Friday, August 31, 2012
AN INTERVIEW WITH JASON YUNGBLUTH
Many of you might remember a while ago, I raved about an awesome book called DEEP FRIED, reviewed here. Others will recall that yesterday, I reviewed a related book, WEAPON BROWN: BLOCKHEAD'S WAR #6, which can be found here. This year at Wizard World Chicago, I managed to catch up to the genius behind both of these books, Jason Yungbluth. He kindly consented to an interview, where he talks about 'Nineties indie books, pedophilia, and the relationship between innocence and darkness. As with the Josh Filer interview, the sound quality of the recording was just terrible, but I did a much better job of deciphering this one, as you'll see below.
John Bruni: I’ve been reading a lot of DEEP FRIED lately. Tell us about the book.
Jason Yungbluth: It’s my effort to create the kind of comic that I would want to buy, which is a comic that’s very hard to find with my very rarified humor tastes. I like underground humor. I like the works of Evan Dorkin, the guy who does ARSENIC LULLABY, whose name I forget [Ed. note: He’s talking about Douglas Paszkiewicz], you know. Adult Swim. I like humor that’s off the beaten path, but it also has to be funny. It has to get a laugh out of me. It can’t merely be weird or shocking, it’s got to be all three of those things together. DEEP FRIED is my attempt to create the kind of eyebrow-raising humor that still elicits a laugh. I can’t help but mention Kieron Dwyer’s LOWEST COMIC DENOMINATOR. When I first saw that, that was the second time a humor comic really blew me away. The first time was MILK AND CHEESE. LCD also reminded me that the bar can be set quite high. Even when you think you’re setting the bar high, someone else comes along and says, “Oh, fuck you, I’ll put the bar RIGHT UP HERE WHERE YOU CAN’T TOUCH IT!”
JB: Like, say for example, what was it? Preschool Girls Gone Wild?
JY: There’s an interesting story behind that. So I did a fake ad in an issue of DEEP FRIED: Girls of Kindergarten Recess Gone Wild. And the joke is, there’s this schoolyard rhyme, Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees, look at these, and the girl pulls up her shirt. She was like, four or five. I thought, what if you made a video about that? Someone didn’t realize that it was a fake ad and actually sent me money for these videos.
JB: My God.
JY: He also wanted some comics of mine that he didn’t already own, so I was like, “What to do here? What to do?” I sent him the comics he didn’t have, and I sent him back SOME of the money he’d sent for the videos and kept the rest of the money, which was about twenty bucks, and said, “That was your dumbass fee.”
JB: Did he have any argument with that?
JY: Apparently he didn’t. I’m sure he’s just hoping I just forget who he is.
JB: That’s pretty crazy.
JY: Crazy like a fox. I wasn’t, like, offended or creeped, but, you know, I did do the cartoon, so . . . you attract a certain crowd.
JB: True. I have noticed that a lot of your stuff starts out with innocence—Charlie Brown, for example, and clowns and cute little kitties, and even Clarissa—and it always takes this dark turn. What is it that compels you to do this dark, terrible stuff?
JY: For some of the stuff, it’s a little cheap. With Weapon Brown, the gag is obvious. It’s nostalgia meets, you know. Any brand of modern humor, like VENTURE BROTHERS and SOUTH PARK is familiar with that. You take something sweet and innocent, and you pollute it. I like Weapon Brown. I think it has its own merits, but on one hand, it’s a simple, cheap gag. But as to the overall theme of corrupted innocence, I guess I’m attracted to that concept. If you do it right, it’s hard to pull the wool over people’s eyes because a lot of humor starts out that way. It’s something that is otherwise banal and non-threatening, and then you give it that dark twist. My effort is to really throw people off track. When you buy my comics, you know that it’s going to end in something that’s at least dark. I don’t like pure shock. I don’t like to go that route for no reason, but I do like to make it dark and surprising. I like it to get laughs, but I also want it to be a laugh you didn’t see coming. To do that with something innocent is kind of tough because you already know I’m going to corrupt it in some way when you’re reading it. As long as you know there’s going to be a dark twist, you have to make that dark twist as interesting as possible.
