The Seattle cartoon scene is thriving and right now the Intruder comics newspaper is an important and demented part of that. I got together with editor Marc Palm and contributor Max Clotfelter recently to pump them for information. Who would DARE publish this kind of non-commercial non-mainstream filth? And on newsprint no less. Internet be damned! And what kind of MANIACS would devote their time to creating underground comics, instead of working at soul-sucking corporate tech jobs for the big bucks? I wanted to know.
The 1990s comics scene was filled with talent but poisoned by a few pompous nitwits trying to be highbrow, like they were the next Art Spiegelman. Twenty years later, the artists of Intruder have a different, more punk rock outlook. “Fuck the world!” And be funny about it.
WARNING: If you have not been fascinated with underground comics since reading your parent’s copies of The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers when you were nine, proceed with caution. Comic geekdom ahead.
ALEX: Intruder! I gave you some advice when you started about printing on newsprint, which is almost like a lost art form.
MARC: Thanks to you for pointing us to Pacific Publishing Company. Without the experience I had working with you (per Intruder contributor David Lasky’s suggestion) I probably would have been less confident about being able to put the paper together. Since March of 2012 we’ve published 14 issues and we’re working on getting the 15th out in April. (Disclosure: Marc did the covers for my short-lived and totally unsuccessful Seattle marijuana newspaper “Mary Jane”).
ALEX: Don’t get out much. Been following Intruder online. I guess I could go get a copy at the Fantagraphics bookstore …
Sorry I didn’t keep you on the mailing list. We’d really appreciate some subscribers (Paypal $12 to email@example.com for 4 issues) since the cost to mail them out is direct from our pockets like the whole operation is. Each contributor pays for their page and that ends up covering the cost of just the printing. Each artist gets their own personal stack of 100 papers and the rest we hand deliver or mail out to comic shops and other businesses where we would imagine the majority of the clientele would enjoy.
ALEX: This interview was born when Max posted on social media that modern pot shops were “sterile.” I did kind of think of Uncle Ike’s when he said that – it’s all brightly lit and corporate-like and quite a contrast to your normal, grubby, stinky med pot shop. It’s certainly no hole in the wall.
MARC: Yes, Ike’s. Uncle Ike’s did not feel interested in Intruder. An organized business based on a mind altering drug surely would have some folks shopping there who would enjoy a weirdo periodical full of comics that has some dark images and uncensored humor. Now, we don’t think we’re ZAP comix but, we’re the closest thing the tourist and curious folks with disposable income will come across while purchasing characterless dog treat pouches of pot. It’s understandable that based on the current business model and restrictions placed on the newly legalized drug, everything needs to appear safe, clean and be accessible to those who thought drugs to be nasty, evil and dangerous.
MAX: I’m still mixed on the 502 shops, although, I haven’t seen the medical shops either. If you asked me to compare Uncle Ike’s to one of the old state run liquor stores, I would have to admit that it’s a completely different atmosphere. It’s a breath of fresh air. Those old state run liquor stores were the most drab holes in Seattle. It made you feel like an alcoholic loser just walking into one of those bleak dumps. But the pot shops still feel eerily militaristic, checking your I.D. at the door and then standing in this long queue that mazes though the store. I had imagined something a lot more casual before I ever checked it out.
ALEX: I almost hate to come off like I’m kissing Uncle Ike’s ass, since he lets me write what I want, but you have to understand that the liquor board has no sense of humor when it comes to enforcing I-502. You can’t market to those under 21. Chances are that the WSLCB would not be able to distinguish between a copy of Archie comics and Intruder. Feel me?
MAX: I heard that Ike’s has to be cautious about comics and magazines they display because it might appeal to people under 21, but then how can they name their products shit like “Alice in Wonderland” and “Girl Scout Cookie”?!? I mean hell, they even sell candy and cookies, right? Our dopey little paper couldn’t be more clear that it’s not for kids, it’s written across the front cover.
ALEX: Ridiculous strain names – let’s talk about that some other time. Good point, though.
MAX: We’ve got a pretty good hunch that people who get stoned enjoy our paper. Plus, crude black and white comics have a long standing and glorious history with head shops and stoners. We just thought we were doing the shop a favor by giving them something to let their customers have for free!
ALEX: It’s not the 60s anymore, Max. Let’s just ask Ike.
IKE: First, I wouldn’t necessarily call our professionally grown and packed, taxed and licensed products “characterless dog treat pouches.” Please keep all cannabis products, especially edibles, away from dogs.
Ike’s would love to carry comics but the LCB prohibits us from selling anything other than cannabis and cannabis infused and extracted products. We give the Stranger away in there but there’s not much space for other publications.
Our glass shop next door (Uncle Ike’s Glass & Goods) could carry Intruder, so bring some copies by!
