt with it at all, it was in a kind of derisive manner.
MACRONE: “Mr. Natural” was hardly a celebration of pop mysticism.
BAGGE: I mean, anybody would agree now that people like Rubin and Hoffman were hypocrites. All the other heroes of the ’60s were rock stars who would have since admitted they were hypocrites, like Pete Townshend—and I think it’s the same now—some of these punk rockers will say, “I’ll never sell out; I’ll never be a rock star.” But as soon as somebody dangles a million-dollar contract in their face, they’ll drop that attitude in two seconds. The underground comix were making fun of those people too. Underground comix were always real wiseass. I remember reading that the guy who started Bijou comics …
MACRONE: Jay Lynch and Skip Williamson.
BAGGE: The first issue also had Crumb and Jay Kinney. Anyway, I think they put together the first Bijou when they were having those riots outside the Democratic Convention [Chicago, 1968]. And even though I don’t think there was anything in the comic dealing specifically with the protests … the hippies were all so serious then. I guess when you’re getting your head bashed in, you take things really seriously.
But Lynch and Williamson said they had a real hard time getting the hippies to accept the comic. Their first impression was that the hippies had absolutely no sense of humor. Frank Zappa said the same thing; you know, you look back and you say, wow this is a real hippie thing, when you hear Absolutely Free or We’re Only in It for the Money. Someone who would listen to those records now or notice the way the band looked would think the Mothers were a true hippie phenomenon. But it was actually anti-hippie. Zappa said that he hated that flower power generation because they hated his stuff—they didn’t see or appreciate the satire. As soon as he picks on them, they think he’s a bastard no matter whom else he picks on.
Anyhow, sometimes I’ll get something really sincere; for example Carel Moiseiwitsch made a poster that was actually a comic strip, about a family that gets disintegrated in a nuclear blast. Crumb thought it was very powerful, and it was really well done; but I thought it was too obvious. Like I said to Crumb, “Well, nukes are bad.” Yeah, but the sky is blue, you know? Even people who are in favor of nuclear power, and people in government who say we have to build up our nuclear arsenal—they’re not going to say nukes are great; they’ll call them a necessary evil. Everybody knows they’re at least some sort of evil; nobody is going to say, “Wuh, nukes are the greatest thing!” [Laughter.]
But if somebody could do a strip—and I’m sure if he or she did it would be real wordy—that could actually convince someone who’s in favor of nuclear power to oppose it, I would run that, if it could actually change people’s minds. I don’t just want to keep all these anti-nuke people happy by telling them stuff they already know.
CRUMB: To me, it’s not what you’re saying, but how you say it in a way that’s interesting, it doesn’t matter how obvious it is.
MACRONE: Of course, if you say some “thing” in different ways, it’s a different “thing” each way. It seems clear to me that the “obviousness” is almost wholly bound into the presentation.
CRUMB: If you present something in an interesting way, that has a lot to do with how informative it will be, and how good it is.
MACRONE: Someone could say “the sky is blue” in an elegant and powerful way.
CRUMB: Yeah, that’s right! We all know the sky is blue, but It’s just like old-time fiddle tunes; somebody could play “Soldier’s Joy”—everybody’s heard it a thousand million times—but somebody could play it in a completely unique way. It’s funny being in an editorial position, though—I know myself: you develop your own funny, nitpicking way of sorting things out, deciding what to use and what not to use. I passed up things that Peter has used in Weirdo, and when I saw how he used them, I said, “Yeah, that’s good—I should have thought of that.” For example, “Tootles.” When Struck sent me that stuff, I said, “What is this?! and just tossed it aside. But when I saw the context Peter put it in, it was perfect; it worked. A lot of it is really the context you look at things in. When you’re in an editorial position it’s easy sometimes to miss the contextual point.
BAGGE: One thing that people can’t believe is that a lot of Weirdo’s contributors and readers do have Reaganite, super-conservative ideas. Anyone who has liberal leanings seems to automatically assume that everybody who reads Weirdo is a liberal. That’s not the case. Whenever the conservative readers see something that has this automatic liberal attitude, they think it’s preachy. “What is this preachy, super-obvious stuff? I don’t need this stuff. What do you think you’re doing, do you think I’m retarded?” Then they get P.O.’ed. I doubt if the conservatives are a majority, but they still are a bit more silent about their beliefs. I guess things haven’t gone that far where they’ll stick their necks out in a forum like Weirdo.
MACRONE: As you said in the Fantagraphics Books panel this afternoon [at the San Diego Convention], it’s difficult to impossible to get a demographic on Weirdo’s readership, that it’s incredibly diverse. It is clear, however, that virtually everyone who reads the magazine accepts its tenability. In other words, freedom of speech is not party-specific.
BAGGE: Yeah, well, again, nobody’s going to come out and say freedom of speech is a bad thing. But there are some people I hear from—and I don’t know if they’d admit it to themselves or not-who obviously believe in freedom of speech only for people who agree with them. But actually, those are the kinds of people who refuse to read or submit to Weirdo anyway. I won’t name names, but there are some jerks out there, and I’m glad that they’ll have nothing to do with us. They’re the ones who right off the bat say, “Why are you running this shit?” They try to make me feel really self-conscious about, for example, J.D. King’s stuff. There are a lot of people who don’t respect J.D’s work, ’cause he is real conservative by nature; he is a real wise-guy and he has no respect—at least in comics, he has no respect. But it’s not like he’s a completely insensitive person in “real life;” you know him [laughter].
CRUMB: King is funny. He sent me an issue of Rags magazine, which was this hip fashion magazine in the old Rolling Stone format, from about 1970. He’d written comments in there that were really hilarious—derisive, ridiculing comments about the stupid-looking hippies in there. He really does have an angle on the hippie thing that’s hilarious. He should definitely do more stuff like that.
MACRONE: There’s been criticism raised against King’s “Skank, Arms & Bud” [Weirdo #s 3 and 10]—John Holmstrom, Peter and Doug Bagge worked with him on the first one—as a particularly “suburban” brand of “wise-ass.”
CRUMB: Suburban brat-boys.
MACRONE: Yeah, suburban brat-boys chugging brewskis [laughter].
CRUMB: [in a pinched voice] “BrewSKI!” It’s funny as hell, though: who cares? I mean, most of America is suburban—so it’s about real life in America. The suburbs are there, and they’re going to go on being there for a long time. Weird shit goes on out there.
MACRONE: And suburbs are the same everywhere; they’re really the only homogeneous mass culture we have. If you refer to the suburbs, you’re tapping into a vast body out there.
