Interview with Evan Dorkin, July 24, 1995.
David Roel: We're speaking with Mr. Evan Dorkin, of Milk and Cheese fame...
Evan Dorkin: "Fame," yeah, right... Not really fame...
DR: You may find this an odd question, but what's your favorite Beatles song?
ED: I liked them as a kid, I don't really listen to them now... I just... I'm drawing a blank. Any song with chimps in it. Do they have any song with chimps in it? I don't know... You put me on the spot, here, man... Is that what you play at this station, just the Beatles? I thought college stations played that very hip, new punk rock thing I've read about in Spin and People...
DR: (Laughter.) The reason I ask it is because it's a non sequitur question... It puts people off their guard. They're always unsure what to make of it, and they have to think on the spot...
ED: Well, you did that, you screwed me up there... I liked the early stuff... I'm not answering this question! Next question.
DR: So what are you trying to do in the industry, destroy it single-handedly or what?
ED: What do you mean "What am I trying to do?" That's like a threatening question. I'm not trying to destroy the industry, I'm trying to bring change from within. I'm just trying to do comic books that can be read by people who are not comic book fans, trying to do books that can be enjoyed by a wider range of people than just super-hero goofballs, and I guess I'm also trying to piss on the people who I think are morons in this industry, and in the general public.
DR: Do you think you're doing that right now.
ED: I'm doing that right now. Right this minute. Well, you know, we try, with the Space Ghost scripts, the stuff I've done for Reflex Magazine, where I was reviewing concerts with Kyle Baker in comic strip form, the stuff I did for Generation Ecch, where we satirized piercings and Lollapalloozas, which we decided were just benefits for Perry Farrell's smack habit... You know, just the herd mentality of human beings, the Star Trek geeks, everybody out there who is just full of it, is who I try to pick on. And when I need money, I'll do a Mask mini-series or a Predator thing.
DR: The work is great, the attitude of it... Is that your natural self, in the work, or are you adopting any particular style for your work?
ED: I used to drink more, so I didn't have to adopt much... I'm on a natural high! I'm living a dream! No, I guess, people have said I'm, quote, angry, quote, cynical... I don't know, I try to call things as I see 'em, and try to make a joke out of it, that's all. If someone's full of crap, I try to point it out. Not just in an obnoxious way, but also trying to get to the truth of some things. I'm just trying to do good, funny stuff, and I piss on people here and there, but for a point, not just for being cruel. Although cruelty's fine too. Cruelty and gin is real fine.
DR: Random acts of meaningless violence...
ED: It's not meaningless... There's definitely method to the sadness.
DR: Was it extremely cathartic to do that final Instant Piano piece?
ED: You know it, boy! Yeah, Instant Piano was an anthology I did with some other creators I used to be really good friends with.. I'm still friends with some of them... I guess it was our Beatles, we started off happy and having a good time, and ended up miserable and sniping at each other to a degree... Instant Piano was started five years ago and didn't come out until a year ago, we had done a whole first issue that never came out. We all used to hang out in New York bars, and just do funny stuff, and try to riff on each other, and improvise comics, and have a good time, and it ended up being an anthology of guys just sending their work in and not being... I mean, it was getting better with each issue, and by, I think, issue three and four, we really were starting to get to what we wanted to do, but it really hurt all our schedules...
DR: Just the conflict...
ED: It wasn't even us arguing, it was just, it hurt all our schedules and it was really rough getting it done on time. It was tough. We were all scattered around; four of them were in California, and I was left in New York. So it was really hard to do it. But I think we produced some really decent work. I think, with its early troubles, I think Instant Piano was a good, solid book, I think it was well worth the money, and I think we got a really good response out of it.
DR: But that final piece, that came in the last issue... Did you put your psyche entirely on that, is that like the purest expression of what you have inside yourself?
