In August 22, 2007; Zoetica Ebb interviewed Jhonen Vasquez for suicidegirls.com
Jhonen Vasquez By Zoetica EbbEdit
When I, likely drunk, decided to interview Jhonen Vasquez for SuicideGirls, I knew I was embarking on a dangerous mission, and would almost immediately regret the decision. In spite of this, I rose, wobbling, from my workstation, staggered into the newswire office and declared it would be done.
Asking you readers to contribute some questions would surely spell trouble, too. Allow me now to thank those of you who pried yourselves away from the naked girls for two minutes and actually took your time to think about what you were about to DO. And also to scold the rest of you. Childhood photos? Cheese?! Fucking hospital stays? People, I expect more of you, though I'm suddenly and acutely unsure why.
Jhonen's books have earned him a well-established place in comics and a hefty, if undesirable, credit for founding the Goth comic genre. His work is biting, insightful, revolting and hilarious without missing a step. Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, Fillerbunny, Happy Noodle Boy and other delightful characters have spawned a myriad of fandoms and questionable tattoos worldwide. His animated series Invader Zim, while short-lived, garnered immense popularity, he's worked in music video, and he's still expanding his genres. With its distinct drawing style, uncompromising humor, and bitter infectious world-view, his work has risen Jhonen to cult icon level in some 10 years, and we can only fear what the future may bring.
So here he is, appearing in SuicideGirls for the second time in all his belligerent mucusy glory, brazenly riding a giant pig directly into your brains, like the sacred whore of Babylon. Do try and enjoy.
ZE: Alright, so I had a dream about this interview last night for some unknown reason.
JV: You did?
ZE: Yes, I did. I had a question I asked you in the dream.
JV: Was this a dream where I was naked?
ZE: Yes, this is a dream where you were naked, indeed.
JV: Why was I naked in your dream?
ZE: You actually said you couldn’t do the interview unless you were, in fact, naked.
JV: Right, but it was a dream. I’m fully clothed now. Let’s make that clear.
ZE: You’re not, in fact, naked, to make the record clear, no one’s naked.
JV: The fact still stands that you had a dream where I was naked, you sick fuck.
ZE: Ehm. The question was “who the hell are you?”
JV: I’m apparently the naked guy: hater of clothing.
ZE: Is that all?
JV: Someday, I hope to at least be the guy with shoes and maybe a cummerbund.
ZE: Your new book’s called “Jellyfist”. What is a Jellyfist?
JV: Apparently it’s a horrible book of surreal comics I wrote and had Jenny do the artwork for, as my latest blight upon the comics world. As far as the word itself goes, I don’t know, we were just walking around in Chicago and Jenny was talking about something and the words “jelly” and “fist” came up in the same sentence when I stopped her and said that was a great name for the book.
ZE: What was it you guys were talking about?
JV: We were trying to figure out the logistics of someone we knew having sex.
JV: [laughs] Anyhow, we concluded that massive amounts of natural and possibly supernatural physical jellies and a fist were involved.
ZE: Where was this fist going?
JV: It was pushing into the flesh of their stomach, into the gelatinous flesh of their stomach.
ZE: Through an orifice or just straight through?
JV: No, no, not fisting in the classic, playground sense.
ZE: No, of course not the classic sense. Okay.
JV: The book has nothing to do with fisting or even jelly, just in case any church groups were on the fence about picking up hundreds of copies of it.
ZE: There’s no jelly?
JV: Maybe in a couple of the stories. There’s one about young couples in love and the male cracks the female’s head open and releases a jelly-like, sort of this amoeba style creature that he then ingests which I guess could be a jelly-like thing.
ZE: Does he then give birth to the very same creature?
JV: He sort of mixes it with his own internal jelly and then launches it at a nearby child.
ZE: Launches it how?
JV: A cannon formed of flesh, a gun, forms out of his belly meat and fires it at the kid and the kid then, under the control of the jelly, crawls up between the female’s legs.
ZE: The circle of life is then complete.
JV: A sort of revisionist stork theory.
ZE: The cover image is a drawing of tiny wiener people trapped in a jar. What is that?
JV: The cover acts as a sort of “cover” to hide the contents of the book.
ZE: No, what is the idea behind the cover image?
JV: Originally, I wanted the cover to have a warm, homey, family photo album binding vibe to it, the sort of album your lace-doily-loving grandma might haul out. The jar of preserves is the only thing that stuck around from that idea, something Jenny came up with. Makes me think of all the jars of “things” you see in a Svankmejer film, like when Alice is descending in that elevator. As for the sausage shapes, I kept harping on Jenny to make the characters more balloony or sausagey, possibly to tap into the primordial human dread of balloons filled with meat.
ZE: Are these fetuses related to one of the characters in the book?
JV: Well, no one image would really tell you what the book was about, especially since I never intended for the book to be anything other than a stream of conscious nightmare with Jenny and myself doing the streaming, so we went with the ambiguous approach. If there are any baby-preservers out there buying the book based on the cover, they’ll be pretty pissed.
