Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Rick Grimes. The Real Rick Grimes.

Imagine you have spent years and years honing your craft and building a career in the graphic arts. You write strange stories and create unique and disturbing images that are singular. No one else in the world does this type of thing and couldn't really duplicate it if they wanted to.

Then one day you discover that the name you were born with and by which your work is identified has been absorbed by a fictional character. Anyone searching for you on the Internet or typing it into Google or any other Internet search engine finds endless links and notations for a man who doesn't even exist. And yet...there you are. Such is your fate.

I first encountered the work of Rick Grimes back in the 90s when Stephen R Bissette noticed my own stories and decided to publish some of them in his legendary comics horror anthology TABOO. Grabbing issues of TABOO as it appeared I was always delighted to see material from Grimes. How does one describe the work? One cannot. How can I explain its effect on me? I've found that this is impossible. Usually all I could do when recommending his comics was to tell people about it, how to find it, and point them in the right direction.

Reading a Rick Grimes comic is not like anything else. Nothing I'd encountered in that format before, or since, has even the remotest resemblance. The best of the underground comics artists who dwelt in drug-fueled madness might have done something mildly similar on their best days--but not really. You have to see it to believe it and to...take it in. (I wanted to say 'enjoy', but that's not really appropriate.)

And so...here is the artist whose singular work is being buried by the Internet robot stacking images and words from a fake person on top of a real one. This is a wrong that must be righted. To add my name to the fight, I give you Rick Grimes. The real Rick Grimes. The one who writes and illustrates some of the most thought-provoking and unique and (yes) disturbing comic stories that I have ever seen.

He deserves to be a hell of a lot more famous than that fake thing. Last month I convinced Rick Grimes to create a "self-interview". That is, he made up the questions that he wished people would ask him if he were being interviewed for publication. So here we are.

self interview for James Robert Smith     mid January 2016

James Robert Smith has kindly invited me, Rick Grimes, to a reflective interview. Familiar with the territory, I quickly agreed to irresponsibly duplicate myself. We met at dusk, in an undisclosed location...

Rick Grimes: It's so good to meet you at last.

Rick Grimes: I think we've passed each other often at the Piggly Wiggly.

Rick Grimes: What are the top five questions you most expect to be asked?

Rick Grimes: How much money do you make? Who the f@#% are you? If you're so great, why don't you do more so I've heard of you? And you call yourself a cartoonist? Will you get out of my way?

Rick: For those new to your art, what would you recommend they take a look at first? 

Grimes: The home page of my website for starters. It may look like there's no art there at first, because of the header menu, but there are some excerpted panels, with live link titles, of some of the stories I'm proudest of that will be a good lead in to my 'bestest' stuff.

There are scores of pages there, many full stories. You just have to browse around. You have to.
Everything is there, background and so forth. There's not a lot of room or reason to repeat all that here. Frankly, I don't have it in me anymore to restate it all anywhere else. Most all one needs to know, Grimeswise, is there. Probably too much. If I'd've been better left a mystery, it's too late now to rebottle that genie.

The Puzz Fundles is possibly what I'm best known for, from what others have said to me, on Facebook or whatnot. They have their own section now. All those pages are there in full, the initial six (from Rick Veitch's The One). And some teasers to others not yet published.

My more disturbing stories, mostly beginning with my contributions to Taboo complete on the website, are accounted for almost to the present. (I'm in the process of catching up on the news posts).
I was heading in a completely different direction at the time, the early '80s, than horrors, toward benign, overimagined, confuddling character displays . There are a few examples of those.
Many odds and ends even I can't remember. You've got to root around there awhile. A lot of my output, old and new, is hard to obtain, or problematic. The site is meant to remedy that.  

Weird Dick & The Professor was what I had thought I'd be known for by now. But, their story is vast, made of many parts that could arbitrarily go here or there, so it's been an odyssey I'm still on. Check them out, tho'. You'll see more of them some day. Real pages do exist no one has seen yet.

For those that weary of all the blah blah, I have an art blog. I don't post on it much anymore, because the following was always limited. But there's no text there besides an occasional image title. It's linked in the Blogs (List) section.