CRUMB: But people are so depressed by the idea of that—that there are these homogenous people out there in all those shopping malls—that they just want to tune it out. They want to escape from the idea that that’s where most people are headed in this world, for that life. They don’t want to know that; it’s too depressing to deal with. If you do something that’s based on that life, it horrifies people who are trying to escape from your typical TV sitcom-type humor, which is all about life in the suburbs, really. They want to disassociate themselves from it completely. That’s why the punk movement is so attracted to the bleak, urban idea—living in the urban landscape. ’Cause the suburbs are just too much to handle.
MACRONE: These days, I mean within the last five to ten years, a lot of cities have been getting facelifts, and are becoming more central again after having lost so much of their population to the suburbs in the ’60s and early ’70s.
CRUMB: Some cities are, some aren’t.
MACRONE: But Baltimore and Pittsburgh …
CRUMB: And Philadelphia, yeah. But go to Cleveland, go to Detroit, go to Chicago, go to … Camden, New Jersey. There’s still rotting, horrible bleakness there; it’s just staggering.
MACRONE: Peter, it’s obvious from what you’ve said that a lot of the mail you get disturbs you. Do you think your skin’s gotten a little thicker since you’ve been editing Weirdo?
BAGGE: [to Joanne Bagge] Do you think so? No? I guess not. I sometimes still get really upset. A nasty letter will always get me upset when I first read it. And when I get a strip that’s got a message and it’s really sincere, it’s still tough for me to reject it, although I know in the long run I will reject it, ’cause it’s so obvious. The artist is going to think of course, that I don’t agree with him, or that I’m some kind of shithead, you know? It’ll say that there are too many starving people, and if I reject it … I mean, the strip might even be really well done. Sometimes it gets very tough. I’ve turned down two stories by Spain, simply because, even though they were good, they weren’t anything special, and there were other things I’d rather have given the exposure. It’s not really easy to reject a guy like Spain, you know? And then I hear that he gets all pissed off and I feel terrible. I know the guy has been around for a long time, and I like his work … it’s not easy to do. It’s not like I’m trying to make a point; it’s not like I enjoy rejecting a “big shot”—that doesn’t make me feel like a big shot. I guess it’s not gotten any better than way.
MACRONE: In your position, people are always going to resent you to some extent.
BAGGE: Yeah. But actually, some things have improved since I took over. When I started out, I didn’t know where I was, 1 didn’t know how people were going to react. In a way, I was afraid that people were going to go crazy and raise a big fuss—one thing that didn’t happen that Robert and I were both afraid of is people saying, “How dare you try to replace the great R. Crumb?” I didn’t get any of that. Though everybody loves Crumb the artist, not many people liked Crumb the editor. Actually, my worst fear is not getting any response at all [laughter]. As much as an angry letter might upset me, nothing’s more depressing than an empty mailbox. That’s the most depressing thing. I always get over the nasty letters.
MACRONE: It must have been doubly rough on you to take over Weirdo, because you were moving [from New York to Seattle] at the time, or were about to move.
BAGGE: Yeah, and that was really crazy. When I was doing Weirdo #12, we didn’t even have our own place. We were all the way over on the other side of the continent, and we didn’t know anybody. We moved to Seattle so Joanne could start a business; but the business, just like anything, took a long time to get off the ground. And we were staying at my in-laws’ house, so we didn’t have a home, we didn’t have jobs, we didn’t know anybody, so we were really going crazy; and I think that shows in Weirdo #12, which is a very nasty issue [laughter].
MACRONE: The special “losers” issue.
BAGGE: Yeah, I was in a really bad frame of mind when I did that thing.
MACRONE: Actually, it’s a very coherent issue—one of my favorite issues as a matter of fact.
BAGGE: Yeah, it is coherent. I’m surprised it came out that way, but yeah.
MACRONE: “Sour Grapes,” the semi-autobiographical encounter between you and Ken Weiner, is one of my all-time Weirdo favorites, as is Crumb’s “Mode O’Day” story from that issue. And the Rory Hayes material …
BAGGE: Well, that obviously got mixed reviews! But everybody told me they liked that issue; I had thought everybody was going to hate it. That was a real shock. I thought everybody would love #11; but when #12 came out, a lot of people said, “Wow, I really love the new issue; I was ready to give up on you with that #11 … you seemed so proud of it but I thought it stunk” [laughter].
MACRONE: By the time #12 came out, I had forgotten all about #11—but, if I remember correctly, there was a longer than average wait between those two issues. But #12 has always stuck with me, mostly because of the stories I’ve mentioned. When I went back to do some research, however, #11 did seem to me to be the strongest of the four issues you’ve edited that are out as we speak [#10–13].
BAGGE: I sure wish I had #14 with me. We were hoping to get it in print in time for the San Diego convention, but that didn’t work out. It’s the best issue by far; I can say without a doubt that it’s the best Weirdo by far.
MACRONE: Can you briefly describe the contents?
BAGGE: There’s a ten-pager by Kaz that was supposed to appear in Bad News [which folded]; that’s a real masterpiece.
JOANNE BAGGE: That’s going to go over really well. People really like Kaz.
BAGGE: Yeah, I would say that, after Crumb, Kaz gets the best response. It’s too bad that Kaz isn’t more prolific, or something, or had a more positive attitude. He seems to resign himself to always having a hard time finding an audience. But that’s just not true. He always reacts with a wisecrack every time I tell him he gets such a good response from the readers. Or else he’ll be really condescending, like “Who are these morons who like my stuff?” [laughter].
MACRONE: His “Delirious” was in #10, correct? That’s a wonderful piece. One of the best things that’s ever been in Weirdo, in my opinion [leans back with a self-satisfied air].
BAGGE: Well, you know Kaz has a lot of respect for RAW. I’m sure Kaz would rather see his work appearing in RAW than in Weirdo. Maybe he just feels that it’s better for him in the long run to appear in RAW, as far as finding an audience goes.
MACRONE: And for the “prestige.”
BAGGE: Yeah; but it’s too bad Art doesn’t run him more often.
MACRONE: I guess my enthusiasm for Kaz is one case in which I concur with the “mainstream.”
CRUMB: Oh yeah, people really do like him. I suppose what Peter means is that you hardly ever get a negative response to his work. With most every other artist, some. body writes in that hates his or her stuff. But Kaz gets positive response, so I guess that’s translated into a general approval. The Rory Hayes piece [#12] surprisingly got a lot of positive response.
MACRONE: Any time you get any significant amount of mail that’s positive about a piece, you know a lot of people liked it. People don’t generally write in if they like something.
CRUMB: That’s right. They always write in if they’ve got a gripe. Peter didn’t want to run that Rory Hayes thing at first; I really had to get on his case.
MACRONE: Peter, I’d like to talk about the reaction you’ve gotten to your own work in Weirdo—specifically, whether something like “Martini Baton” is well received, and whether people prefer it to more “realistic” strips such as “The Reject [#10] and “In My Room” [#13]?