ZE: The press release said the project began as a really big, surreal trip. What was the very first story about, the one that started it out?
JV: It’s not so much the first story that started the project so much as the situation when the first story was done. I was working on some of my own stuff at the time, and Jenny just happened to be at my place, not doing much but wandering around the room, or playing Guitar Hero or something. I scribbled what would be the first “story” onto a scrap of paper, handed it to her and told her to draw a comic with that as the script, which she promptly did in a matter of hours. I loved how mad the end result was and pretty much decided right there to do a whole book with her. I don’t think she thought I was serious at the time.
ZE: That is what spawned Jellyfist.
JV: Yeah. It was just a fun thought, to do an entire book of stuff that even I didn’t know what the end result was going to be, other than it being fast and loose like that first comic. That’s not quite how it turned out in the end but that’s how it started off.
ZE: So you were inspired by her work.
JV: I had always liked her work, yeah, but it takes funny little moments like that to give me the bigger idea.
ZE: This is a question from one of our readers. Okay, so how was it working with Miss Goldberg? Does she share your loveable trait of absolutely despising humanity? I don’t know if you’ve worked with many females in comics or in any of the businesses you’ve worked in but I assume that this is the closest business interaction with the opposite sex. Did that change anything?
JV: Female or not, there’s always complications working with someone co-creatively, but this was a case where our differences were part of the plan, and when things started getting uglier in the process, I decided to take that one step further by doing the running commentary in the book itself. No, she doesn’t share my, what they call my “trait of despising everything”. She’s a much nicer person than I am, but I’m taller.
ZE: How would you say this compared to your earlier collaborative project with Crab Scrambly on “Everything Can be Beaten”?
JV: She smelled better than Crab.
ZE: Aww, poor Crab.
JV: Which isn’t to say that Crab smelled bad, it’s just that she smelled like cherries and Crab smelled like cinnamon...and crabs. I don’t like cinnamon.
ZE: [cat sound] Would you say that Jellyfist is more advanced than Everything Can Be Beaten in any way? How do you feel about it?
JV: I was never very happy with Everything Can Be Beaten, based on the writing alone, but it’s a great showcase for Crab’s paintings. There was quite a bit more thought behind Jellyfist, and for all its gibbering absurdity, it’s a more complicated mess, where even the things I hate spark a bit more thought and conversation than the other book did. Maybe it’s an easy out, but incorporating my bitching into the book itself probably helped push it slightly above being just an inside joke between Jenny and I, and into something that lets the readers in a bit on what leads up to a hideous mutant project like this.
ZE: [laughs] I guess that’s the beauty of collaboration. I mean you both got something you didn’t expect, I’m sure.
JV: Well, she’d never done a book before so this whole thing was comic book boot camp for her; maybe she’s better for the wear that this project had on her mind. I hope she is.
ZE: You have traumatized her beyond repair? Will she ever work in comics again?
JV: Yes, I hope she does. She’s a great talent and a very good friend but whether or not we were designed to work together on a book like this, I don’t know, and I don’t know that we should ever do one again, not like this. Ever.
ZE: So would you say, overall, that you guys are both now happy with it?
JV: I don’t know if she’s even seen it. I kind of kept her in the dark [laughs] at the tail end of the project. I did all the layout on my computer over a few sleepless nights, long after the deadline was broken, and by that point I was so irritated at being made late on a deadline like I had never been before that some vengeful bastard part of me just wanted to do the final bit myself, and not show even her until the thing was published.
ZE: You’re a sadist.
JV: Nope. A masochist. This is comics.
ZE: You’ve been also branching out in several directions in recent years. A lot of your newest stuff involves other collaborations. Could you talk about working with bands and other artists? Is this something you want to pursue further?
JV: It was a while back, but I did the "Shut Me Up" video for Mindless Self Indulgence and people seemed to dig that. Thank YouTube for that one because I think that’s the only place people get to see it. I was pretty jazzed to hear that the band was a fan of my work, and them asking me to do a video of pretty much anything I wanted was awesome since, well, that’s pretty much how I work anyhow. That’s how that one was-they really had no direction other than “do a video” so I listened to the demo song they had sent me, and ended up with a loony retail guy chopping customers in half.
ZE: It’s still kind of on your terms.
JV: Yeah, but working with people in that way there’s always going to be some, you know, some little snags. We had a few on the video, after it was pretty much put together, because once the video was done the band ran into some trouble with airing the video without the band actually appearing in it. There were some changes made to the thing without my being involved, though I wish I had been. I like those guys and I want them to be shown in as cool or fucked up way as possible, but I don’t think the changes helped so much as they kind of flattened the thing.
ZE: You sort of cut your teeth on the comics because your comics have always been particularly cinematic.