Rick: How or whereabouts do you place yourself amongst horror artists or writers? It would seem, for good or ill,  that you--your disturbing material, that is, occupies a side niche neither comics nor literature nor film ever touch upon. You seem to conjoin things that don't belong together commonly, then experience a certain amount of obscurity because of it.

Grimes: Yeah, so it would seem. First off, I really don't suffer much scores of other oddballs aren't also experiencing from society one way or another. So, i don't mean to play 'poor me'. I can also be a very half hearted, lazy person with no knack for self promotion; and when I do work it's like lining little planets up inside to get it out right. All of which has served me in great stead (whatever that is) over the decades: I'm blummablupp years old, fundamentally unemployable, and less known now than before if that's possible. Someday, in the Other World, I'll probably find it all quite hilarious. Or maybe not.

The fact is, I probably don't belong amongst such vaunted company anyway. I never intended to become a horror artist of any sort. I enjoy the various things available. But, I was never going to imitate any of it especially, or try to carve out a place for me amongst it. My real creative roots are in animal cartoons and crime or monster movies. Obscure character actors, and TV/film comedy, if it's oddball funny.

When the Taboo anthology presented itself, I took the notion at its catchword and tried to think of whatever I could that would bother people. I do have an impudent aspect to me, and an excess of self loathing I've wrestled with, so it wasn't that hard to accesss such territory. Merely a step to the side. 
Veering as I was from a wearing out of other creative areas at the time, it helped me to invent negative stories.

In fact, for every one that was published I invented at least a half dozen others that never got done, if they were ever even begun. I was almost compulsively frustrated at finding one good enuff, that is, nasty enuff in the right ways that friend Bissette would like it, and actually pay me for it, justifiably, with no regrets. Their peculiarities were a bonus, a necessary 'evil', or 'collateral damage' if you like, from having come through my brain.

Once I got each one done, I was and am like a kid showing it to my mom or sister or someone: 'Here it is! Why don't you get it right away?' It's like it's all become, by then, self evident propositions to me. And I'm ever after surprised it's not as clear to everyone else as I think it is. The plight of the artist. Ha.

As to all the elements themselves in the stories that are disturbing or off putting, they probably all should be. I don't indulge in a lot of evil activities myself. Or any activities. Horror fiction isn't a recommendation of how to live. If anything it's the opposite.

I'm proud if I disrupted anyone enough that they saw something as awful they hadn't even thought of yet. But not if they took it as advice on how to live. There are even particular ideas I will never do, such as forms of suicide, that I just don't want to be responsible for someone imitating.

I went for obscure zones and notions to amuse myself and stimulate myself enough to do the things to completion. The stories that got in the books are the ones I could finish.

All of the oddity and unfamiliarity of it to readers is greatly because people don't use their imaginations quite enough. They haven't happened to put themselves in such mental places before.

There are many further glaring details of revolting occurrences and so forth we'd all rather not involve ourselves in or ask to have expanded upon. My stuff only hints at them. Real mayhem is beyond good people's ability to tolerate. I dare say there are many artists out there who even gross me out. Which is fine, if it keeps them from murdering somebody.

What people get up to in real life can be even worse. I hardly think my little outings should be equated to anything truly vile. Often they include some redemptive aspect, as well. Honest. I don't always know offhand where it is.

My inking style is very weakwatered compared to many others. I don't even use heavy shading. Nothing gothic about it at all really.

I do have to cop to the stories coping with loads of my own variety of tangled and twiddled pain and fear. How can I deny the obvious? I'm a garden variety, American neurotic.

But comics have so much more potential than many artists are getting out of it. I want to do as much crazy crap as I can before I've croaked to get somebody to see what they, too, could try.  

To finish my answer here, if anyone is interested in more such stories from me there are a number of them linked to and written about on the website in the Stories sections. Not so many full on reposts, but in most cases you can still find where to look for them. And read about why I did them.