JB: Have you ever gotten anyone pissed off at you for what you’ve done to Charlie Brown?
JY: No one has ever complained about Charlie Brown. I’ve never gotten any threats or lawsuits from any of the cartoons I’ve parodied. I got a fan letter once about Clarissa where the person said that he loved everything else I’d done in DEEP FRIED, he really loved the humor and the tastelessness, but then he said in all seriousness, he thought he should call the FBI for Clarissa. He didn’t understand that this is perfectly legal. It really struck that chord, which I thought was great. If you’ve got someone who loves you AND hates you, you’re doing something right. You’re really doing some paradigm-shifting comics, if you can pull that off. I was very proud of myself for getting that letter.
JB: I was talking with Josh Filer, who does GROSS, GRANDPA!, and he had a really difficult time coming out with issue two. It’s so transgressive and nasty and vile that printers wouldn’t let him use them. Have you ever run into anything like that?
JY: I really haven’t. From a visual point of view, my work has all been done. I find that less is more. For example, THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE is less visually disturbing and more mentally disturbing. You paint a mental picture. They actually did a cheesy job of doing it. No one really wants to see that, but it’s all the more horrifying because if you’re not able to see it, you know what’s implied there. Once I did this strip that actually had such visual grossness to it that I thought it could be possible that the printer would take exception. It was a bonus strip that I included in the trade paperback of volume one of DEEP FRIED. It was one that was done to be deliberately shocking. I like the humor of it, but it was to supplement my all-shock issue of DEEP FRIED, so I was like, “This isn’t all that shocking.” It was actually a commentary on shock humor. There’s nothing in here that pushes the envelope on pure grossness. I’m not really a fan of doing that, but I really wanted something that was visually over the top. The worst thing I had, visually, in that book was Beepo the clown beating up the Pope with a baby harp seal. Then you see this gore panel of the Pope, but it’s not really gore, it’s Spaghetti-O’s. I drew all these Spaghetti-O’s. Did you know the Pope was full of Spaghetti-O’s? That’s what gore is in movies, it’s all fake and rubber vomit. So I didn’t really have anything that was disgusting, so I did this strip called “Who’s the Jerk Now?” It was a hokey 1950’s style—some of my stuff is deliberately retro—story about a guy who steals a guy’s parking spot, and the guy is so mad that he goes back to the guy’s house. The guy who stole the parking spot comes back later and sees the fellow banging his wife. He’s like, “Hey, you’re banging my wife!” And the other guy says, “And yes! That’s not all!” And he takes out a hunter’s knife and stabs into her belly, and there’s this gross sound effect. And he’s like, “And now she’s dead!” And the other guy’s like, “Oh, you showed me!” It was the humor aspect that I liked. It’s aw-shucks 1950’s humor meets 21st Century viciousness. He then takes a very slender and not-at-all-pregnant looking woman and pulls out two fetuses, which he proceeds to use as a yo-yo and a paddle ball, and as he tapdances in the woman’s open belly, he’s like, “Who’s the jerk now?!” And the other guy’s like, “Me! I’m the jerk!” It was way, way over the top. When I read LOWEST COMIC DENOMINATOR, it was so more appalling than that strip and so funnier than that strip. I don’t like to go for the gross gore visual sick-out because I don’t think mine is just that funny.
JB: You’ve got some really deep, psychological horror going on here.