JV: Yeah, I think when people say that, I mean, I’m very conscious of trying to do that whether it comes across or not, so when someone says it’s got a very cinematic feel to it, then I’m happy because that makes me think, “Hey, either this person is as visually retarded as I am or they are picking up on something I am successfully conveying, regardless of my otherwise crippling artistic deficiencies.” Hopefully it carries over into the non-illustrative work and into the actual motion picture work I am doing lately.
ZE: More reader questions. Have you ever felt pressure to make your subject matter more mainstream and less dark in nature?
ZE: Are you ever accused of stuff when there are school shootings?
JV: No. You know what, surprisingly no. I’m pretty critically invisible, which might be part of why I don’t get blamed for the school shooting or when I actually do shoot people. I don’t get blamed. Other people get blamed. I’m going to shoot you after this is done.
ZE: [laughs] Is there any subject matter you consciously try to avoid when sitting down to write a script or a comic?
JV: To date, no. It’s never crossed my mind to have to baby-sit anyone’s perception of right or wrong, no, so the only conscious decision making as far as content goes is whether or not an idea is right or wrong for the particular project. I’d love to think that the people who choose to pick my noise up are already well enough equipped with a decent balance of hard reason and absurdist thinking to not need to be sat down and told why something is okay or why it isn’t okay. It’s just like in drawing, the more you know what something is supposed to look like in reality, the better equipped you are to abstract it, to stylize it on purpose and have fun with it instead of simply interpreting it badly for lack of education.
ZE: Alright, someone has to know if you actually have a MySpace.
JV: Someone HAS to know?
ZE: They HAVE to know.
JV: What happens if they don’t find out?
ZE: No, no, listen to the rest, from what they’ve seen of your personality all signs would point to no, but they have seen some pretty convincing profiles.
JV: I’d actually like to know what happens if they just never knew, if they never found out I had a MySpace or not.
ZE: I had to include this question for that very reason.
JV: It sounds important to them. In fact, it sounds like a very big deal to them.
ZE: They have to know.
JV: Let’s have a bit of fun with that and not answer, yeah? Then we’ll scan the news sites for stories about some lunatic guy or girl, probably fifteen years old, clutching a GIR doll in their cold, dead hand, who leapt from a tall building, strapped with explosives after screaming “Why didn’t you friend me, Jhonen!? WHYEEEEEEE?!”.
ZE: They will no longer support your product.
JV: It’s creepy shit, man, how seriously people take that stuff, the levels of accessibility they think everyone should have just because they themselves write a blog about what color their shit was that day. Discretion is a dying artform. By the way, mine was blue.
ZE: Do you like processed American cheese or did you like it as a kid?
JV: That’s a horrible question. That falls into the “zany randomness” category of questioning.
ZE: I don’t know.
JV: But no, I don’t think I’ll answer that because then I’ll have lost all my power. I have to keep my mystery. I have to maintain my mystique.
ZE: [laughs] Will Questionsleep.com ever be updated?
Does this person asking have any internet website building skills? Because maybe it will, maybe that’s the person that will make the site come to life. Let’s just say I’m cursed in terms of finding adequate web design help. Web designers are some of the shiftiest, most flighty, you know, sketchy people I’ve ever known and they’re dirty. They’re dirty people. Unclean, in my experience.
JV: They’re swarthy types.
ZE: They smell like cinnamon.
JV: No, only Crab smells like cinnamon.
ZE: Crab, sweet Crab.
JV: Only crab smells like delicious cinnamon sprinkles.
ZE: Cinnamon crab.
JV: He rolls in Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
ZE: I could so picture it.
JV: I’m picturing it now.
JV: Glittering in the night.
ZE: Spends the night rolling in the cereal.
JV: There’s a lesson to be learned there, but I don’t quite know what.
ZE: Hold on here’s my favorite one from a reader. In the director’s cut of Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, you mentioned you built a teepee in your back yard. Did you have any other play equipment in the back yard? [laughs] Well, did you?
JV: Jesus-I don’t even remember writing that-or even doing that. I envision a future in which I’ll be using other people’s brains as external hard drives of sorts, retaining memories that I myself have already discarded in favor of shiner, newer ones with more buttons, only, with all the misinformation about me out there I’ll be reclaiming all these diseased, distorted memories that never quite took place.
It wasn’t a teepee I built, but a concentration camp for the local children who opposed my ideas, my visions of the future in which I ruled over the neighborhood and then the planet in a kind and just and occasionally brutally mad way. The children were used as forced labor to build my ziggurat, manned by my army of intelligent insects. You know-that sorta thing.
ZE: That has all been very informative, thank you.
You can buy Jellyfist 'on Amazon' and other Vasquez works at the Slave Labor Graphics 'goods dispensary'. Do visit uncle Jhonen at his website, the never-ever-ever updated 'Questionsleep.com'.
- It is my duty to inform you that I did makeup for that MSI video. ''UNGH!