BAGGE: Well, there are a lot of people who prefer my “usual” stuff, ’cause “Martini Baton” is so dense; it doesn’t have a normal, flowing plot. It’s just all crazy nonsense.
CRUMB: It just reaches a level of such utter insanity that … [trails off into hysterical laughter].
MACRONE: The insanity is really a rich texture.
BAGGE: The only thing that controls “Martini Baton” is the format; and I try hard to slow it down. [Collaborator David] Carrino sends me these drawings that are just packed with words; the plot moves a million miles an hour. Martini’s on a different corner of the globe every three panels. Do you remember the farm family? Well, when he introduced them there were like ten members, and he introduced every one; I thought [appalled]: “This is too much!” [laughter]. So I try to slow it down a lot, mostly just by editing it and occasionally adding … he’ll also leave big gaping holes in the plot. In a way that’s good; we do that a lot. But sometimes it’s just too much; so I’ll fill in and try to make things a little easier to follow.
JOANNE BAGGE: Do you like “Jesus’ Critters”? [“Jesus’ Critters” runs in a single tier beneath each “Martini Baton” page.]
MACRONE: I love “Jesus’ Critters.”
BAGGE: Well, everybody loves “Jesus’ Critters,” but at the same time they say that it probably wouldn’t seem as funny if it weren’t for “Martini Baton.”
MACRONE: It’s true that the two strips “frame” each other, contextualize each other; it’s almost synergistic. I also think the reference to the old Sunday-strip format, with the independent tier at the bottom, layers on, or calls forth, another important context.
BAGGE: Yeah, well, Krazy Kat started down there. Maybe we’ll wind up getting rid of “Martini Baton” and just bring “Jesus’ Critters” up! [Just kidding—P.B.]
MACRONE: Does Carrino write that too?
BAGGE: Well, we each write about half of them.
MACRONE: He’s obviously from an Italian Catholic background, and therefore has exactly the twisted sensibility required to achieve the intensity of the strip.
BAGGE: The reason we made Martini Baton a Jew is that … we all went to art school together, and it always seemed to us that the students who were the wildest and who had the most character, who could be turned into cartoon characters, were always Jewish kids. And especially if they were from Brooklyn—they made no bones about the fact that they were Jewish. It seems like the craziest human being in the world [generalizing, of course!—P.B.] is a Jewish woman, especially when she’s young like Martini Baton. It seems like they want to do everything. Aline Kominsky loves Martini Baton; I wouldn’t be surprised if she identifies with her. And at least in New York, it’s hard, at least for me, to tell the difference between a Catholic and a Jew. A Brooklyn Jew and a Brooklyn Italian are a lot alike. They’re all, especially the women, very theatrical.
JOANNE BAGGE: Most people think David [Carrino] is Jewish.
BAGGE: I thought he was Jewish when I first met him. I mean, I can’t tell the difference. Even in my hometown, which is way out in the suburbs, there were—and it was kind of shocking—a lot of mixed marriages, Italian and Jewish. It’s probably just from living in Brooklyn or coming from Brooklyn, I think it kind of gave everyone this mixed sensibility, you know, just being really loud and taking everything to extremes. A dropped pin will just cause a furor.
MACRONE: Where did the character “Miss Shirl-Thing” [ushered out of the strip in Weirdo #15] come from?
BAGGE: David was watching a TV show, and someone on the air was trying to say something like “It’s a sure thing”—but it came out “It’s miss shirl thing.” Carrino was watching and, as always, he listens for these weird slips. He starts screaming and cracking up, ’cause he immediately imagined someone named “Miss Shirl-Thing.” So he drew it … and I think it’s subconscious, the way he draws a character. The name “Martini Baton” is taken from the name of a real person; it’s just a slight variation of a real person’s name. But she’s nothing like Martini Baton.
JOANNE BAGGE: Her name is “Martina.”
BAGGE: Maybe it’s just the fact that she was from Brooklyn that he made her loud. The very first time he drew her, he automatically put her in a cheerleader’s outfit. Every single character that he ever drew, every single character Carrino ever made in his life—and he’s made up thousands—every single one is a degenerate [laughter]. Without fail, every single one is like from a John Waters movie. They always have these deep psychological problems, and they all want to be blessed by the Pope, thinking that’ll cure their problems.
MACRONE: So, to return to my original question, has “Martini Baton” provoked more response than a “realistic” strip like “In My Room?”
BAGGE: No, the same amount; but it’s really tough to judge by the letters. I agree with what was said earlier: I think the letters are some kind of noisy minority; I think I’m not hearing from the majority of Weir do readers at all. But the people who do write say that they prefer the stuff I do by myself, because it’s much more “traditional.” These are the comic-book fans, and they prefer a more traditional way of storytelling: it should have a plot, it should be clear.
MACRONE: I was just talking to [Dog Boy artist and publisher] Steve Lafler, and he claimed he really likes “In My Room” because it isn’t like “regular” comics—at least, not in the way his are. He sees his own book as more “traditional,” at least in terms of commercial comic books of the last 25 years.
BAGGE: He uses lots of super-hero shticks. Dog Boy is a super-hero; he doesn’t wear a cape, but he is.
MACRONE: Even though Dog Boy is ideologically on another plane, it uses a lot of the shorthand of a super hero comic book. Whereas “In My Room” and “The Reject” are closer to what Harvey Pekar is doing …
BAGGE: … which is indebted to what Crumb is doing. One thing that nobody ever points out is that Pekar has been powerfully influenced by Crumb. I like Pekar; I think his work is very good. But Harvey’s fans always bemoan how little attention he gets, which is true, but I also have to hear a lot from people who think Pekar is a better writer than Crumb. I don’t think he’s better; he’s different, but he’s not better. But I think he’s been really inspired by the way Crumb writes. I like Pekar. 1 think his work is very good.
CRUMB: Well, as far as influence goes, I think Pekar’s approach is much more original than that. I never thought of him as being influenced by my work; maybe he was. Pekar has said that he was inspired by underground comics to do comics that … told the truth.” You could say anything you wanted in these comics, basically; he thought it a medium where you could show absolute reality. Which has not been done very much before in comics.
BAGGE: But you’ve always done low-key stories even before working with Harvey—although you were inspired by Harvey too. There are lots of stories in your early books—stuff based on people that you knew. Almost like “In My Room.” I remember one story in particular that had a really claustrophobic feel … “Ducks Yas Yas” in Zap #0, I think
CRUMB: Right. That was a complete satire on beatnik stylization. But actually, Justin Green was more of an inspiration for confessional comics—especially for Aline and me; Aline was very inspired by Justin Green. He was the first guy to really just get down and reveal himself in a very personal way—I think. The first that I can think of, or that hit me.
