Monday, June 29, 2015

Q&A: MARC BELL



I first met Marc Bell at the legendary five hour All-Star Schnauzer Band reunion show at the Grimey Gabs (now under different ownership, with a jazzier name). We were both wearing the same homemade Uncooked Zit tees and while watching an especially fine glockenspiel versus muted tuba Schnau-off, the skyful blues of our shirts caught the fan-glow in each others eyes. Only after weeks of in depth friendly Schnau-nalysis over countless ales and many pupusas, did I find out that Marc was (and is) a visual artist and cartoonist by trade. Inevitably, this admission of a celebrated life outside of Schnau-berg, slightly troubled me, and led to a few searching discussions (like the one about Mark Connery’s book Rudy, published here last Spring). I was pointed to many mini-comics, books, and art pieces that he’d assembled over the years, and was wowed by how ‘Schnau’ plenty of these were and continue to be. Imagine my giddy delight (!) when my investigations led me to the following description of Marc’s new book Stroppy by his publisher Drawn & Quarterly (25 years wise this year):

‘Our hapless hero Stroppy is minding his business, working a menial job in one of Monsieur Moustache’s factories, when a muscular fellah named Sean blocks up the assembly line. Sean’s there to promote an All-Star Schnauzer Band-organized songwriting contest, which he does enthusiastically, and at the expense of Stroppy’s livelihood, home, and face. In hopes for a cash prize, Stroppy submits a work by his friend Clancy The Poet to the contest. Mishaps and hilarity ensue and Stroppy is forced to go deep into the heart of Schnauzer territory to rescue his poet friend’.

I actually (very carefully) turned off ‘Father Ocean Wears the Water Trousers’ mid-song (!) and ran like a cartoon critter straight to Marc’s nearby door. Unbelievably, his hi-fi was blaring the burbly end of ‘Father Ocean’ and he immediately agreed to help shout the necessary word of the world’s greatest band from the small city rooftops of this (destined to be All-Star Schnauzer Band dominated) blog*.


- Brad de Roo, who thinks that you should buy Stroppy at the Bookshelf, for the pure joy of its visual Schnau, but also so that my hoarsely barking completest tendencies don’t bark me into purchasing every copy and extra storage to house them.

* The following interview is excerpted from exactly seventeen and 1/3 hours of conversation. Sadly, about 413 questions about the All-Star Schnauzer Band were excised. Contact me if you would like monitored access to the full transcription. 


"Stroppy"
Who is Stroppy? Where did he come from? What haunts him at night? Where does he work? What kind of comics and music does he like?

I'm not sure who he is. He is kind of a flat character I guess? I don't know a ton about him other than that he is a factory worker. Though, yes, he does seem kind of haunted. Haunted by life. At the beginning of the book he works at a factory owned by Monsieur Moustache, but he is quickly let go. I have no idea what comics he likes. I am not sure if he would have any time for them other than ones he might happen upon in the newspaper. Now I am imagining him being a big Herman fan (Jim Unger). I bet he might like a few songs by Supertramp or maybe Sugluk



In an interview by Xavier Guilbert with du9 you described Stroppy as ‘this shriveled weirdo on the inside, but that’s actually his exterior, and he’s being protected by this other… this false exterior’. You said this before this book came out. Now that it’s finished could you expand on the thought. Has Stroppy developed or grown? Or is he still protective in essence or stance?

Well, that statement was in reference to an early incarnation of Stroppy that appeared in Pure Pajamas (D&Q, 2011). Therein he appeared, as I say, a shriveled weirdo, and he would dress in these outfits to disguise his true form. He seems to have moved past that whole thing for his appearance here, he grew up a bit maybe? But he does make reference at one point to his previous state. In Stroppy, everything remains circular: changes happen in the system that is set up but it seems pretty clear the system does not improve necessarily. Stroppy is really put through the ringer throughout the book, and it seems his only escape in the end is going to sleep.
 

