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Interview with Popcultureshock.com's Jonathan Ashley
posted June 13, 2002
Since our site is read by many would be comic book, comic strip, or graphic
novel writers, could you give a little bit of advice on mixing the medium
with a message? Do you have any influences, or modern day strips that you
think do it well?
I think the old canard that the best comics combine great writing with great
art remains true. But very few people possess both skills--I certainly
don't--and I've noticed that in recent years there seems to be a lot of
awesome artists and precious few great writers. What I mean by that is people
who create text that flows, that seems natural in a comics context--text that
you can lose yourself in because it really reflects the way people talk and
think. So I think you can't really go wrong by concentrating on the writing
first and foremost; after all, there are many great cartoonists who don't
draw well--Thurber and Larson come to mind--but very few great cartoonists
who don't write great text.
My early influences were Mike Peters (editorial cartoonist for the Dayton
Daily News and the creator of "Mother Goose and Grimm"), Jules Feiffer and
Charles Schulz. I still use Peter's heavy lines and Schulz's four-panel
format. Feiffer's brilliant device of doing political art that hardly ever
depicts actual politicians amazes me and forms the cornerstone of my whole
approach to cartooning. Among modern strips that I think work really well
are, of course, "Calvin and Hobbes", "Peanuts" and "Bloom County." (Though
"Bloom County" has obviously aged rather badly, it's still a great '80s
period piece.) My hands-down favorite strip is Ruben Bolling's "Tom the
Dancing Bug." It takes risks and comes out of left field to create jokes that
are totally unexpected. What more can you ask from a comic?
To introduce yourself to the site some, could you talk about your essay from
last year called "Let's End Special Advantages for Blacks?" where you talked
about all the great "deals" that African Americans get in this country?
I rely a lot on sarcasm in my work, and this was one example. In that essay I
posited that in fact many white racists were right in that blacks have
received "special privileges" in our society. But those "privileges" include
the "right" to be far more likely to be executed than a white for commiting
an identical crime in the same state. The point was to take a right-wing
argument and turn it against itself--an admittedly unfair tactic that I use
often. Right-wingers, after all, are rarely fair.
When I informed an e-pal that I would be interviewing you, he told me to ask
"Why the fuck do you pick on September 11th widows?" Do you hear alot of
opinios like this from people who have heard about your strip second hand?
Well, I don't know whether your friend saw my "Terror Widows" cartoon or not.
But to answer his question, I didn't pick on September 11th widows, I
portrayed the callous and tacky behavior of a tiny group of those widows--the
ones who go on TV cracking jokes and smiling days after their husbands and
wives were killed. The ones who were signing book deals literally before
their spouses' bodies were found. The ones who got remarried in big white
dresses in front of 130 guests 7 months after 9-11. Damn right I picked on
those people--they were scum who desecrated the memories of those who died.
And the vast majority, who acted normally and kept their grief to themselves,
were not the subject of that cartoon--and I imagine that many of them agree
Talk a bit about the book some: Were their any obstacles in getting a book
with this subject matter and your own political leanings printed? I'm aware
of the troubles that Michael Moore had with regards to 'STUPID WHITE MEN',
but did you run into any problems or was it more of a capitalist idea that
anything could sell, regardless of the spin?
Well, I didn't have any problems; in fact, my publisher SUGGESTED that I
write this one. The difference, though, is that NBM is an independent
publisher and that they're used to my point of view. I think it was Simon &
Schuster who did Moore's book, and they obviously are more of the
run-of-the-mill big capitalist publisher. I can't imagine what they were
thinking when they tried to squash what would become a no. 1 bestseller,
In regards to journalists going over to Afghanistan some feel that they
aren't given enough support from our military, while even others think that
reporters could get it the way. What's your take?
Sure, reporters could get in the way--of the military killing tons of
civlians without anyone bothering to report it. That could be a real concern
to the Pentagon. Reporters didn't need support from the military, just basic
cooperation. In other words, let us in to talk to the troops, let us walk
along into battle, that kind of thing. The irony is that a media-free war is l
ess likely to receive widespread report back home because it seems so remote
and irrelevant to most Americans. The military really doesn't have a clue.
How does the creative process for a project like this work out? Do certain
situations lean themselves more towards visuals and strips than others, or do
you save some things for essays?
I tend to use whichever approach works best for a given idea in my mind. So I
did the graphic novella as a take on what the experience was like because
that worked best for me, whereas I used the essays to delve into the
political stuff. Even photos have a role in the book, because they convey
things that would otherwise be missing, like the scenes of reporters covering
How did you score Bill Maher to write the forward to the book? I saw your
POLITICALLY INCORRECT appearance, and after that I thought he would have been
the last person to be associated with your work.
I just asked. He said yes, which was great. I suspect that like me, he likes
the idea of conflict. Who wants to read another suck-up intro by a personal
What gives you inspiration? What are some of your favorite films, books, or
records that people reading might dig? What are you thinking of for the
follow up to this graphic novel? Another collection, or "concept" book?
Among my favorite films are "Starship Troopers," "Repo Man" and "RoboCop,"
not to mention Bertolucci's "1900" and Wilder's "Ace in the Hole." My
favorite author is Sherwood Anderson and I love Sartre's plays. Musically I
favor just about anything from or related to the late '70s-early '80s punk
and new wave eras. My next project is uncertain. It may be a political
manifesto, a collection of short stories or even a novel. At this point
anything is possible--it all depends on what works and what I can convince a
publisher to take.
Manhattan Spirit Interview
Philadelphia City Paper Interview
Mosh Gestapo Interview
Editor & Publisher Interview
Comics Journal Interview
Politically Incorrect Transcript
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