I don't want it to seem it all ends with Taboo. There are a lot of such things I did afterwards and may yet do from my various notes. But I still don't fully accept the mantle of 'horror artist'. Maybe a horrible one.

Mostly, tho I sound otherwise going on about it, such stuff isn't meant to be taken too seriously. If I make anybody feel anything, when we're all fighting Death dumbness every day of our lives on Earth, i guess that's a plus. So they say.

Rick: Why do you think some people find your work so hard to understand?

Grimes: I could tell you've been aching to ask me that one. Ya got me. I like to think I speak English;
that I at least have the one language. But comics is another language.
It rather amazed me when Scott McCloud's book Understanding Comics came out. It'd not occurred to me there was that specific a need for a remedial breakdown for non readers. There were always people that 'didn't get it'. But I hadn't really thought of breaking comics elements down that way, nor of anyone needing such hospice. I always just took comics reading as a natural act, like breathing and eating and et ceterae.

Consequently, I've apparently been more than negligent about breaking myself into enough 'bite sized minis' to rightly serve human inanity. My most humble apologies.
Perhaps what I do really is worthless. Maybe people are right to avoid it. Chicken scratches to no purpose. Yet I stagger on.

I create with an audience/single reader (really myself) in mind. I think I'm being clear. But I have an innate love of overcomplication, especially if it's to a humorous or 'artsy' end. If it's both at once, so much the better, says I. Life can be so dull without it.

I'm not always out to trip people up. I want to be understood. Contrary to the ambience of some of my more disturbing stories, I am a mere human, putting my pants on three legs at a time.
Even relatively accessible, for a hermit. Not a black ops agent poisoning the family Jiffy Pop. 

I also like to think people have minds they can still understand things with, without always being told how Sally shot Sue. Tho' I know that's too much to expect in the United States these days.

Rick: What's missing from other areas of our so called culture that you find in those who love comics as the Art it always has been?

Grimes: Patience, curiosity, and egalitarianism. Even if someone's comics are offensive, more or less on first sight, I still look for other things to like or even love about 'em. Anyone else could apply the same notion to that and other facets of life.

There are a million nuances just in the output of one artist. For the 'Great Unwashed' that don't care or never learned to read comics to go on ignoring such a now vast landscape of hills, vales, mountains, and swamps of creative worlds is a crime.

Not like boiling babies. But it's an aesthetic self-deprivation, and is sort of sad to me.

Even the most famous comics artist of any agreed upon merit is likely still essentially ignored beyond a certain 'impressive' number of readers. The entire population of comics lovers is still more finite than we all like to believe. Not only am I on the fringes, the entire enterprise of comic art creation is, and apparently ever  destined to be marginalized by mass 'culture' and 'history' as well. No matter how much money is made off some of us. Or what publishers and popular comic artists may tell themselves at fan shows.

But, on the other hand, you can't really envision a world where everyone everywhere does everything everyone else does. Unless it's unhappily marching in lockstep and hating contrived enemies on cue.
And comics creators may bicker amongst themselves more than most; and childishly so, about their likes, dislikes, and misunderstood intentions.

Assuming openmindedness is there, tho', the rest of the 'art' world could learn a lot from embracing us more, and shedding their colo$$al preten$iousne$$. Maybe we're better off without them.

Rick: Have you ever tried much simpler work? Like comic strips?

Grimes: Well, the newspapers are in deplorable shape, and probably deservingly overall. But the comics in them would be better served appearing on snack wrappers in vending machines. The old guys I loved as a kid that were still around, like Gould and Kelly, would spin out of their swivel chairs if they saw it. They'd be doing their own comic books, (assuming they weren't 150 years old). 

Pardon me, "graphic novels".

I couldn't fit in that world. I'm too pokey for one thing. Back in the early '80s i tried a real (Sunday only) strip, and what did I do but pack it with the same densities as ever, knowing it was never really likely to fly with any publisher. I've tried reductive experiments at certain points in my past. What you wind up losing of yourself trying to be 'more marketable' isn't really worth it. It feels like when you smile at someone you don't like.

