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gg: Right. Right. Huh. Tell me what
a traffic-school comedian is.
th: Basically, they have different
kinds of traffic school. [Groth
laughs.] And I don't know, when
you have to go to traffic school — I
don't remember actually what the
line is in that comic.
gg: The character Mascarpone says,
"I'm a simple businesswoman. It
just so happens I'm a traffic-school
th: You know how like sometimes
people in the mob say that they
reupholster furniture and stuff? I
guess that was the idea of it, that she
was saying that she had a respectable
job, but I wanted it to seem
absurd, so I was thinking of jobs,
and if you look at different traffic schools, sometimes they have a comedy traffic school that you can
go to where a standup comic will
do it. So that seemed like the kind
of job that she would have.
gg: [Bemused laugh.] Huh. I think
part of your genius lies in sort of ferreting
th: I guess they seem really clear
to me. [Laughs.] I don't know. It's
really funny, because I can't tell.
From what I've heard, actually, a
few of the people that have read
the "Wally" story so far think of it
as being more straightforward, almost
to the point where they may
be more disappointed that the language
isn't as crazy.
gg: When I referred to randomness,
one of the things, I remember
is your story in Dirty Stories Vol. 3,
"Daikon." [Pronounces it Day-kin].
th: [Laughs.] That's actually [die-cone], it's a
Japanese root vegetable.
gg: I loved your term, "sandbag
googleplexes." But I don't know how
you came up with that or even what
it means, exactly.
th: It seems pretty logical to me.
[Laughs.] Eric Reynolds asked me
to do Dirty Stories, and the first
thing that came to my mind was
that genre that comes and goes,
where it's like a girl wearing a leotard,
who's seductive, and she's doing
stuff. Like Barbarella, or more
specifically, like, I don't know if
you know Guy Peellaert & Pierre
Bartier's The Adventures of Jodelle.
I was looking at that specifically.
The Adventures of Jodelle is based
on a French singer, Sylvie Vartan.
It was published by Grove Press
in the '60s. Or you know Phoebe
gg: Oh yeah, sure.
th: Phoebe Zeitgeist is the clunky
American version of that. Guy
Peellaert did two girl characters,
one was Jodelle, and the other was
Pravda, who was sort of based on
Françoise Hardy. So I decided,
OK, I'm going to do something
like that. It's like a pop art comics
thing, where they have actual
popular figures from the day in the
comic, and it's sort of psychedelic.
But I was basing it on the New York
artist Yayoi Kusama, who's an artist
who moved to New York from
Japan in the '60s and did abstract
art where she made these phalluses, they were made of cloth and
they were stuffed. But her work
had this psychotic base to it, where
she'd take a rowboat, and then
cover it up with bean bags that she
would obsessively sew and fill. She
also did these paintings that were
just dots. So I guess the idea was to
do a comic story to turn her into
a superheroine. So the "sandbag
googleplex" is like, if you look at
her art, that's pretty much what
they are, they're infinite varieties of
these little sandbags that are supposed
to be like these phalluses,
but she also had this thing about
cutting them, cutting penises.
From Dirty Stories Vol. 3
gg: There was a lot of penis snipping
in that story.
th: Yeah. That was something else
though, I thought, if I'm going to
do pornography, I should do something
where there's a penis being
snipped with scissors at the end
of every page, because I thought
that would be the opposite of what
would be required somehow.
th: So I put Jimmy Carter in there,
and Robin Williams, and other celebrities
that I thought of. I copied
the lettering from Jodelle and the
general style of it.
gg: It's great that you can make these
arcane connections like this.
th: I think if people knew that,
then they read the story, it would
make total sense, but if they didn't
know that, maybe they would just
go, "What in the world is going
on?" which is also fine. If you look
at the last panel too, she's got The
Monkees in her rowboat, and it's
George Washington crossing the
gg: I often have that reaction to your
work, that there's some kind of internal
logic to them, part of which is
th: Probably me, too. [Laughter.]
That's why I do them, to examine
that and try to figure out what it is.
gg: Part of that, of course, has to be
subconscious. Stuff you're not even
th: Some of it. If you do enough
writing, it seems like the words
come to you and, like I say, if you're
not the kind of person who's just
inspired, if the words come to you,
it's a workman thing, you just go
with the law of percentages on what
you get on a particular day. You
know that you'll get something,
but all you basically do is move it
in one direction or another, and
sometimes you're moving it, and
sometimes you're just following
it, you know? At least that's how it
feels for me usually.
gg: How much of your writing is calculated
to the extent that you know
exactly what you're aiming for, and
how much of it just comes — ?
th: Well, it's not like technical writing,
it's not like instructions about
how to operate an F-15 or something
gg: But a lot of writing is like that.
[Laughs.] A lot of so-called "creative"
th: None of the writing that I do,
none of it's off-the-cuff, I do tend
to go over it a lot, and maybe that
could be a drawback of it to a certain
degree. It could have the drawback
of being too clever, some of
that is also a defense mechanism
of having a learning disabled sister
and not feeling smart. But some
of it is — I don't know how to describe
it, it's the same thing with the pictures. You just read it, and
the things that are wrong just jump
out at you. You just keep working
on it until you figure out what