The Daily Texan got a chance to talk to artist Brian Chippendale about his new book “If ‘n Oof,” his previous works and how to make comics that read with cinematic flair.
The Daily Texan: I know you do a lot of stuff. You got Lightning Bolt as well as other musical projects. I heard you did a show a couple of months back for Cinders Gallery. Would you like to talk about that?
Brian Chippendale: Sure. Cinders is a Brooklyn gallery, and I filled it with I don't remember how many pieces. It isn't a huge gallery, but I packed it with these collages and drawings, big colorful collages made of silkscreened prints and drawings. It was fun! Well, it was a little stressful at the time; trying to finish [“If n Oof”], getting ready for the art show and a Lightning Bolt tour all at the same time. It felt a little crazy but somehow I pulled it all off.
DT: I read in an interview [with Robot 6] that you didn't work on "If 'n Oof" in order. Could you tell me about the process of coming up with the characters? Because it does feel like these characters were around a long time before you started doing the book proper.
BC: I think I first came up with the characters just as a joke! I had this one minicomic I made in '99 or 2000, maybe 10 years ago. It was this tiny little comic, maybe 2 inches by an inch and a half. Mat Brinkman was making these mini comic at Kinko’s, and just to make fun, I drew it in the Kinko’s. It was the fastest, crappiest comic. If walks up to a tree, looks up and sees one lone apple on the tree. So he throws Oof at the tree to knock the apple down. And that was the first relationship; it was originally a little more brutal. If was kind of a jerk, and Oof got thrown around. And then I made a few more minis in the same size over a couple of years — it was totally not serious. And then suddenly, I dreamed up like this big story and it got more serious.
And I think If and Oof were in this other comic that was never finished. I drew a hundred pages of a comic probably around 2000 or something; it was one of many things that unfinished. It's now kinda sitting there, but [If n Oof] appear at the end of that one, as just a couple of characters in this huge gang. So yeah, they've been around but no-one's really seen them.
DT: Yeah, that’s no surprise to me considering the huge amount of projects you're involved in. Along with all your musical enterprises, you're also doing "Puke Force," a webcomic being serialized on Picturebox's website. Were you working on "Puke Force" at the same time you were finishing up the book? Just a continuous stream of work?
BC: Yeah, Puke Force takes place in the world where "Ninja" [Chippendale's first book] takes place. When I was doing "If 'n Oof" I would just have figments of ideas I knew I couldn't use. You know, a bit too jokey then what I was going for. "Puke Force" was just me doing a page every once in a while. It's got these old characters, and it's fast. "If 'n Oof" was such a long, drawn-out process that I wanted something that could balance it out. Just so I could draw stuff quick and get it over with in a day or something.
And now that I'm getting into that, well, I've got this tendency to start something as a joke and then get too serious. Then before I know it, it's just turned on me — yet another stressful event in my life I have to work on!
DT: Did you feel this way with "Maggots?" When did you feel that became serious?
BC: Well, that never became serious. I mean, that was drawn maybe, '96 or '97. I drew that at a time where I didn't have any other reason- there was no publisher and there was no audience. I just filled that book (which was a Japanese book catalog I was drawing in) and I had a lot of time. I was just broke and hanging out and drawing that book. That was about halfway through Fort Thunder, and at the time I had zero aspirations for being a cartoonist. I was just psyched to be kinda livin'!
DT: You were a screen-printing major at the Rhode Island School of Design right?
BC: Yeah! Well, the major is printmaking, with other aspects of that like etching or lithography. But screen-printing is what I took out of it, because it's the one thing you can set up at home really easily. It was the one thing that you could continue outside the school.
DT: That's cool. Alright, let's get back to "If 'n Oof." I read in the Robot 6 interview that "If 'n Oof" was panels of "Ninja" blown up to the size of the page. When you started making "If 'n Oof," were you using this format?
BC: When I first made them they were these tiny little books, but it was; the first comics were these tiny little comics per page. And yeah, the book is just the same idea: to create these rhythmic images per page. Just flipping the page and following the action, which forces you to follow it in a certain way.
The "Ninja" comics were these big pages where you'd follow the panels as the snaked back and forth down the page. Whether you follow my instructions or not, I wanted it to read in a specific way, with a specific rhythm.