I am hopelessly obtuse to read, I'm afraid, even at smaller scales and doses. So, tho I have a number of nice starts on boiled down ideas, none of it is anything that should or will ever become a 'mission to change' to, beyond my initial self-censoring folly. They can exist as curious relics of my self doubt.
Besides, I'm very good at self sabotage. What my subconscious knows my ego has no business doing will inevitably be subverted one way or another so 'we' don't have to really do it. Apart from the intrusion on my vain plans, that can be a good thing, returning me to my real nature so I don't waste yet more time in fields I don't belong in. I eventually go right back to the more ponderous stuff I was doing before.

I'll never out-Bushmiller Bushmiller. Readers will just have to make more than a cursory pass. If my style is immediately off putting, take a few beats and give it a chance. Get past the quavering lines. It's not all made for passing glances. You don't have to read it on the bus to work.
And if you absolutely can't handle it, there's always Snuffy Smith.

Rick: What sort of writing do you do?

Grimes: To start with, it reminds me of that boring old flippity-do question Larry King used to ask a
million times that he thought was clever, like: "Are you a cartoonist who writes, or a writer who cartoons?" (Tho' he'd proabably say draw-er). I'll always be a cartoonist first, who likes to play around with writing.

It's also a good 'out' if I do it too badly. 'Hey, I'm just a cartoonist farting around. Have mercy.'
I love words, and admire all sorts of things, but don't aspire to write banal, plotted fiction. I really don't give a toss for plots. The idea of having to write how Pfinster put his shoes on one at a time and spoke to his friend on the phone about toast crumbs just to get him out the door to a set of time-regulated, instructive disasters, bridged and padded with yet more interstitial mediocrity, makes me cringe. I'd rather just write about the crumbs, or the shoes.

I must add here, I don't mind if someone else can do it, fine. There are novelists I like that play it 'by the book'.

Maybe I'm just not as good at that; still stuck in grade school mode. Sour grapes, an' all that. You will see me trying some of it sometimes.

As the guy shouts in W.C.Fields' It's a Gift, "MORE POWER TO YA!!", if you can do it.

But, even in comics I can't fathom how people can do endless panels with next to nothing but ordinary moments happening in them. Or just draw humans as we see them and as we live ourselves every day. I can see why they might be after some noble point. But, you can draw, and you're just going to do humans? At least make them goony looking. Or freakish.

I have scads of characters ambling about for my comics stories. They generally live in places and do
things already. But I don't have to verbally set them up as much as one would have to do in a conventional novel. And I use up most of any desire for standard plotting on them.
So, I'm left with little interest in writing 'normally'. Instead, I'm much more of an experimenter.
I've used found words a lot, and have my own method for using the English parts of foreign language dictionaries.

Or redacting pages of lousy books until they're broken down into reusable components I can then make into original phrases. I always favor nouns and adjectives, as they're the most there visually. People barely know what an adverb is anymore.

Some works are just long lists of such things. Even any characters that emerge may be treated as things in such lists. Some I'll go back and rewrite, in further combinations, keeping all the variations to make a whole longer and longer. It's all imagism. Surrealist, if others think so; I'd love to be placed belatedly amongst such.

I don't care for all the in between claptrap. There's enough people in every generation already doing that. It will go on forever.

Rick: There are some examples on your website...

Grimes: Some of those are converted dreams. I try not dare to use the word poem too much, 'cause I know there are still a few sticklers out there who just hate it when people like me that know or remember nothing about formal poetry call their random blatts >poems< . But there's no other good word for 'em.

I like the idea of 'sudden fiction', too. Those limited stories that are nothing more than one or a few sentences. But, that's not always the right term either, and they likewise don't really have an agreed upon name. Microliterature. Whatever.

Some of the other older ones on the site so far are from the mid '80s. I had so many cartoon project ideas by then that a few I would just sort of 'give up on' and allow to be text only. Or years later I'll go back, and, realizing I have no visual memory anymore what the notes originally were as comic images, rework them into words alone.

