Holy crap. I am boring. My stories on “how I started comics” and “what influenced me” are stupid, typical and mirror just about every other boring comic creator out there. One story that does stand out is …
In 1989, I went to Paris to visit my girlfriend. My uncle asked me to bring some pictures to his friend, Gilbert, who lived there. I dreaded the chore, but I’m also a pleaser, so, sure. I’ll take some pictures of your old hippie friends to your buddy Gilbert. In the 1960s, my uncle ran a music club in Austin, Texas, called The Vulcan Gas Co. Gilbert had done their logo. Gilbert? Gilbert Shelton?
When I was young, I was an enormous fan of Garfield. I bought the books. I bought the first book. I cut the cartoons out of the San Francisco Chronicle and saved them. I thought it was hilarious. One day, I stumbled on a collection Fat Freddy’s Cat that was tucked away in an obscure section of my mom’s bookshelf. It blew my mind.
The formula for a strip cartoon in the newspaper is setting, set-up and contradiction (the gag). The Fat Freddy’s Cat collection told stories that violated every single rule of humor, sense of decency and law of reality. It blew my mind. It was funny – genuinely funny. I read it, religiously, frequently, and always carefully, secretly, returned it to the dark corner of the bookshelf where I’d found it.
I liked how it danced between formalist four-panel gags, to meta self-aware humor, to long narratives, to insulting the reader, to gentle and genuine relationships. It didn’t have limits, but it wasn’t violating limits for the sake of it. It was genuine anarchy. I loved it. It made me laugh because it always surprised me.
Garfield made me enjoy cartoons. Fat Freddy’s Cat made me want to be a cartoonist.
1989. My uncle asked me to take photos of Gilbert Shelton to Gilbert Shelton. Of course. Unknown to me, before this, he was a family friend. Which explained why my mother had his underground comic, albeit tucked away, in a dark corner of her bookshelf. By this time, I’d read the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers and Wonder Wart Hog.
In Paris, I called and we met in a small comic shop-slash-espresso joint. I passed him pictures and he told me stories of his memories of the ’60s and ’70s. We drew together. He gave me advice on being a cartoonist.
I appreciate how generous he was, with his time, his talent and his advice. I was a stupid kid, doing stupid comics. We talked. We drew together. We spent hours drinking espresso and having a great time. He treated me with respect I didn’t deserve.
Now, I’ve drawn comics for The New Yorker magazine, The Onion and a bunch of other places. I’ve won awards and blah blah blah. I strive to be as good as Gilbert Shelton. He opened up worlds for me.
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