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Art by Chip Zdarsky. Copyright 2002.

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Interview: Darick Robertson
Interview conducted by Arni Gunnarsson, 12/99.

Darick Robertson has reached new heights with Transmetropolitan now in itīs third year. Since the start of the series his art has improved in leaps and bounds and he is now one of the premier artists in the industry. From SPACE BEAVER started at the age of 17 to TRANSMETROPOLITAN today Darick Robertson is a passionate professional.

When did you decide you wanted to do comics?

I decided I wanted to do comics at a very young age. For some reason as a kid, probably due to the fact my parents didn't have a lot of money, I was very focused on having a career and choosing that career. For a long time I wanted to be a lawyer. Someone once told me I was good at arguing my point, so I thought "Hey, yeah!" but as I settled on that notion, someone else prodded me by saying "Yeah, I can see you now, doodling Superman on your notepad while trying to defend someone in a murder trial..." That picture stuck, so I began to realise that perhaps I could make a living doing comics, which I loved. I was 11, I think.

In high school I created a stupid little character named SPACE BEAVER, because the name sounded good in my head. It just makes people snicker like BEAVIS AND BUTTHEAD now. It wasn't a porn comic, but more of a TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLE type of book. (For those interested, check out SPACE BEAVER a fansite).

I met Michio Okamura, an inker for a small press comic named SHURIKEN. He was working as a security guard in the building I was working in. I had an after high-school job my senior year, as a bill collector for Citibank Visa. I saw him sketching and he invited me to bring my work over to his place. I showed him my stuff, and out of everything he really liked the 4 pages of SPACE BEAVER done in ballpoint pen on typing paper in my summer school class. He sent them to his publisher and the publisher agreed to publish them, but I'd get no money. I was happy just to be in print, so I began working on my first real comic, with Michio introducing me to Bristol Board, and ink pens, and zip-a-tone.

I had some pages done and took them to a local comic book store, Peninsula Comics in San Mateo, and showed Tibor Sardy. He was either so drunk or so impressed, that he offered to publish my comic, pay me a wage and get it distributed. This was a time in the industry when B&W small press comics were selling like mad because of the TMNT craze and everyone hoping to have the next big thing. So that's where it all began. I wrote and drew whole issues and painted covers. I'd work till 3 am, sleep until 7:30, go to school, go to work right after school, go home and draw. I did this until graduation.
Yeah, I can see you now, dooodling Superman on your notepad while trying to defend someone in a murder trial ...

People like to bring up SPACE BEAVER comics to me at conventions like they're the only ones who ever found a copy warming quarter bins across the country, and try to zing me with it, saying 'Hey remember this?!" I'm not saying it was my best work, but at 17, I was putting out a comic while most of the people I knew were going to keg parties. Because of SPACE BEAVER, which still enjoys a weird, inexplicable small popularity, I began to go to comic cons and meet real artists and get information about the workings of the business. I spent the next 5 years drawing, starving and working to break into main stream comics. I did a variety of comics for companies like ECLIPSE, MALIBU and INNOVATION before landing a job with DC on JUSTICE LEAGUE.

During the 5 years it took you to break into comics did you have a "real" job or did you manage on the salary you got?

I had many "real" jobs. The worst was sweeping floors and shipping oven parts so I could pay rent. I've worked at a variety of fast food places and as a bill collector for Visa. I've also worked a variety of comic related jobs, like packing boxes for DIAMOND distributors and working the counter at a comics store. I also took any art job I could get. I was really hungry and anxious to work mainstream.

What artists have influenced you the most?

Many. Neal Adams, Frank Frazetta, Brian Bolland, Jaime Hernandez, Dave Stevens, Adam Hughes, Kevin Maguire, Moebius, Manara, Libertore, Art Adams, Paul Smith, Kevin Nowlan, Dave Gibbons, David Mazzuchelli, Frank Miller, George Perez, John Romita Sr and Jr, Gil Kane, Joe Kubert, Boris, John Buscema...My list could just keep going.

I learned to draw comics by copying comics. Luckily, I had a desire to be more realistic and it led me to seek out real sources and draw from photographs. I learned so much more about figures and settings and light from drawing from photos. But the storytelling came from the people listed above. I've always been attracted to artists that can be artistic and stylised, Without losing the under-drawing. The figure work is there and solid, no matter how exaggerated. I am repulsed by artists who clearly are drawing other peoples work, half as good, repeating and emphasising their mistakes, and lacking in originality. In the early nineties you'd see that sort of plagerism rampantly, by big name "talent". I'm happy to see a higher standard returning to the medium. Now, if only we could recapture the audience....

What do you think of the comics code and censorship in general?