Anyhow it's fun. I have some projects from way back that aspire to appear as novels, but even they are really like collages. Gatherings of image flashes nesting under a sort of story theme. I rather love (and fear) the idea of making someone slog through it all, baffled as to where the plot is. And stubbornly waiting for something to 'happen'.

Many such things will never make it onto the site because they're not only too long already, they're also not done yet. I used to 'start anew' alot. I get bored with a game once I know how it works. A couple are actually finished. But not typed up.

Rick: What have you been doing lately, creatively?

Grimes: I've got a Puzz Fundles comic going! All new material. Two of the stories, eighteen pages, are done!

I'd like to steer myself back more to such humor work as I know I'm best at that. Tho there are still those various uncompleted projects of the darker sort from my past I could wind up doing over coming years, so it may not always seem like funny's what I'm doing.
Sometimes what can reach the public next isn't exactly what you'd prefer. Or where you're at anymore.

I'm probably going to run off a mixed bag comic myself. Just a limited number to give away to friends.

With maybe an extra they can pass along to someone I don't know. I'm going to print them off at home, so I don't really have all I need to do it yet, and some of the pages aren't done.

Like most things, it will undoubtedly take me longer than I think it should. This is not the same project as the Puzz comic.

The new website is about 95% complete now. A few things have been delayed, of reposting the old pages.

There's a New Stuff page, for handy reference in the 'Walk' About heading, where you can also read the why of the old site's demise. [Eternal thanks again to Ryan Heslin, the original instigator, for everything thus related].

Rick: Seeing as how you're still presumably obscure to most, is there anything else you'd like people to know about yourself?

Grimes: Actually I'm learning to count my lucky stars that I never became one. When I was a teenager, or perhaps even younger, I just wanted that rush I got seeing the art I loved to be true of
mine. Then your deprived ego takes off with that during your early adulthood and you forget what you're doing it for. You have to deliberately remind yourself that adulation is not only fleeting, it hasn't much at all to do with the slow pains of making something complete, in this heavy material world.

I want to count myself blessed to be well enough to do anything. And reach the few I can while staying a conundrum. It seems inevitable anyhow, so I'm resigning myself to it.

Once I'm gone, no one will know what I was much anyway, except throo my work. Just think how little we really know about some cartoonists of the now far past. If it wasn't for the internet, we wouldn't even be getting to do this. No one would ask.

Rick: Are you surprised by the endurance of any other artist's characters still around today?

Grimes: Other than repeatedly forgetting The Simpsons is still on the air, I can't believe that
Kramdenesque wad of mucus is still waylaying people in the store aisles. (I wouldn't talk to him). He even has a family. I couldn't recall the expectorant(?) by name. I seldom listen to a word the ads say.
Here's an amusing blog post, by some ad guy, that's seven years old already and the green blob was well established by then... Mr. Mucinex. He's also in magazine ads. It sort of irked me to see one of those in a doctor's waiting room.

It's all pretty ridiculous, really. What offends me more than he does is that if one of us fringe comics artists had come up with something like that, there'd be nowhere mainstream to even go with it. 

Except maybe Adult Swim. And it's a very trifling way of crossing a line.

But drug company ads have a notoriously immoral lunacy to them. So nobody cares.
The funny thing is, if they were simply some other color, and not green, he and his snotty relatives could appear any place cartoons could go. Toys and spin offs would abound.

Rick: Have there ever been any toys made of your characters?

Grimes: Not really. Larry Loc gave me an awesome plastic figure of Weird Dick he hand made once. Unfortunately I didn't have it for long.

A set of Puzz Fundles would be dodgy: Thripey's hair points would be eye hazards in a fight; a Malloon would get lost all the time; and Meemo's heads would break off. We can dream, tho'.

Rick: Thanks. It's been cloud-partingly awesome. So to speak.

Grimes: You're not as bad as some have said yourself.                            

--Jan, '016

'Our' website is Walk A Mile In My Eyes at Grimes Comics

Excerpt panels and self interview Copyright 2016 Rick Grimes. 


Spencer PriceNash said...

Thx for this.

James Robert Smith said...

You are welcome!