Interview: S. Eddy Bell

LM_cardS. Eddy Bell is the creator of the excellent Lulu & Mitzy. He got his start in animation, and when he’s not making great comics, he does a bit of design work and other stuff. Check out his website, Fictionbox, where he posts comics, artwork and other stuff, including his blog. I decided to ask for an interview after being blown away by Lulu & Mitzy — his comics debut, by the way — and here it is!

Part the First

At this moment in time, what is your favorite song?

S. Eddy Bell:Lost Snow” by Mono. I listen to it several times a week while walking around the city. I notice that I start walking faster around the five-minute mark.

What’s your favorite band that you don’t think a lot of people would have heard of?

S. Eddy Bell: Three Mile Pilot, but I think a lot of people know about them now because they split into Pinback and Black Heart Procession, two bands that went on to a bit more notoriety. Na Vucca Do Lupu, their first album, is an all time fave. Bass, drums, and what sounds like a wino shrieking dada poetry. Good stuff.

What, if anything, is on any particular wall (your choice) in your domicile?

S. Eddy Bell: A painting by Sylvia Ji that my wife bought three years ago. It is apparently a woman in the throes of an orgasm, but my wife doesn’t like me telling people that.

What’s the strangest thing you own?

S. Eddy Bell: I don’t own a lot, but my wife brings me back really odd knick knacks from Japan. I have a small vending machine toy of what appears to be a ninja handing a young child a baton in a relay race.

Of the things you’ve done, what’s your all-time favorite (however you want to interpret that, be it artistic works, actions, whatever)?

S. Eddy Bell: To be honest, I hate my work. My accomplishments repel me. The best thing I ever did was taking acid when I was 14. The worst thing was taking acid when I was 19.

Who’s your favorite visual artist (excluding yourself)?

S. Eddy Bell: It certainly wouldn’t be myself. I would say it’s a tie between Modigliani and Sergio Aragonés. That says a lot about me.

What are the five most recent films you’ve seen?

S. Eddy Bell: I saw Milk on Saturday and really liked it. I walked out of it wanting to know more about him. That period of San Francisco was so rife with drama. Before that, because it was the holidays, I took my son to see Valkyrie, because he’s a WWII buff. And before that I took my niece to Bolt. That gets me back to mentioning movies I actually wanted to see, so I rewatced on DVD The Innocents (beautiful adaptation of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw) and Trust, a Hal Hartley film that I’ve always liked.

What’re your top three movies?

S. Eddy Bell: That’s so tough, because most of the movies I consider my favorites I can’t watch anymore. But here goes: Daughters of DarknessIsland of Lost Souls (with Charles Laughton), and Cemetery Man.

Do you own any original artwork, and if so, whose?

S. Eddy Bell: Well, we own that Sylvia Ji piece I mentioned, which hangs above our bed. We own some limited edition prints as well, but that’s about it for original artwork. I would love to own more, but there’s always this whole ‘money’ thing that gets in the way.

What is your favorite game?

S. Eddy Bell: Hide The Penis. I don’t actually play any games, video or otherwise. I’m a quitter, not a competitor. I do a lot of crossword puzzles though. It’s an addiction.

What sort of pie do you enjoy?

S. Eddy Bell: The innuendo is so temptingly obviously I am really wanting to just walk right into it, but I’ll pretend this question is innocent and say that my Dad makes the best homemade apple pies. 99% apple and 1% crust.

If you could say one thing to David Byrne, what would it be?

S. Eddy Bell: You gave me nightmares, you son of a bitch, with that “Once In A Lifetime” video. I was just a boy!

Describe some horrible/otherwise amusing local commercials.

S. Eddy Bell: Rocker Guitars. The owner, John Rocker (and I do not believe for one second that that is his real name), does this commercial for his guitar shop that is like the most cut-rate car salesman commercial. It’s all yelling and shitty FinalCut/AfterEffects visual trickery where they try to make it look like guitars are flying out of his ears and he makes this horribly stupid face when it happens. It reminds me so much of the video arcade commercial in Wayne’s World. Awful.

What are your five most favorite books in the world?

S. Eddy Bell: Tastes change so much over the course of a lifetime, so lets ignore my predilection for Anne Rice novels when I was 14. The Sun Also Rises (only Hemingway book I really like), Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller, Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami, and The Stone God Awakens by Philip José Farmer.

What is the most boring thing you’ve ever experienced?

S. Eddy Bell: Insomnia. Seriously, I have experienced nothing more boring than being up night after night without sleep or the ability to focus. I couldn’t draw, I couldn’t read, nothing was on TV, and I can only masturbate maybe once or twice per night, so I am left to my mind’s own madness. I once had a bout that lasted nearly 2 months. It was awful.

If you could name a child anything in the world, what would it be?

S. Eddy Bell: I would name a blond-haired, blue-eyed child “Muhammad” and raise him in Orange County. Make him attend private school with all of the children of the Republican weapons manufacturers. See what happens from there.