MACRONE: Robert, Peter called “Ducks Yas Yas” claustrophobic;” certainly, you’re a master of claustrophobia. A perfect example is your “Psychopathia Sexualis” “Klassic Komic” from Weirdo #13, which evokes unbelievable claustrophobia, neurosis, and obsession. Its billing on the cover as “CLEARLY ILLUSTRATED”—boldface italic—is almost hysterically ironic. Indeed, it was a real masterpiece of illustration, bringing out the elements of the written work that undermine its authority. By mimicking how neurotic and disturbed the author, Krafft-Ebing, was …. Some people have remarked to me that they found the strip so dense that they couldn’t finish it.
BAGGE: Yeah, well it was pretty wordy and heavy. At the same time, I think that most people got through it, ’cause everybody likes to read about sex.
CRUMB: Sex sells. You’ve got a point there. Well, part of the reason it’s so dense is that I wanted to pack as much of the original book in as I could in 10 pages. I selected the cases that I wanted to do, and wrote them all out first to see how much room it was going to take up; and I had to cut it all way back to make it at all readable. Otherwise, I could have filled up two-thirds of every panel with text. Even at 12 panels per page—or especially with 12 panels per page—I had to pack it in there. I still thought I left an awful lot that was really rich. Basically, it should have been a 50-page graphic novel [laughter].
BAGGE: Even Ken Weiner, who isn’t a big Crumb fan, thought that was a real masterpiece. Screw [for which Ken Weiner serves as Art Director] is going to run a big review of Weirdo #13 just because of “Psychopathia Sexualis.” And the Seattle Rocket gave it a big plug just for that. But, yeah, I guess it was a little bit too heavy-handed for a lot of people, but at the same time … just about everything in Weirdo seems to split the audience. Even the people who complained to you that it was too wordy … everybody takes Crumb for granted.
CRUMB: That’s right.
BAGGE: If there were no Crumb and that strip just came out from nowhere, I’m sure everybody would be praising it to death. “Oh, who is this incredible genius?” [Laughter.]
BAGGE: When people talk about Crumb’s new work, they always read it against the other stuff that Crumb’s done. For example, Robert’s story in #11—“Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” I thought it was good; of course it wasn’t the best thing he’s ever done, but everybody automatically compared it to other Crumb. “This has gotta be the lamest thing he’s done in a long time.” But when I get it, and I’m putting together Weirdo, I look at it and at everything else, and there’s no contest. Crumb at his worst still blows away everything else—just because it’s so self-confident. Even if the story is less than earth-shattering, he’s still got so much natural drawing ability, so much more than anybody else.
CRUMB: I’m not too happy about the “Goldilocks” story myself. But that’s what happens when you have to read nursery tales to your child every night for three years; you have to deal with it somehow.
MACRONE: Well, it’s very difficult to isolate any one of your stories. Your work is such a process …. The “Goldilocks” story, I agree, was definitely not one of your best pieces; but it’s still part of a larger inquiry into how normal society copes with its aberrations, or doesn’t cope, or vice versa. To me, that’s what Weirdo is really about. And you’ve recently been producing a good number of stories that directly or indirectly present your own coming to terms with the “realities” of the day.
CRUMB: Everything should stand on its own, though. But the thing about me and about other people in my position is that everybody wants the same kind of “hit” they got when they first saw your work, to get that out of you every time. That’s not possible. So they’re always kind of nit-picky about it. “This just doesn’t have the same intensity that that had, blah blah blah.” I’ve learned to live with that.
MACRONE: Okay given that nobody’s completely happy with the “Goldilocks” strip, there’s still that material there that adds another layer to your work. “Goldilocks” is especially interesting because it sheds sympathy on the “normal” characters—the bears: a solid, semi-rural/semi-suburban, middle-class family. The incredible aberration that comes crashing through their window is a punk.
CRUMB: Kaz or somebody said that he hated that strip because it showed punk in a really bad light. That it seemed like I was some kind of old fogey, sympathizing with the bears; that I hated punk/new-wave types [general snickering].
MACRONE: I regarded it much more abstractly than that.
CRUMB: But I don’t expect everybody to bend over backwards to find the abstract sociological implications of my stuff. It should be entertaining on a surface level as well. And I think that in that way, “Goldilocks” didn’t work so well somehow.
MACRONE: But at the same time, not everything expressed by a character or by the artist” in your work should be turned directly back on you. That’s more what I meant by “abstract” reading. I didn’t apply any sort of identification that transparent. But the finger-pointing reaction should be familiar to you, what with accusations of sexism and racism flying left and right. This is R. Crumb simply taking out his frustrations. To the extent that that’s true, it produces a commentary on the way we all perceive—the way culture perceives—cultural stereotypes.
CRUMB: A lot of that kind of stuff that I do or that other people do, you have to go back to, refer back to and examine again later. These kinds of comics don’t work as immediate, throw-away culture. That’s not what this work’s all about. But since it looks like that, it’s almost like you’re fooling people; then they’re disappointed that it doesn’t give them that immediate entertainment, that hit they think they’re supposed to get from a comic book.
MACRONE: The instant gratification …
CRUMB: It’s something that’s almost an icon; you can’t tell what it’s about when you first see it. You’ve got to go back to it. Popular culture, mass culture, is a funny thing. If people are making their own culture, then it’s an entirely different matter. I really do think it’s kind of a sleazy business to be involved in, entertaining people that way—giving them “light” entertainment; that repels me. Almost all modern mass culture is repulsive to me for that reason.
MACRONE: Because it’s so obviously an opiate to obviate meaning.
CRUMB: Yeah, that’s right: it’s just a distraction. And it’s candy-coated … blaah! [Laughter.] Really repulsive. That might sound snobbish—some people would say that’s snobbish, but fuck ’em!
MACRONE: Have you been reading much in the way of psychoanalytic theory?
CRUMB: No, just the Krafft-Ebing. I found it somewhere, in a second-hand bookstore years ago, and it was so fascinating that I kept going back to it and reading it. After that I tried to read a couple of other ones that were similar—they weren’t quite as much fun. Either they were a little too … sophisticated, or didn’t quite have the zoo variety of so many different types of cases. I read an article about Krafft-Ebing recently that said he definitely covered a broader spectrum of sexual perversions than anybody before or since.”
MACRONE: He found his calling [laughter].
CRUMB: I love to study the various types of sexual behavior; it’s so fascinating to me.
MACRONE: I had thought you were more directly tied-in to Freudian theory—but I guess we all take it in osmotically. So much of your work portrays the classic id/ego/superego conflicts; a lot of your characters really are walking ids, or used to be—for example, Snoid. 1 think now it’s more of an ego vs. superego structure—the confrontation seems to be a source of a lot of the energy in your work.