DT: Yeah, I think I was a hundred pages into "Maggots" before I finally figured out "Oh! You're supposed to read it that way!"
BC: I mean, especially with "Maggots," it barely makes sense if you read it the right way and probably makes just as much sense if you read it the wrong way. Especially with "Maggots" [laughs] Who knows?
No, I've seen plenty of old comics with arrows and stuff that do something similar. But now it's almost a curse; now it’s something that I'm carrying around and I have to explain why or why I'm not doing it. I mean it's fun, and I still believe in it as a way of controlling the eye, but I'm open to anything. It's not a rule that I have to do comics that way. But if you gave me a book by someone else done this way I'd probably be like, "Why is he doing this?!"
DT: Your work, "If 'n Oof," included but especially "Maggots," I think has a very animated feel. Because it is about the motion and about the constant reading as your eyes move around on the page. What do you think about this animation influence in comics?
BC: My favorite comics have always been comics that read really cinematically. They lead you around the page and you can see how the characters and figures move, and whether the movements make sense. I love that stuff.
I remember that even as a kid I had a copy of "How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way" [by Stan Lee] or some other comics-drawing thing; I remember the author was Rich Buckler [Apparently "How to Draw Dynamic Comics"] or that there was one part credited to Rich Buckler. He just had this rule that if two characters were in a fight scene you can't ever have them flip sides. Like if you want your character on the left to suddenly be on the right, you have to have an in-between panel. Just kind of these rules to flow.
These things had a large impression on me, because I can't forget when I'm drawing comics that there are these rules to flow. I became really in with that; I don't know if it's Rich Buckler's fault or some other guy's fault, but to me there are just these rules. And the believable flow is really important to me.
DT: OK, I ask everyone this question. What's your favorite sound effect or word and what is your least favorite sound effect or word?
BC: Well, I've never been a big fan of sound effects, but "KABOOM" is cool when things are exploding. I like "SPLOOSH." That's a good one.
DT: That’s right, I noticed that you didn't use a lot of sound effects in "If 'n Oof."
BC: I did use a pretty big "BLAM!"
I don't know, I used to read the old G.I. Joe war comics a lot, and something that always amused me was that the machine guns would go "BUDA BUDA BUDA," which is a weird thing for a machine gun to say. Although it's actually something to think about, I might do a "Puke Force" comic on "BUDA," with the word shooting out of a machine gun or something.
As for least favorite word, this doesn't have anything to do with comics but I'm so not fond of "been there, done that" and "F.Y.I." I don't like those sorts of expressions.
DT: Kind of dismissive, right?
BC: Yeah, I'm not so fond of dismissive. I hate "been there, done that." I mean, a group of us, me and my girlfriend, went apple picking the other day, and I can see in some world some guy saying "been there, done that." I don't know man, every apple on every tree is different!
It's like drawing. Part of the thing about "Maggots" is that I'm constantly drawing the same frame over and over. Probably half the book is the same character doing the same thing, but it always felt so new to me. Every time I draw this it's just different! Some people said that it looks like the same thing over and over again, but I'm like, "No, Look! Look close!" It's different every time. It's so inconsistent. I found it really interesting.
DT: OK, so I've just got a couple more questions. What are you reading now?
BC: I am finishing up "Berserk," which is blowing my mind. Lately, because I've been busy with my tours and other stuff, I'm plowing through piles of mainstream comics. I just finished the last five or six issues of "Scalped" [Jason Aaron/R. M. Guéra] It's this gritty crime comic set on an Indian reservation; there's sex and drugs and crimes, and sometimes all three at the same time. It maybe doesn't translate on a month-to-month basis like some superhero comics do, but when you sit down and read a whole story arc, it's just so good.
DT: Last question: What are you doing for the future?
BC: Lightning Bolts working on some songs, we're starting to work on some recordings. Really slowly. Mat Brinkman's been in town, he's just got a stash of so much stuff, in my house and in other people's houses. He's been here going through boxes and boxes of tapes and CDs and zines and all that stuff. It's actually inspired me; I live in this huge warehouse just full of crap, so I’ve been in this cleaning phase in the last few months. So I’m working on “Puke Force,” getting rid of stuff, watching Mat Brinkman get rid of stuff, and trying to record some new stuff. It’s all based around stuff.