I was sad to have missed the All-Star Schnauzer Band the last time they played Bagtown at the Koolhundhouse. Do you ever go crate digging for their rare releases? Are they putting out something new soon? Do you think they'll do another music video?
 
I heard they are doing a split single with Wheels of Juice soon. Strangely, they are re-recording an old song written by Libby Schnauzer and Jim Boot Sauce Schnauzer called "Going Downtown With The Boxer". The fans always get worried they have run out of ideas but they always seem to pull something out of the hat. I try to collect the records but I can't keep up at all, there are so many of them. I know that Sean (from Stroppy) has a large collection of them, he might have the largest collection of anybody I know. He also clips all the press. I don't know how he can afford to house all of this stuff. If they do make a new music video, I would be happy to see it. I also heard that they are trying to digitize some of their old 90's home videos before those go by the wayside. 



Besides Billy Joel who are Monsieur Moustache’s musical forbearers?

You know, I'm not sure! Billy is likely a big one. I think he probably also listens to a lot of Paul Simon


"Monsieur Moustache"
You’re a big and eclectic music fan. Do your musical tastes influence your drawing, beyond the direct formal connection on something like your lyric-narrated comics for Vice? Do you listen to tunes while drawing? Say you’re listening to ‘Rotating Bucket’ by the All-Star Schnauzer band, instead of Dvorak, does it change they way your pencil boogies? Is your understanding or appreciation of music in any way analogous to how you view images? Is a panel like a song? Is there a sense of rhythm in comics that is musical?
 
People have told me that my editing can flow like music, which is something I appreciate but might not be aware of. I do listen to music while working often enough. I listened to a lot of The Cannanes while creating Stroppy, but if you listened to that stuff you would make no connection to the two. I don't really understand how to make music so maybe that is why I am in awe with those who can pull it off in a simple way. And, yes, I suppose comics are musical, or can be. There are certain beats. A lot of people have also described comics as being close to poetry.

Are there parallels between the Canadian indie music world (which I take the Schnauzers to partially inhabit) and the Canadian comics world? Is there anything comparably stifling about both? Is there an element of clique-ish competition which creeps into both worlds?

I'm not really sure how two worlds relate in a general sense: there are so many little versions of them under these headers. I suppose clique-ish-ness exists everywhere! So many sub-compartments. I do sometimes wonder where the weirdos went, but that is a whole other story.

Would you ever consider working on a music video? A musical? What about something like "Stroppy-Fantasia"?

Well, D & Q and I spoke about creating a life size version of the Mini Golf course that appears in Stroppy (for TCAF) but it appeared the budget would be to large. There would be all those insurance issues on top of the building costs. That's a lot of red tape. If it does happen at some point, it would be a great venue to present a musical. 


"Major Putts"
Have you ever entered a contest for anything? How’d it go?

I have. I almost never win those. Though: just yesterday all my art and life went into a storage space and I had to spin a wheel to see what kind of "prize" I would get (everybody is a winner). It was kind of humiliating but a nice gesture on their part. I won "$10 off" and so that paid for my new lock.

Big bucks. Would you fare well in an episode of Storage Wars?

Oh, man, there would be quite a plunder in there for fans of "art comics". A large Paper Rad zine collection. An entire run of Ron Rege's Yeast Hoist. More Marc Bell art than you would know what to do with (if that's your bag). There is also (literally) a bag with some running shoes in it (that I wish I had right now…my current shoes have sprung a leak).

Has Clancy the Poet ever happened into a poetry slam?


I bet he has!! On purpose!

Would he ever compose tributes to any of his co-characters if asked?

Hmm, I suppose he might. You should ask him? He loves being published. 


"Sean" and "Clancy the Poet"
Plenty of characters from your past comics like Shrimpy and Pure Pajamas co-habitate in this graphic novella. At one point many get evicted. Have you ever thought of evicting any of them from your studio? Have you or would you ever kill any characters off? Or do you prefer to keep them available to your overlapping story-worlds as familiar agents on a referential continuum?