CRUMB: You think so? [Barely audible laugh.] Huh.
MACRONE: Well, it’s one of the conceptual foundations of Weirdo: weirdos are individuals who can’t handle the superego, the social programming.
CRUMB: You mean the conscience?
CRUMB: The “good boy” part of you.
MACRONE: That which works internally to delimit action, to draw the boundary that separates what’s “good” from what’s “bad” for Society.” “This is an evil act because it’s bad for society.” The ego strains against it. In the case of sexual repression—where the ego is caught between the id and the superego …
CRUMB: Even things like the racial issue become such a touchy, taboo area, that this warning flag constantly goes up in your mind. But the taboo itself just makes you want to fuck with it. The problem with it is that people get hurt: you hurt people with that kind of thing. So you have to really know what you’re doing. There have been times I have regretted things that I’ve done because I realize that I did hurt people with my comics.
MACRONE: It’s tough: you can’t say, “Well, I enlightened five people at the expense of five thousand,” or vice versa.
CRUMB: That’s right.
MACRONE: Some accusations of sexism and racism come from an inability to see the work as an exposing and logical extension of the taboos themselves.
CRUMB: I agree with you completely, but it’s very hard for people, especially, say, women who are struggling with their female identity and all that, to give you that much benefit. They just can’t do it.
MACRONE: Because, to them, any stereotypical representation, ironic or not, sets back their cause. Whether it’s being spoofed or used to a political end.
CRUMB: Or a lot of women will tell me they really think that a lot of simple-minded guys will read my comics and take them as license to go out and rape women. Someone like Cat Yronwode would say that. I don’t know, I really don’t. Maybe there’s some truth to that.
MACRONE: Perhaps; but a text cannot take responsibility for all of its interpretations.
CRUMB: All I know is that when I go to pornographic theaters, mostly what you see in there are meek little henpecked Oriental guys, you know; the only outlet they have is this voyeuristic thrill they can get from watching jism squirting around on the screen.
MACRONE: If there were nobody around to express the consciously-repressed or taboo material, things would really be …
CRUMB: … a keg of dynamite.
MACRONE: It’s difficult to appreciate that fact, because the repressed stuff is by definition what we, socially, find ugly and threatening. But it’s not going to disappear by denial. The “old” underground technique was to break the taboos in every way possible. But the approach that the “new school”—at least, the “punk wise ass” school represented in Weirdo—takes is to exaggerate the repression, stay on the twisted surface, distribute derision.
CRUMB: There’s a kind of nihilism at work there, but they try to keep it within commercial bounds. It’s funny, but it’s a different approach.
MACRONE: It’s at the same time less affirmative and more tied in to the mass, or median, culture.
CRUMB: Yeah, in a certain way it is. The whole nihilistic punk thing, I like it, though. I think the shock thing that guys like Wilson and Robert Williams are still trying to do just doesn’t work as well as it used to; it’s kind of outlived its usefulness. It’s just shock for its own sake.
MACRONE: People have reached a certain critical mass of shock.
CRUMB: You’ve just got to find a new way to get around it. You have to be really up on what’s going on, and that’s the way you get under it, and show it for the asininity that it is.
MACRONE: Basically, culture has blind spots, or taboos that become blind spots …
CRUMB: Yeah! That’s right. That’s right.
MACRONE: … and it’s the ability to get down into a perspective where you can see them and then … [makes ripping motion with hands].
CRUMB: You really have to watch things closely to be able to do that. I’m not sure: I don’t know if it’s just an instinctive thing or what. But Williams and Wilson are still great artists; they can still do great work. But I’ve sat through discussions with them, and they think I’m going straight or something, because I no longer just want to show dicks and pussies in every panel. I just don’t feel the need to do that; it’s not like I’m stopping myself from doing it. But they feel a need to keep doing that, to keep shoving that in people’s faces. It’s like a crusade to them [laughter].
MACRONE: Pieces like “Mode O’Day” don’t resort to that—there’s no surface shock value to it. But it’s still incisive satire, and it still exposes middle-class assumptions, pieties, repressions …
CRUMB: It’s actually the straightest social satire I’ve ever done. And a lot of people don’t like it for that reason; it’s just straight social satire; it’s not that kind of revelatory stuff from the gut. I even feel a little bit uncomfortable with it myself, because you have to be so … astute about the times to be able to pull that off. Otherwise, it doesn’t come off right.
MACRONE: These days, things become anachronisms very quickly. “Porpy” could be painfully dated really fast [laughter].
CRUMB: Yeah, he just becomes a character representing 1984, 1985 or whatever.
MACRONE: On the other hand, you’re still doing a lot of the “revelatory stuff,” stuff that is basically autobiographical, or semi-autobiographical, Semi-autobiography has always been prevalent in Weirdo: Carol Lay’s “Midwestern Wedding” [#10], Carelton’s “Fervid Torpor” [#11], most of Dori Seda’s stories, your and Aline’s pieces, Peter’s “The Reject” and “In My Room,” not to mention “The Bradleys.” I suppose reality is “weirder” than fiction.
BAGGE: Yeah, that’s true. That’s something that it took me a long time to realize when I first started doing comics. But the comics that I did that were always the funniest were based on things from real life. And Robert always complained about it for that very reason.
CRUMB: Because Peter wasn’t sure enough of himself, he deviated from the truth of his own experience too much, and it became silliness, it just became silly. It wasn’t as strong as it could have been if he’d just gone on and actually told the real truth, which he did later, in his latter stuff, which is much stronger. A lot of stuff that I got when I was editing Weirdo—I thought that people would do a lot better if they just told the truth about something that happened to them. They didn’t have enough confidence in their own experience and in their ability to describe that experience and make it interesting. Everybody thinks his own life is so mundane and ordinary that they can’t get a handle on how to express their own experience and what they’ve been through in a way that’s interesting. Even though they have these tools, they might already be good artists and good story-tellers, they still don’t have the confidence to just tell the truth. And there is some art to it; it is hard to figure out how to do it; it’s not easy.
MACRONE: It’s something that Harvey Pekar has capitalized on: he’s figured out how to do it, and how to do it well.
CRUMB: And Aline’s good at it; I’ve got a lot of respect for the way she’s able to do it. I actually had a harder time figuring that out myself. When I saw Justin Green and Aline doing it, it kind of gave me a little more courage to do it also. And you have to be able to be a bit self-deprecatory, which a lot of people can’t do. Everybody’s so nervous about his self-image. I had problems with that too, with making myself look silly and foolish.
MACRONE: But once you learn to laugh at yourself—and this is a funny dynamic—it becomes easier to be true to and about yourself.
CRUMB: It’s like diving into cold water: it’s really hard to take the initial step off the edge, but once you’ve done it you get used to it and it becomes easier. It’s very therapeutic once you get into it.