ED: (Laughter.) In a lot of ways, yeah. I don't do a lot of autobio, I mean, I'll do editorials and things like that, but a lot of it was things that I really have a problem with, fears I have about the way this industry is going, this medium is going, problems I'm having in my own life, you know, my fear of flying, what's going on with my career, and things like that. But a lot of it also, was just getting jokes out... Originally the idea was to deejay a strip, basically like a radio station. I would introduce things, talk about things... Do a small strip, like Christzilla, and all that stuff, and then eventually it just took over on its own. I just said, "Oh, I think I'll have this panel get interrupted by Laser Zeppelin," and dumb crap like that.
ED: Well, when you think about it, how "Stream-of-Consciousness" can a comic strip be, because you're not in the same frame of mind when you write something, as when you pencil it, as when you ink it, as when you finish it, so... It's very interesting to me, I think I might want to play around with that a little bit more. I almost wanted to put a line there, saying, "When I wrote this, I meant it, when I pencilled it, I wasn't so sure, and when I inked it, I forgot what the hell I was talking about."
DR: What's your working style like? Do write a full script for yourself, or do you sketch out ideas in a sketchbook...?
ED: I don't do a lot of sketching. Personally, I don't really like drawing, and I think it shows in my work. I don't really feel very comfortable, I don't think I'm a very good draftsman... I just try to convey my ideas as best as possible. I used to think I was an artist who writes, but I'm tending to think that maybe I'm a writer who draws. I mean, I'm doing scripting, you know, we're doing tv work, I script all my own stuff, I did a Predator series, I mainstreamed that, I wrote Bill & Ted's, I wrote a Mask series that just came out, so... People obviously are starting to think I can write okay, or at least they're paying me for it. If they don't, they're wasting their money.
DR: Do you try to follow established story structure...
ED: If you look at my work, I try to use real, steady, honest-to-god storytelling. Bill & Ted's: each story had an ending. I'm lucky, the work that I do, even the mainstream work, the Dark Horse work, it's all been mini-series that have beginnings, middles and ends. I do not understand the comic book malarkey about cross-overs and nonsense... There's no storytelling there. To the general public it is a mess, it's a miasma of crap, it's fanboy nonsense, it's Star Trek and comic book geekdom thrown on a page. These guys do whatever they can to impress a few hundred thousand fourteen-year-olds. I like the kind of comics, and I aspire to do the kind of comics that you can give to anyone in the public, and they can read it and understand it. Maybe they won't like it, but won't have to come to it with an appreciation of fifty years of super-hero history, which is akin to having to pay to watch six weeks of soap operas and wrestling matches to understand... Super-hero comics is like soap operas and wrestling. It's just crap!
DR: Are you optimistic that it will get to the level of where Japan is, with accountant comics and housewife comics.
ED: No. I just don't think it's gonna happen. I would be happy if it just expanded a little bit, but no. I mean, look, there's so many things against it: the public has a really bad opinion of comics, they think it's either kid stuff or it's just garbage. "Comic book" is an adjective used to describe shlocky films. Even though they're making all these comic book movies, they're not coming in to buy the comics. We're a fairly illiterate country, people don't want to read anything. Nobody wants to turn around the fallacy of selling less comics to less people, and just having this niche market of super-heroes. There's nothing inherently wrong with them, but super-heroes is like a small little thing on the planet, but in comics it's everything. And that's why we're always going to be seen as a joke. We've alienated women, minorities, gays, kids from this industry. Right now, it's pre- and post-adolescent boys who have a jones for having every Captain America in a row. There's nothing wrong with super-hero stuff, but it's having this inherent grasping of it, like Star Trek or Doctor Who fans... It's like a snake eating its tail... This industry is a lot of big turds in a small toilet. I'd like to see this industry grow and get to the general public. I mean, if they like The Simpsons and they're reading junk like Cathy and Garfield, why aren't they reading comics? That's what it is.
DR: Hopefully, Sarah's doing something to help, with Action Girl Comics?