What would be a better weapon, a gun that fires dogs or a gun that fires cats?

S. Eddy Bell: A gun that fires cats as long as they’re not declawed. But a gun that fired monkeys would top both simply because it shot monkeys.

What is your favorite meal?

S. Eddy Bell: At the moment, Bi Bim Bob. It’s a Korean dish that is simply amazing. I feel like crying when it is finished because I always want more.

What is reality?

S. Eddy Bell: Something a French or German philosopher would ponder, but a hedge fund manager wouldn’t. And the ‘real’ truth is more people would like to be on a reality TV show than be a French or German philosopher.

 

Part the Second

 

About how long does it take you to do one of the Lulu & Mitzy webcomics?

S. Eddy Bell: On average, it takes me anywhere from 8-14 hours. The last one I did (Psychic Beating, pt. 5) took me close to 20 hours, because sometimes I am just too ambitious for my own good.

Was it difficult to find a publisher for Lulu & Mitzy?

S. Eddy Bell: Sort of, but not really. A couple of publishers just out-right refused me. One told me the book was “too underground”, which confused me and frankly pissed me off a bit. I found it weird that publishers that seem to ride on the crest of a wave created by the likes of S. Clay Wilson and Vaughn Bode would refuse me for being “too underground”. I just assumed everybody was trying to be “literary” now and there was no room for funny, unconventional books. I realize that statement is full of bitterness and ego, but I think there is some truth to it. To be honest, I always wanted to be published by SLG, but I actually had second thoughts about sending Lulu & Mitzy to them because I didn’t think Lulu & Mitzy was their type of material. But after struggling to put something together for years I just figured “fuck it” and sent it in. Dan Vado went back and forth on it and couldn’t decide for a while if he wanted to do it. He just couldn’t see a book about prostitutes doing well. He told me he really liked it and he would like to do it, but it was risky. Eventually he gave the go ahead and he’s regretted it ever since.

Your author bio in the back of Lulu & Mitzy makes reference to working in animation — what have you worked on?

S. Eddy Bell: I got a job as a storyboard artist at Will Vinton Studios in Portland back in 1999 working on a TV show called The PJs. Very few people remember the show, but it lasted three seasons. My dad says he sees it playing on BET sometimes when he’s flipping through channels. It was fun to work on, but the pay was awful and I only had steady work for six months at a time. After the show was canceled, I got a job as a character designer at a flash-based children’s education studio. They made interactive cartoons that helped kids read. That whole thing was a fiasco though. Nobody seemed to know what they were doing. They wanted these complicated character designs because the guys running the place didn’t have animation or computer backgrounds. This was 2002 and most people were still using dial-up. Complicated character designs and gradient shading were just not going to work, but I couldn’t tell them that. The whole thing just wound up looking like butt and that was the last animation gig I ever did besides some flash banner stuff here and there. I do a lot of personal stuff, but that’s it. I will never work in animation again. It’s highly unreliable work unless you are talented enough to work for Pixar or somebody like that.

Since you worked at Will Vinton Studios, do you enjoy doing clay animation and sculpture work? What kind of animation and artwork do you prefer making, sculpture or drawing/painting?

S. Eddy Bell: I like sculpting a lot and I do like stop-motion, but animation drives me crazy. I mean the actual process. I just don’t have the attention span for it. I prefer comics by far. What’s even better about doing comics is I’m my own boss. In animation you usually have to answer to somebody who doesn’t have the faintest clue about what you do and they don’t care. Most of the time you find your bosses are former lawyers who wanted to get into show biz.

Whose idea was it to put the “Meat The Future” story by Chad Essley in the back of the Lulu & Mitzy book?

S. Eddy Bell: I asked Chad and Joey Sayers if they could both do a short piece for the back of my book. Joey was too busy by the time the deadline came around and Chad whipped out “Meat The Future”, so that went in. I had wanted the comics to be their takes on Lulu and Mitzy, but for whatever reason Chad did something completely different. I’m happy with it, because I’ve always admired Chad and his drawings make me laugh. He could be the next Matt Groening if he wanted to be.

How did you get your start in comics?

S. Eddy Bell: I was working at Will Vinton and one of the guys I worked with was Todd Herman. Todd was friends with Scott Allie, who is an editor at Dark Horse, and I usually went out drinking with those guys a couple times a month when they would let me tag along. And around that time Dave Stewart was really busy and needed some assistance. I was complaining about losing my job due to the season ending and Scott hooked me up with Dave. So I started flatting and separating colors for him on a pretty regular basis for almost two years. At first I really sucked, because I barely knew Photoshop, but Dave kept hiring me and I think I eventually got the hang of it. I wound up working on lots of stuff, including Hellboy (The Conqueror Worm), and I was pretty stoked. Eventually, these coloring houses started popping up and offered to do my job at a fraction of the price, so work just dwindled away. Sadly, I didn’t really take advantage of the position and learn as much as I could about coloring from Dave. He’s now one of the tops in his field. I was just looking for a paycheck. It’s one of my big regrets. And that was really it until I worked on Lulu & Mitzy some six years later.