MACRONE: Your Fritz the Cat” work was done before you’d taken the dive.
CRUMB: Yeah, and even all the “Mr. Natural” stuff. But I was so steeped in comics since I was a kid, I was into it so deeply, and I had comics storytelling down so well that …. Aline and Justin hadn’t really done very much comics when they started doing that confessional stuff, so it came out of them in a very direct and simple way. Whereas I was already so sophisticated that I was able to sneak it out through these other characters. But when I saw them do it in that direct way, I though, “Wow, that’s really strong.” I got more interested in doing that myself.
BAGGE: Robert made a big deal about that, being autobiographical—not necessarily writing about something that exactly happened to you, opening yourself up the way he and his wife do—but just drawing from real life. That’s what writers always say: any writer at all that you talk to will say that that’s what makes the best stories, writing about things that really happened to you. I don’t think it’s that cartoonists don’t think about that; it’s just that what really sells in cartoons, generally, is the exact opposite. Like all those people back there in that room [in the dealers’ room at the convention]—they want to see the exact opposite. I get the feeling that most of these people must find real life so grim that they’re looking simply for escape. Just the fact that they’ve got this crazy costume contest …. Probably the rest of the year, the people that win that contest don’t even leave the house. That’s what I suppose is the problem with all this super-hero stuff.
MACRONE: An inability or refusal to cope … or an inability to realize that one is just not all that different from everyone else.
BAGGE: That’s why I think they might not only be turned off by the weirder, wide variety of artwork in Weirdo—I’m talking about the general comics fan—but also by the fact that it does touch so much on real lite. Probably just because of the way he draws, Dennis Worden is inaccessible to the average Marvel fan; even if he were accessible, I think his work would really upset them. Worden isn’t afraid to say exactly what he thinks about real life.
CRUMB: Comic conventions are so pathetic. The dorkiest looking people imaginable, and what they love … the juxtaposition when I was at a fantasy convention in Dallas: these overweight guys with bad posture schlumping around, and on the tables in the aisles that they’re walking through are these statues of these muscular guys, these muscular, overly heroic looking figures lining the tables: that’s what it’s all about. When I was in Dallas I was amazed at how many overweight people there were.
MACRONE: The people who don’t leave their homes.
CRUMB: No, they collect comics. They like power fantasies. That’s what they like.
BAGGE: It’s such a crazy thing, you know? ’Cause it seems like what makes a really good comic and what sells in the comics biz … I guess it’s just like TV: a good TV show is a cancelled TV show. Well, actually, even in TV, a good TV show will hook on occasionally.
MACRONE: Even then, the first season of a good program is usually the best season, before popularity leads inevitably to watering down. This goes back to what you were saving earlier about the misperception of the undergrounds as part of some “cause”—about the integrity of the counterculture. A lot of what is called “counterculture” is only too willing to be sold out in a minute. This is American culture—it will take anything that threatens it and soften it up enough and buy into it enough so that it can be sold on the “establishment’s” terms in establishment markets. Anything that’s really different will always be left hovering at the fringes, ignored and at bare subsistence. Back at the Fantagraphics Books’ panel every five minutes Gary Groth would throw in some comment about the difficulty of marketing something unique.
BAGGE: I was wondering if that was put ting anybody in the audience off, the way he would say “if it’s good it’s going to bomb out.” You know, “Yeah, we’re going to run something by this guy; it’s sure to be another great seller.” I think he’s probably just fed up to the teeth, to the point where he doesn’t want to mince words any more. And I was thinking, if I were him, I probably wouldn’t make an issue out of it. But he’s probably tired of not making an issue out of it for so long.
MACRONE: Well, he makes quite an issue out of it in the Comics Journal. But I found the cracks on the panel a little too insistent. I suppose that if you’re really discriminating, it’s tough to be in his position and not be bitter.
CRUMB: Someone like Groth … he’s come to despise the comics biz so intensely. He’s got nothing but the most poisonous words for that whole thing. He’s just so fed up with it—and it is all pretty stupid. But when Americans think of comics, they think of muscle-bound super-heroes, this completely stupid good-guy/bad-guy dummy-dumb stuff. It’s so stupid. And then there’s Weirdo and the people who do that kind of stuff, which is such a tiny percentage …
MACRONE: Even the so-called “alternative” publishers deal in what’s basically mainstream merchandise.
CRUMB: Punch-out muscular guys.
MACRONE: Except that it’s directed at “adults”: stunted adults instead of stunted children. But Gary’s points about smart-ass illiteracy—which is real—are taken to Weirdo because, I believe, he’s frustrated that something with real potential still isn’t up to his standards. But smart-ass illiteracy is part of the texture of Weirdo; it wouldn’t be Weirdo otherwise.
CRUMB: That was my attitude when I started the magazine; I had a vision of it which was inspired by the punk movement. Different from the old “psychedelic” craziness. I was attracted by punk graphics, and even the records and music. With punk, this whole thing about being politically correct, or being beautiful or anything: this was all challenged. The image of the cosmic saint that the hippie movement was about …
MACRONE: … and that punk was very explicitly a rejection of.
CRUMB: For a while, through the mid-’70s, I was very confused. I’d stopped taking psychedelic drugs: I felt really lost. I just wanted to hide behind a rock and not deal with it at all—just escape from it. What you see as you stand aside and watch society roll on, and things change, a new generation comes up and … they’ve got the vitality of youth going for them, so they’re able to knock aside or deflect … the confusion doesn’t touch them much; so they come up with a new way of looking at things that’s refreshing, and revitalizing. If you’re willing to let go of old attitudes, you can pick up on stuff, the new ideas that come along. But people get fixated on something that they went through, that they personally experienced, that was really powerful. The guys that went through World War II, their whole way of looking at life is still based on World War II. And they’re running the country right now, unfortunately. And a lot of the people from the ’60s are that way too: they still basically see through those eyes. Around here, people we know, they want to have solstice gatherings and touchy-feely, [phone rings] everybody holds hands [ring ring] and says “om” or something. [Crumb answers the phone.]
[It’s Art Spiegelman. There is a break in the tape; when it is turned on again, Macrone is discussing the Jack Kirby art situation.]
MACRONE: … they [the Kirbys] claim that they need the artwork as retirement security.
CRUMB: I’m sure Kirby made millions of bucks for Marvel. They ought to do it [return the original art] just out of fucking decency. But they’re just scum.
MACRONE: They’d have been zero without him.
CRUMB: Let me go on record as saying that Marvel Comics is scum. [Laughter.] Jim Shooter is scum.