MARC: I felt like we were in a GNC when we went in Ike’s. I’ve never been in a medical shop, so I don’t know what those are like, but I actually would have expected those to be sterile and lifeless like a clinic. A place that is open to the public should have some identity or life. The name leads one to think it’s less formal. Uncle Ike’s! The lettering is in cursive, no harsh lines and it lights up like a old burger stand. It almost seems like a cliche name, “Hey, it’s ‘Uncle Ike,’ that dude’s got a ton of pot!” There should be wood paneling on the walls and a kung fu movie playing with the sound off and rock and roll playing on a turntable and … weirdo comics.
ALEX: Fine, but Uncle Ike’s has the largest collection of vintage marijuana movie posters on the West Coast. Easy Rider, Marihuana, Assassin of Youth – everything. And professionally framed, too. It’s not fucking Walgreen’s. Which sells liquor and cigarettes and junk food, by the way.
MARC: It’s cool if we don’t fit in. What we publish is pretty out there and not for everyone, not accessible. But there was the one thing that I noticed. There was a stack Strangers there at the end of the counter. As Max pointed out to me … they’re a big marketing outlet for these sorts of places.
ALEX: They advertise in the Stranger. The Stranger has been publishing for over 20 years. Those factors mean that Intruder is not a priority for them. I mean – c’mon. But enough about Ike’s.
Loads of grown-up subject matter in Intruder – some of it would make S. Clay Wilson (profane underground biker cartoonist guy from the 60s) blush. Max’s piece (Red Eye) — where a kid’s junkie parents sell him in to sexual slavery – comes to mind. It’s hard to make material like that funny but I thought it was hilarious. You really felt for that kid, like he was Charlie Brown.
MAX: Yikes, I’m not sure if the fate of Red Eye’s baby brother was ever explicitly detailed in my comic. Red Eye just passed him off to some dude wearing a trench coat in a Taco Bell. It kinda upsets me to think that’s how he ended up. I was hoping the trench coat dude was gonna provide him with a better life!
As for any of those comparisons to any of the classic Underground artists, I think we’re still a long way off. I’m still just getting over the novelty of seeing my stuff in print, settling into a natural rhythm and trying not to be too uptight or self conscious about what I’m doing. Some of the contributors like Billis Helg, Darin Schuler and Ben Horak are so comfortable with their style that it’s inspiring to watch them go.
ALEX: You like Adventure Time? Kids love it. When I first watched it I had one of those once a decade “THIS ANIMATED SHOW IS GENIUS” moments, kind of like after seeing The Simpsons, Ren & Stimpy, King of The Hill for the first time. To me it’s the kind of show that when you first see it you go WOW!
MAX: I’ve never seen Adventure Time, but my friends who are parents love it for the same reasons you just expressed. It’s something they can enjoy with their kids. My mom used to watch Pee Wee with me and my brother and would laugh and jokes we were too young to understand. Also, Adventure Time paid Intruder contributor James Stanton to draw comics! So they’re obviously good people.
MARC: Adventure Time … that is totally one of those genius things that appeals to a wide and diverse crowd. It’s funny because when it came out it had the look and tone of a lot of independent comics that I was reading. Turned out they were either influenced by those comics and funneling them into their vision or actually hiring these cartoonists. It became a huge sensation for the independent comic world, tons of people had hopes of trying out for it and landing a job where you actually made money in a field that was legitimized vs. self-publishing weird shit that was constantly overlooked in the artist alleys of comic cons. However, when it turned out there were not 10,000 jobs for the fans who drew, the fans just made money off of fan art, homages, mash-ups, etc. They were/are wanna-be Adventure Time artists. When they started making comics of them that got people excited too. Hell, I wanted to jump on it. James Stanton got scouted out at the LA Zine fest one year. He got a back up in one of the comics, got paid a decent rate and that’s where it ended as far as I know. But now comic cons are littered with these hopeful wanna-bees who do drawings and prints of the things they love, or they’re making 2nd generation versions in hopes that they can come up with the next best thing.
ALEX: So many copycats without good or original ideas, out there?
MARC: I don’t really think there are many original ideas left to come up with in the world so it’s an obvious route. Just like the superhero shit that has conquered mainstream American comics. Whatever is popular and makes money will have people who will make their versions in hopes they’ll get noticed. What is discomforting is that fan art and mash-up stuff is becoming so acceptable that it’s blocking the view to anything new. I’ll be the first to admit that I make homages or show my influence on my sleeve. But what I’m into is obscure bizarre stuff that has been forgotten or noted as “bad.” I don’t think I’m much better but I like to think that I’m helping to keep those dusty and forgotten visions alive a bit longer.
ALEX: “Batshit.” What they used to call it 20 years ago. That was before superhero movies became a billion dollar industry.
MARC: Intruder is underground and I think it needs to stay there. Especially with the rise of mediocrity and PC values being placed on everything. I don’t want us to specialize in shock, instead we should specialize in honestly weird stuff that lives apart from pop culture, politics, drama, style-wars, etc. We make self-satisfied comics that will probably (hopefully) will not reach mainstream heights.
MAX: See more online at www.intrudercomics.com.