JY: I want my comic to be the kind of comic you’d find under someone’s mattress. It’s more like psychological porn than actual porn, although it does have shocking elements. It’s interesting that even with things like the internet, there are still some things that can shock the audience. I really do want you to laugh when you read my book. There is some genuine darkness to it, like with the Clarissa stuff. With Clarissa, I was walking a tightrope with myself because, originally, I wasn’t going to exceed the first strip. That one got a great reaction from everyone, it did everything I wanted it to do. People just never see it coming. There’s the innocent set-up, but even though you know you’re reading a dark comic, the delivery is so explosive it subverts even what you thought it might be building up to, which is great. And then I started doing this series of Clarissa comics, and I was thinking, can I really do this? Can I really go to the well twice with a joke like that? Instead of going for the shock and horror of Clarissa’s evil father, I decided to delve deeper into the psychology of what Clarissa’s life must be like. I started with a couple of endings that had to do with her father molesting her, revisiting that punchline, but the build-up to that punchline is where the real beat of the story is. It’s not the shock of the reveal, because you’ve already had the reveal in the first strip. It’s more like the darkness of the family life. And now I’m going to be moving away from that to an even more intense examination of the true psychology of Clarissa. I’m going from a one-off shock joke to something that’s less humor-based and more tender and . . . I don’t want it simply to be bleak, but it is bleak. Where that’s going to lead is something I’m still working on. The subject matter will remain the same, but it’s moving away from the humor and the pure shock to something that is investigating the subject matter in a more mature way without sacrificing the bit of meanness that is basically in me. I have to take the point of view of the characters. I have to be Daddy and Clarissa to write this joke. There is a meanness to the strip, but I don’t want it to be me being mean anymore. It’s no longer about my mean humor. I’ve decided to let Clarissa have her say.
JB: My favorite Clarissa strip is the one with the stuffed rabbit.
JY: That was recently turned into an animated cartoon. People saw it online, and they were in the animation department at their college, so they did a short film. It’s not online yet, as they want to show it around a bit first, but hopefully soon I’ll be able to show it on my website or put it on a disc and include it with my comics.
JB: It’s such an incredibly sad and fucked up tale.
JY: It’s the turning point. That was preceded in the same issue of the comic by another Clarissa story that had an entirely different tone. I had Clarissa talking to the audience. It was a metamorphosis as to how I’m going to treat the story from here on out. It went from the original shocking comic to the still-bleak but still-humorous bathtub story with Clarissa. I got such a positive reaction, and it had a much more poignant ending than the original Clarissa story. I thought, why don’t I move it more in this direction? Then I can actually use the character without it being exploitive. If I keep doing the molestation joke, it’s about exploitation. I don’t want to do that.
JB: Earlier on, you mentioned something about your influences. Was it their work that inspired you to work in comics?
JY: No, I was a cartoonist from day one. I have a lot of artists in my family. Uncle Bob Donavan drew SNUFFY SMITH for a few decades. He made a go of it. I had that as my first inspiration. And I thought, hey! There are cartoonists in my family, and I want to be a cartoonist. How fortunate! I’ve been an artist my whole life, and I’ve always wanted to be in cartoons. I like comic books, comic strips especially, and I always wanted to do both. With Weapon Brown, I got the best of both worlds. Originally, I was equally divided. I decided I couldn’t really pursue both avenues, and the comic books gave me the most freedom. It was after I submitted the original incarnation of DEEP FRIED, a comic called PLOP FICTION or something like that, which included Beepo and Roadkill, which I’ve been doing since college. I got some positive feedback from the syndicates, but they didn’t want—I just wanted to do what I wanted to do, so comic books got me. For better or worse, I can’t be edited. I do have editors, and sometimes I have trouble with them, but I really need to do whatever I want whenever I want to do it. Self-publishing my books is the best way to have my cake and eat it, too, I guess.
JB: Has your sense of humor always been this twisted? Or did comic books do that to you?