BAGGE: But he’s also a genius. Going back to the subject of Weirdo, an ironic thing that you once told me, Robert, is that as pessimistic as you are, you seem truly to believe that Weirdo will last forever. [To Macrone:] He thinks it’s just this thing that has to be. No matter what he’s doing—he’s made it pretty obvious to me, anyway, that if I suddenly quit, he would just pick up again. Maybe if he just couldn’t stand doing it for a while, he’d find someone else to pick it up the way I did. Even though he doesn’t brag about it or admit it, he really did start the whole underground genre. If Weirdo were gone, that genre would disappear from the face of the earth.
CRUMB: I think Weirdo could last forever, if whoever is running it is willing to put out the effort for not very much money. Ron Turner will last forever because he operates on this very low-key plane. When the receipts for the day don’t pan out too good, he just goes and has another doughnut and doesn’t worry about it.
MACRONE: But Weirdo is sunk once anybody starts having expectations for it.
CRUMB: Yeah, if they try to push it into some bigger thing and then it failed, that could kill it. But the thing is, you could always take it to somebody else. As long as there are these guys that are doing these crazy comics that can’t get published anywhere else, and they deserve to be published, Weirdo could go on forever. What I find a sad possibility is that since there’s no money in doing that kind of comic, the motivation might dry up.
MACRONE: Most of the artists involved now have other jobs.
CRUMB: Yeah, but they’re young and everything. They don’t have a lot of kids and responsibilities. After a while, you just don’t have time. It gets harder and harder for me to find the time to do this stuff, although my main favorite thing to do is still to draw these crazy comics.
MACRONE: So therefore you wouldn’t be able to take over the magazine again as a fulltime job?
CRUMB: I suppose that if nobody else would, then I’d try to. It would probably just not come out as often. But there’s definitely enough work by other artists out there to fill it up. But Turner won’t publish it unless I do the cover and have at least … six or eight pages inside. I’ve already asked him: “What if I get somebody else to do the cover?” [Snaps back:] “Nope! Nobody else can do the cover. Nope.” It starts to look a little narcissistic that I do the cover every fucking issue. But I guess I’m the Norman Rockwell of underground comics [laughter].
MACRONE: Peter even ’fessed up on the letters page: “It’s written in stone. All covers are by Crumb.” If Turner drops Weirdo, who do you think might pick it up? Fantagraphics Books?
CRUMB: Groth expressed interest in publishing it a few months ago; but now he’s talking about putting out a similar magazine—not a humor magazine per se, but a compendium of work by good artists that he likes. He would edit it himself. But I could probably find somebody else to publish Weirdo somewhere. [Laughter.] It doesn’t cost that damn much to put it out—a few thousand dollars per issue.
MACRONE: But then again, Last Gasp has distribution channels established.
CRUMB: It’s some sort of esoteric, byzantine distribution network that only Ron Turner understands; it’s all in his brain. Nobody else knows where the stuff goes or how it gets there [laughter].
BAGGE: If Weirdo were gone, people would still be doing the Xerox [newave] stuff, but that really isn’t the same. Another interesting thing that you once told me, Robert, is that, technically, anything in the format of an underground comic book up, up to slicker things, you know, books in full color, is big time. He looks at the mini thing, anything self-published, Xeroxed, with a black and white cover, as homemade, handmade, small-time cheapo stuff. He still feels that underground comix is big time; he’s still really proud and really excited to see his work published in that format.
CRUMB: The Xerox movement is something that definitely does not have the magic that real print has. Somehow it just doesn’t have that kind of power or magic. When you see your work translated into that medium, into “real print,” it’s a very awing experience. That in itself somehow motivates you—kind of humbles you in a way, so that you want to be as good as the medium is or will allow. It’s such an incredible thing to have your work printed and disseminated that way. I’ve seen a lot of artists improve tremendously after they get their work in print. It’s inspiring to be reaching so many more people. The people who can’t do it, who just can’t handle it, just stop trying.
The mini comix … I don’t know. I haven’t seen any great development in most of those little books, toward real mastery of the medium. There are a couple who come close, and then they try to jump from that into print; like XEX Graphix. Where are they from, Atlanta or something?
CRUMB: Memphis, right. There’s one guy in there who’s really hot …
MACRONE: XNO. But then there are people like Bob Lewis, who puts out Scratchez with Kat Pritz. It recently went from mini to comic-book format. But even as a mini, it had color covers on heavy stock, fine quality paper. Now it’s a pulp comic book. It was always close enough to the real thing to “count”— from the very first issue. The switch of formats sus therefore relatively painless. On the other hand, a lot of the people who publish through Clay Geerdes’s Comix World are going to stick to the mini, self-published format.
CRUMB: Some of that stuff is good, even; I like it. It seems sometimes that the medium influences the message, or the attitude: there’s such a casual, off-hand attitude to Babyfat and all those things that’s great in its own little way. But the approach that the medium brings out just doesn’t compel you in the same way as print.
MACRONE: What you wanted to do with Weirdo, then, was to exploit the formal values of print vet keep the magazine loose and offhand—to let the ragged edges show.
CRUMB: A little bit, yeah. But so much of the work in minis is just throw-away drawing; they just don’t really care about the quality of the artwork that much. Part of it’s just the nature of this Xeroxed, crappy little thing. But if you pick up the latest issue of Weirdo, there’s a lot of finished-looking art in there; and that’s really impressive. That medium seems to call that up. When I first started Weirdo, I definitely had the attitude that I wanted to keep it loose; I didn’t want it to be as precious and artistic as, say, RAW. But I got much less casual about what I put in there as time when on. But as I said before, when I go back and look at those issues, I like that quality that they have, that kind of looseness. It’s definitely not as loose any more. Peter’s much tighter about his editing than I was. He would never use anybody like that crazy girl … what’s her name …
MACRONE: Elinor Norflus?
CRUMB: Elinor Norflus.
MACRONE: I thought her work was great! I thought everybody liked her.
CRUMB: You and about two other people liked that. It was universally despised.
MACRONE: Simply because of, as Gary Panter would put it, the “ratty drawing”?
CRUMB: Oh yeah. Definitely. And it also brought on this onslaught of contributions from people who had never drawn before in their lives. “If you could print that, then surely you’ll print this.”
MACRONE: That’s just not the point.
CRUMB: They didn’t understand; they couldn’t figure it out at all. I could never explain to them what the difference is, except that what Elinor Norflus did was so deeply personal and intense. And in her own crazy way it was very well thought out and worked out. But just because the drawing was so ragged …
MACRONE: The drawing had to be ratty; it wouldn’t have been the same strip if it weren’t.
CRUMB: It was integral. She was a real lunatic. But that kind of work just passes over people. They say, “Look at that ugly drawing. Forget it.” They don’t look any deeper.
MACRONE: I’d like to ask you, Peter, if you’re going to stick with Weirdo for any specific minimum of issues.