I would probably kill one or more of them, sure, why not? There are a lot of them. I do like to have a lot of them on hand to insert into whatever screwball narrative I am working on. And I like that they all live in this same world.

Is it correct to say this is your first full-fledged narrative, your first uniformly created single story? It comes after collected comics books, petits livres, many strips, mini-comics, and art projects. I guess I am obligated to ask, why now?

It's what the market wants (a singular story). And, I am returning to comics from a time in the art market and the art market is not really that interested in me anymore. I do like the idea of switching around. The art market will forget you, especially if you are a tiny blip like I was…but comics is different, it's the elephant in the room for me. I love that in the world of comics, the people don't forget, even if they don't like your work they will check it out to reaffirm their dislike of your oeuvre.

Is this format something you’d like to pursue further in the future?


Yes, I have already orchestrated a new story, typed an outline into my blackberry in a "holy man" state. I have not gone back to look at it, but it has a good twist. It is in the same world but will have a different main character.

You move around a lot. Has moving or changing locations augmented your style over the years? Is it central to being productive?

Uh, I have no idea. I like moving. I don't mind it. I spent a long stint in Vancouver, 8 years in one building. I would have been happy to stay there, I'm not really that into camping, but Vancouver was like camping in the city: so lush. Life changes. Rents go up. People change. Shoes are put into bags.

Is it hard to keep a creative routine through all the change?

Yes, it can be. Even getting ready to go on a "business trip" like going to a comic event can disrupt a routine. There is the lead up time where you anticipate going away and you are planning for that. It's good to have little breaks in routine though, to get different perspectives.

In a recent review, the LFP has vaguely suggested that your work 'stresses mood' and lazily (and psychedelically) intimated that your work was influenced by a bookstore called City Lights run by pot activist Marc Emery. The mention of City Lights in Stroppy seems to be an obvious reference to the more famous CL in San Fran (especially since a main character of your book, Clancy the Poet is a bit of a beatnik). ‘Stressing mood’ seems like it could mean anything. Does the LFP's interpretation of your work annoy you? Have I committed similar errors in my interpretations?

That error was pretty funny! The LFP has written about me before and I am usually amused and annoyed by their interpretations of the work of this "hometown boy". They use that snippy contemporary style that a lot of papers use these days so it doesn't even seem that they wish to write a proper article. For one article they called up my mom and bugged her, which kind of annoyed me. I have to start gathering these articles from the LFP and make a scrapbook.

That is one great thing about London: you can be there and making work and London doesn't care. I imagine it could be a good place to get a lot done. I don't think you have been very far off at all about the interpretation of my work. Not that there is a specific one. 


"Guellphh!"
Your most recent home base Guelph is currently hosting James Janco (who is referenced briefly in Stroppy) on a film-set in the Ward. People are literally camping out to catch his famous droplets of sweat and front page squints of discernment. What would Stroppy do if he lived on the street that was closed down for filming? I could be wrong but I think they may be filming Stroppy with Janco playing both the lead and the arch Monsieur Moustache. Do you think it will be as good as Spiderman?

Stroppy might mutter a bit about how stupid James Janco is and then drop something on his foot. Then he would stress about having to pay a bill or his neighbour would bother him. Maybe there would be some long run-on sentence about what a gorgeous hunk James is. I can't really see James pulling off Monsieur, but if he could, that would be a real leap for him. I would stand up and applaud. And cash those cheques. Please send me some cheques, Los Angeles, I think you owe me.

What’s it been like being a cartoonist in the Harper decade?

I try to stick to my own little world. And visit HORLD DISCOUNT. A very fine 24 hr Mini Mart at Bloor and Roxton in Toronto (North side). He lays his chips down on their side like little babies.

And this might sound cynical but I think: "Maybe it wouldn't be such a bad scenario if we all disappeared…and some weird critters inherited the earth…I wonder if I should get another Club Soda from Horld…I think I will…support small business…Horld is a great guy"

Are in-jokes essential to survival? Is creating confusion a form of protest?

Yes. 


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