By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
Were image and writing always associated for you?
Yeah. Sometimes I wonder about the possibility of aspiring to the image alone. I've done that before, but not really successfully. Even when I do, it usually has some kind of narrative drive to it. Sometimes I can dispense with the image and use only language. I probably do that more often. But even that's fairly rare, I suppose.
What about illustrated literature? You know, children's books -- the Dr. Seuss series, for example -- or adventure novels that use illustrations selectively? I'm sure you read them, like every kid does, but did they have anything to do with the development of your work?
No, no. I think there's a big difference between illustration and what I do. I just don't have either the aptitude or the interest. There are illustrators whose art is reliant on draftsmanship, drawing what the writing describes. That kind of thing doesn't really do it for me. I think it's just a way to break up the page. I don't think it's really ever done successfully. I'm talking about the kinds of illustrations you find in a Mark Twain or Robert Louis Stevenson novel, where there are half a dozen illustrations interspersed. Children's literature, comic books, books where it's clear that image and language were born in combination, those are different.
Comic books can be such a beautiful wedding of the two.
I never read comic books until I was in my late teens, and they were a way to learn to draw. I saw them as an extension of film; cartoons basically meant Disney at the time. I've done comic-book-type stories, and they're something I'd like to do more. There's no reason why you can't deliver as good a work in that medium as in any other. Comics are just kind of debased by the nature of their audience.
Did you come to the comic book clean, the way most kids do, or were you already familiar with Pop art's re-contextualization of the comic?
Punk flier, c.1981
Yeah, I was. But I think I had an opposite view of comics than most of the Pop artists did. Lichtenstein might treat the comic as this Americana type of detritus, and see art as a kind of archenemy of the comic book. I think the medium itself is as legitimate as any other. That's not to say there's much that's ever been done in the comic book form that's that great. ä
I don't know. I'm not comfortable about drawing a line and making a distinction. I guess it's just a personal thing, more of a matter of taste than empirical study. I think there are people who've done comics whose work doesn't have to be treated with indifference. Crumb, I don't know. He's not my line. But I don't think the underground comic has to be justified by its closeness to fine art.
I'm harping on the comic book not because I think that point of comparison is an interesting way to enter your work.
I don't think so either.
But it's not an uncommon point of comparison in the writings on your work. I don't necessarily think literature is the best way to think about your work either. But those two angles seem to spring to critics' minds most frequently.
If my work is judged based on how it stands up next to comics, then it's pretty thin. My skills as a video artist or as a draftsman aren't things I need to brag about. To have my work discussed in those terms, well, that's kind of ridiculous. And in terms of literature, it's not just the quality of the language I use either. My work's not literature. It may be a combination, but it's something completely different from either comics or literature.
Photo by Debra DiPaolo
You graduated from UCLA in 1977. These days, the school is one of the most important and prolific producers of young artists. It must have been quite different back then.
I wasn't in the fine-arts program. My degree was in economics, so I don't really know what it was like. Certainly there wasn't this brouhaha attached to it. It wasn't as important back then to get an art degree, and there wasn't this kind of rush to get a gallery, or I didn't see it. Not like it is now, when you almost have to go to art school to get anywhere. I did some political cartoons for the UCLA student newspaper, and that's pretty much it. But I didn't have that kind of university training as an artist, for better or worse.
Do you ever feel uncomfortable or restricted by the art world, the gallery and museum context? Because you came into art by a really unusual route. Growing up in L.A., and being part of the punk scene in the late '70s, I first saw your work in zines, on fliers for concerts, and on album covers by bands like Black Flag and the Minutemen. Those are pretty much oppositional contexts.