BAGGE: Yeah, I’m definitely going to do at least ten. I’d feel like a real quitter if I didn’t do ten. It could really get to be a bit much, you know, ’cause there’s hardly any money and you have to put up with all these crazy pressures that can really wear you down. People are always telling me, “You should be happy; at least this gets you an audience.” But still, everybody feels like he’s gotta grow up or go somewhere. Right now I’m balancing all my time and energy between Weirdo and Neat Stuff. As tough as it is, I feel like if I quit one, I’d be putting all my eggs in one basket. I have no idea if doing both is taking away from each; maybe it’s better that I do it this way. I don’t know. If Neat Stuff suddenly took off, or if that seemed the way to go …. But then again, Neat Stuff could bomb. If it actually winds up selling worse and worse every issue, there’s no way Groth is going to want to keep putting it out. The first issue did well—it got off to a better start than Love and Rockets. It started off with 7,000, and it seems to be selling pretty quickly. Advance orders on the second issue, however, aren’t larger than for the first. I guess it’s the “first issue fixation”—you know, collectors are going to want that first issue. So distributors didn’t order more of the second issue, which is a disappointment. But you’ve usually got to wait until the fourth issue to start seeing any kind of rise.
MACRONE: What do you have in the works for forthcoming issues of Weirdo?
BAGGE: Well, there’s that “Ugly Art Contest” that was announced in #13; and there’s your story on Punk magazine, if that works out okay. And maybe more by Kim Deitch. I’d like to keep using more artwork by the artists that I’m excited about—and if you look through #14, you’ll find a lot of them; but a lot of the time, those guys just aren’t available. And I never know who might come along or what might come along. It’s always really playing it by ear. I used to have a lot of high hopes and crazy plans and directions I wanted to take Weirdo in; but as time went on, I found myself falling into the same niche that Crumb had been in. What you don’t realize is why Crumb did … I mean, I found out real quick why Crumb did what he did when I started to actually edit the magazine. It’s just like a natural format.
CRUMB: Weirdo kind of makes itself. It puts itself together almost. I put those first few issues out with my own criteria; but then I started to get all this artwork in the mail. And as you sift through the stuff that you’re getting, the stuff that’s printable kind of rises to the surface. The editor is just sorting it out.
MACRONE: It becomes an instinctive mechanism after a while. You don’t need to think about why something should go or not. Submissions begin to have an aura …
CRUMB: It always comes down to a couple of hard choices; and there are a lot of borderline things. But what’s really good, and what works, is evident most of the time. There isn’t any need to go searching any more. But it’s still fun to dig up really obscure shit that you just don’t get in the mail.
BAGGE: Anyway, I’m not going to change the format or change the editorial policy. I have a funny feeling that Weirdo is going to take off sooner or later—even if it only goes up 50 percent in sales. But maybe it’ll go up to 100,000—who knows. As long as we can hold out, that’s the thing. I think that it could be a really long dry spell; it could be a very long time before there’s a sizable chunk of people in this country who are willing to get into Weirdo. I think right now it’s getting worse, that there are fewer and fewer potential Weirdo readers. Then again, there are probably a lot of people out there who would like Weirdo if they could only see it. That’s always a trick: getting it into people’s hands. But I think overall, fewer and fewer American citizens are potential Weirdo readers. It’s probably going to have to bottom out somewhere along the line before it comes back again.
MACRONE: You never know. It may have bottomed out already. I’m more hopeful about kids “these days”—I think they’re by and large a lot more interesting than they were five or six years ago. Between the influence of pronk culture and a little more self-consciousness about mass media. The kids I see these days seem to be so much bigger than they were in the mid- and late ’70s.
CRUMB: They do? You think so?
MACRONE: Yeah. But maybe because I grew up in the ’70s and I didn’t think any of my peers were very hip [laughter].
CRUMB: Well, you just might have gravitated toward a more hip segment of your generation.
MACRONE: Maybe, but that didn’t happen at all until college.
CRUMB: Do you think that kids who are younger than you are more sophisticated?
MACRONE: I think kids who are between one and five years younger than I am aren’t more sophisticated [this is the 18–23 group]. But that kids who are much younger have a lot of potential. But maybe I’m just starting to get some perspective on adolescence—now that I’m safely in the clear—and that I think they’re hip just because they haven’t been ground down by society yet, and that now I understand what that means. They haven’t started to worry about their careers or whatever. But when I was a senior in college , the incoming freshman class was just about the most preppie-to-be-yuppie, conservative, career-oriented, boring group of people I’d ever seen.
CRUMB: ’81—that’s just when I started Weirdo. Terrific.
MACRONE: Yeah, but I think the kids who will be 18 in five years are a pretty interesting group. Some people deplore the images they’ve adopted from the media industry … like the Madonna imagery, But I’m not so sure that’s the worst thing
CRUMB: What’s that all about, anyway?
MACRONE: It’s very strange … it’s a mix of religious iconography and sleaziness.
CRUMB: Yeah, there’s a certain sleazy element. In Desperately Seeking Susan, Madonna glamorizes being a semi-criminal type …
MACRONE: And streetwise.
CRUMB: Yeah, that seems to be the only alternative to yuppiedom at this point, is being something of a street person/criminal type. You don’t want to be like a burned-out hippie spare-changing on the street; you’ve got to be a little smarter than that, kind of a hustler, and get something for nothing from people. In deceptive ways, or whatever. I think that for kids to be attracted to Weirdo, they have to have a little of the rebellious spirit. I think Weirdo is somewhat of a rebellious, maverick thing: so you have to be attracted to that part of the culture.
MACRONE: It’s certainly not a “peer movement” of any sort—which, when you’re a kid, pretty much determines what’s okay and what’s not.
CRUMB: You just don’t see that much rebelliousness in kids. I don’t know about now. But the punk movement has almost become like the ghetto rebellion—rebellion against poverty or something.
MACRONE: But a lot of the punks are middle-class kids.
CRUMB: I wonder if they have money. Do they have money to spend, those kids?
MACRONE: Some do. A lot of them are all show and no substance; they just spend hundreds of dollars—or their parents’ dollars—on punk fashion. But I’ll bet that a lot of those kids really have rejected their suburban background. A sort of moral and aesthetic poverty is the source of their rebellion. And everybody wants to be an individual; it’s just that when you’re a kid, you almost have to be part of some sort of group.
CRUMB: For a group identity of some kind.
MACRONE: It’s only within a group that one can begin to individuate. You have to assume a pre-established identity first.
CRUMB: You’ve got to have a role model somewhere.
MACRONE: And Madonna is better than Nancy Reagan, that’s for sure [laughter]. Nancy Reagan is, I believe, the most popular woman in America.
CRUMB: Oh, God. Let me out of here.
– 30 –
First published in The Comics Journal #106 (March, 1986)