JY: Good question. When it came to how I would do my comics, I always liked humor. I’m funnier on the pages than I am in real life, but I’m a blabbermouth, and I like to be funny. It was inevitable that I would factor into my propensity for humor into my comics. As for the way I turned out, I was always attracted to certain animated shows I’d see, like HEAVY METAL when I was younger. FRITZ THE CAT, which I saw on scrambled HBO or Cinemax or something. You know, the naughtiness of it all. I was like, I like naughtiness. I think I’ll put naughtiness into my work. I liked the black and white movement of the ‘Nineties, the early ‘Nineties, late ‘Eighties of independence, but it was really MILK AND CHEESE, which was the funniest thing I’d seen, that did it. If I’m going to be funny, it’s got to be Milk-and-Cheese-funny. I’m not that funny, I still don’t think, but I do my best. That set the bar for me. When I started doing DEEP FRIED again after LOWEST COMIC DENOMINATOR, I was pretty much in my groove. Also, I saw you could do stuff that was really shocking or really funny. Usually, it’s one or the other. LCD was the most shocking and hilarious comic I’d read. Again, the bar has been raised. I think I know where my career is taking me now. My comedy really doesn’t ape MILK AND CHEESE or LOWEST COMIC DENOMINATOR, I’m not chasing that dragon, but I realize that in order for me to be pleased with my work, I have to be approaching that level of humor. Hopefully, I’m doing something original, too. It means a lot to me to pursue original subject matters, things that are surprising shock, unexpected but not merely shock. That’s the goal I’m chasing.
JB: What’s next for you?
JY: Hardcore drug addiction. All this dark humor has rotted my brain away. I’m gonna’ ride the spike into an early grave. But if that doesn’t happen right away, WEAPON BROWN will be wrapping up. The BLOCKHEAD’S WAR series that I had not anticipated going on as long as it did—I stretched it out for three years—it is approaching its final issue. The web-strip is in its final arc. I will wrap that up and hopefully find a publisher soon. If not, I think Kickstarter is calling me. It’ll be a graphic novel, either way. Then, I want to return to DEEP FRIED. I have new material that I’m going to collect into a second volume trade paperback. I’ll have that for sale soon with a brand new Clarissa story. I still like traditional comic books, and I’ve got this urge to be involved with superhero comics, even though superheroes are really clichéd at this point. You would think that a person who was really independent and liked Vertigo and stuff would really move away from superheroes. I simply can’t, so the best I can do is try to do something interesting with superheroes, which is kind of tough because something like VENTURE BROTHERS, which is something I really like, ironic superheroes . . . when I first got into them, it was brand new, like with WATCHMEN and DARK KNIGHT. Now everyone’s doing it. The audience for superheroes is more adult than child now, so you have to take superheroes and do adult things with them. I’m still stuck on superheroes, though, so I’ve had this project of mine that is sort of a happy medium between Rob Liefeld and Grant Morrison. If I can’t lead with the genre, the least I can do is something clever with it. It’s a series that I want to work with another artist on tentatively titled THE GARBAGEMEN. It is basically a lampoon of ‘Nineties-era comics and the idea that, what if goofy silver age stuff is more of a threat to the world than hardcore, gritty Rob Liefeld post-Image, post-Mark Millar stuff? What if the gruesome, dark, brooding superheroes and the over-muscled, over-amped indecisive heroes, their greatest threat was just the silly stuff from the silver age? So this is an X-Files-type superhero team that tries to keep the silver age from bleeding into the modern age. I’m a big fan of Grant Morrison, and I want to introduce a level of that kind of thing into what is a more straight-forward and amusing superhero book.
JB: Where can people find your work?
JY: Whatisdeepfried.com. There’s not too much of my stuff in stores right now, but when I come back with the trades and stuff, you’ll be able to find more of it nationwide. You can find me at various shows like this one. I’ll be in Baltimore next, then Roc-Con in Rochester, NY. I haven’t planned my next slate of appearances, but I’ll do more shows this year and in the coming year. The best way to find me is online. And in MAD Magazine, I’m in every other issue in the Strip Club section and also in the Fundalini pages.
In case you miss it on his blog, you can buy his books here.