ED: Unfortunately, she's getting very little support from the retailers. Even the comics zines are giving her some press, it seems. Action Girl Comics was written up in Newsweek, it was written up in Spin, it's going to be written up in Entertainment Weekly, she was interviewed by the New York Times; it's not doing a thing for the book. The book's slowly going up, because of word of mouth. It's just insane. In any other medium, if you got written up in those things, you'd be getting some calls and some business. But not comics, because comics is a stunted industry that doesn't put its best face forward. Its retail operation is retarded, its distribution setup is retarded, its short-term thinking from the publishers of not trying to get comics out to the general public is retarded...
DR: What do you think of self-publishing?
ED: It's an uphill battle, and it'll choke the life out of you, and God bless everyone who's doing it, and if Slave Labor ever went out of business, I'd probably be doing it. I mean, I've thought about it. That's the only way to get your vision across immediately.
DR: But it seems the amount of money Dave Sim's making, as opposed to Scott Saavedra...
ED: Dave Sim is a special case that you can't compare to anyone else. He had a real idea of what he wanted to do before a lot of other people, the Elfquest people, or someone like that... He was not doing great for a long time. I mean, now he's doing really well, but you know... It's hard to get your book out monthly. You gotta understand, he's been doing this a very very long time, and it's been profitable for a very very long time. But who else has his numbers in self-publishing... Why did Jeff Smith stop? I have my ideas about why he did it, and I don't blame him, in a lot of ways. I mean, there's not a lot of support in this industry, people do not cooperate.
DR: Let's get back to your work. You say it is getting steadily better... What's like the ultimate thing you would like to do, eventually, years down the line?
ED: I'd like to see the industry get to be more like any other medium, where you put a book out, and you don't have to do another one the next goddamn month. You know what I'm saying? I would like to see albums, or books where there's a back inventory; you go into a shop, and there's the thing you did two years ago. That's another thing that the publishers don't work on: they put stuff out for the minute. They sell it, get rid of it, to hell with what you did two months ago, just make the money right now. There's no history to this industry, there's no backstock! There's no backlisting like books, or videos, or films, it's insane. If somebody picks up Milk and Cheese six, from a place that's just tried it, they're never going to find one through five. If you ran a book store or record store or video store like that, you'd never survive. My dream in comics I guess would be to do self-contained stories that have a beginning, middle and end, in graphic novel form, put it out once a year, and then go spend some time working on the next one. And actually sit there and work that script until it's ready, just like a film is supposed to... I mean, Herge, when he did Tintin, he had three years in between books. That's great, that means you could make mistakes for two years, and it's not in print. You could have the best book out that's possible. Hopefully it gets distributed well, it sells, and you start thinking about your next project, and it doesn't necessarily have to be the same characters. It could be a comedy, it could be a drama, it could be a crime thing. I wish the whole industry was like that, actually. I would love to see Marvel and DC and Image put development money into things, instead of... every book that comes out seems to shoot its wad with number one. They've got the origin story of some character, and there's nothing else, he fights crime after that for the rest of his life. Maybe they can put some development money into it, and work out the first year of continuity, maybe really give this thing some wheels. But, this industry is incredibly short-sighted; as long as a lot of people behind desks make their money--As long as the publishers, some creators, some distributors, and a couple of retailers make their money, they're happy. I mean, they're giving lip service to the alternative press--I don't really see anybody putting their money where their mouth is. I really don't. I really don't.
DR: That is the ideal, that you've just described...
ED: The ideal is to make your money off what you do. Not have to go do a series for so-and-so... Not that there's anything wrong with that, I enjoyed the Mask series I wrote, I love doing the Space Ghost stuff... It's fun, it's different, it's interesting... But it's amazing to me that you do something for Disney Adventures, and it has sales of a million: that has no impact on the comics industry. Your shirt's on the Roseanne show, sixty million people see that: that has no impact on the small half-a-million world of comic books, which has its own weird logic and its own scewed-up rules of what's important. Kyle Baker says that only in comics can a commercial art style ruin your career. Something like the Simpsons, or drawing Popeye, or drawing Peanuts--Who the hell wants comics like that? If Peanuts had to be sold through the comics industry, it would have died twenty-five years ago.