Do you have any other creative outlets other than comics and visual art, like music for example?

S. Eddy Bell: I used to play guitar, but my wife doesn’t let me anymore because I’m quite bad and all I ever did was write love songs to her nether regions. I’m a very crass person. The only other thing I do besides comics is lay out other peoples’ books. I enjoy that sometimes though.

Does your own personal taste tend towards Lulu’s of pop and R&B, Mitzy’s of punk and metal, both or neither?

S. Eddy Bell: Mitzy’s personality is mostly mine. Her and I have the same taste in music, but she actually goes to the ends of the earth to buy the rare shit I never could. I like sludgey metal/punk stuff like Jesus Lizard, The Melvins, Mudhoney and such. As far as Lulu’s taste in music, the reason it’s so bad is because I wanted to deflate my own sense of superiority. I think I am so much better than other people because of the music I listen(ed) to or the obscure stuff I know, but then I’ll meet somebody who is totally cool and I admire them only to find their taste in music is horrible. It blows me to pieces. I think I’m the shit because of my music, but somebody else can be a much better person than me and listen to Top 40. It’s… infuriatingly enlightening.

Did you find it difficult to strike the balance between cartoony and serious when writing and planning Lulu & Mitzy?

S. Eddy Bell: I didn’t find it hard, because I always felt that was the kind of person I am and that was the kind of story I wanted to read or make. But to be honest, I didn’t know if it would work. I started going through intense therapy a third of the way through the book and that changed things. At first, the book was just a low-brow, kinda-dirty, funny book, but then it started to morph into something else and I started to care about the girls. That changed everything. The first 24-30 pages are almost completely different from the rest of the book.

Are there any trends in comics that you wish would reverse?

S. Eddy Bell: This literary trend is kind of getting me down. I’m bored. I’m bored by $25-$30 hard cover tomes of self-reflective, design-oriented shit. It’s not comics. And I’m not saying all that stuff is bad. I would love to read Nate Powell‘s new book, but that whole genre isn’t really my bag. The first comic book I ever remember buying was Sergio Aragonés’ Groo #28. That’s pretty much where my taste has stayed. I like funny cartoon books. I’m an adult, so I need that stuff to go somewhere, but that’s why I make the books I make. But funny, entertaining books aren’t where things are at right now. Most artists don’t seem to want to entertain anymore. You’d think they were all going for Oscars and Pulitzers and design awards. I think SLG is on the right track; make a $10-$15 dollar graphic novel that entertains people. The economy’s shitty, so save a buck and sit back and laugh again.

Who are your biggest comics influences?

S. Eddy Bell: Sergio Aragonés, Peter Bagge, Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder, Evan Dorkin, Albert Uderzo, Charles Schultz, Robert Crumb, and a lot of the old Harvey guys like Warren Kremer and Howard Post.

Are there any comics that you’ve been getting particularly into lately?

S. Eddy Bell: I’ve been buying all of the Harvey Comics Classics collections that Dark Horse has been releasing. Aside from that, I don’t pick up a lot of ‘comic books’ anymore. I buy collections or graphic novels. I’ve been collecting all of the Asterix stuff, The Complete Peanuts, and Usagi Yojimbo. Other stuff I picked up recently was Tiny Tyrant, The Push Man, Chumble Spuzz, and most of Joey Sayers’ mini comics (I’m Gonna Rip Yer Face Off, Thingpart, etc.). Joey is one of the funniest cartoonists around. Her stuff makes me laugh until I hurt. [I concur with everything said here about Joey Sayers; I’m a big fan of her stuff, too. — Ed.]

What is it about Harvey Comics that grabs you?

S. Eddy Bell: I always loved the simple and clean lines of the drawings. And the gags were so twee to the point that I almost felt I must be missing something. They felt subversive.

Do you typically have the story plotted out when you start, or do you see where it goes?

S. Eddy Bell: A bit of both. I’m a bit ashamed about the lack of forethought I put into Lulu and Mitzy. I plot out the stories and develop some jokes way ahead of time, but a lot of times I just sit down and start going directly from sloppy thumbnails to pencils without letting an idea sit. I think that’s why some of my jokes can be a bit obvious or easy. Sometimes I have a joke but I don’t spend enough time trying to be clever about it. Part of that is because I hate cleverness. Sometimes cleverness, or the belief that one is being clever, infuriates me. I think all of the cutesy/ironic/clever shit that has come out over the last 10-15 years has made me bitter and cynical.

Do you have any other upcoming projects you’d like to mention?

S. Eddy Bell: I’m working on a book tentatively titled Cartoon Horror. I’ve always wanted to do horror stories in a cartoony style. Something about cartoons disemboweling each other disturbs me and piques my interest. It’s something I’m doing for fun. I’ve written the next Lulu & Mitzy, but probably won’t start working on it until late in the spring. I have other stuff written too, but it all comes down to time and my fragile, fragile ego.

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