I am a strong believer in free speech, and freedom of art. It's ridiculous how people will take offense at a comic book but have no problem with the same level of violence and sex in any other medium. There is still a predisposition that comics are for kids only and anything published in that medium is aimed specifically at children.

Coincedentally, I recently worked out a deal with the CBLDF (Comic Book Legal Defense Fund) to do a Spider Jerusalem shirt for them. I believe in what they are fighting for. In many ways comics are small money so retailers are easily bullied and persecuted. There are documented cases of stores having product taken from their shelves without any court order, warrant or trial.
I really believe there needs to be a campaign to promote comics as an industry and remind people they exist.

If all goes as planned the shirt will feature Spider and his middle digit proclaiming "Put this in your comic book!" and the legal defenses logo at the bottom with the proud banner "Fight Censorship". I truly believe the supression of ideas is the most dangerous propaganda tool. When we can experience other points of view through film, art and literature, we have time and space to consider our own. Communication is the most important thing in any civilization.

Got that from my boss the other day, when I told her that she was just pure ignorant and naive she went on the defense saying that she wasnīt but she could offer no explanation.

I had a debate with a woman on an airplane to England who held the same opinion. Never read any comics as an adult, but was sure that somehow adding pictures to words made the words less valid. "I only read books" she said proudly. People that defend their ignorance make me crazy. Like someone saying "Oh yes, I read a book once, it was called "Green Eggs and Ham". It was childish, I don't care for books." Or someone only seeing a movie like "The Adventures of Pippi Longstockings" and saying "Oh, I don't like movies, they're for kids." Americans can't seem to accept that there are different books out there. Now it's becoming that one is considered a nerd for liking comics. Changing the image of the face of comics from a kid to a adult nerd hasn't done much to bring the mass population into retail comic stores.

What projects were those?

We first collaborated on ULTRAFORCE with pre TRANSMET inker Jerome K Moore, for the now defunct MALIBU comics' Ultraverse, then on MAN OF THE ATOM for the now defunct ACCLAIM comics. Then we got together to do TRANSMET for the now defunct HELIX line. Hmmm, do you see a trend here?

How did the look for the City come round?

Warren and I agreed that the future shouldn't look so bleak, that man has a way of correcting his mistakes or at least counter them so people stay alive. I see man as having an unending goal for ultimate comfort. That seems to be what humans aspire to, comfort and security. So the city reflects that. Of course, greed still exists, so people will always be trying to be the first and biggest pig at the trough.

So I imagined the city as a New York tumor growing in America. So big and massive, no one's really sure where the borders are anymore. As if from California to New York, mini malls have popped up and connected all that was land in between, to the point states are more like districts of the teeming city. Even now I can se how any small community is succumbing to the promise of more by the infusion of corporate franchises. Corporations offer the promise of jobs and a sense of connectedness to smaller cities. Eventually, growth will inspire more growth and so on. But there's only so much room, only so much land. With things like Makers, there's less garbage and less strain on resources, so in our future, this kind of unbridled growth could be possible.

You said you envisioned the city as a spreading cancer but how did you manage to make it so wondrous a place? Make it come to life.

Thank you for the compliment. I think the main thing is Warren and I had the same vision of the city, and my vision was that for all it's bad, it's still a place where people live, and people in general don't want to live in a bad place. Plus I see the benefits of technology as well as the problems and no where else is that as evident as in a city. Warren writes about the city with an affection as well as a contempt. I just try to bring his words to vision.

That may be the case but I hope your not making light of what you have done for the book.

I appreciate the compliment, but I know I'd be nothing without Warren's writing. I never would have created Transmet alone.

You wouldnīt be a technocrat or what-you-now-call-it?

Hardly. I have a car and a cell phone, and obviously a computer. I have a microwave and a VCR. Typical shit but I wouldn't say I'm a devotee to technology. I also don't agree that there's anything wrong with technology and progress. Things that work, integrate into our society. We accept them or we don't. If we do, I consider that part of evolution. If something we create destroys us, that too, is part of Humanity's evolution.

Do you agree with Warrenīs America bashing, do you perhaps feel much the same way?

If I felt he was wrong in his criticsm of America or somehow he believed that England was any better I might disagree, but for one, Warren is describing a fictional future America, so anything he dictates as wrong, is, because it's his vision of the future. It's not today. Also, Warren is mostly correct in his criticisms and suspicions. He's more aware of the political structure of America than most Americans.

America is not a perfect country. Like any country it has it's strengths and weaknesses. I'd say it's strength is that it allows a forum for criticism. I'd say that capitalism, not democracy is the reason that America is the strongest and wealthiest nation today. And that's not necessarily a good thing. Inevitably, throughout history, whomever's on top is destined to fall. No one stays on top forever.

The problem is, when America eventually does fall, what is the aftermath going to be like? We have a large, poor, under-educated population that's getting bigger by the day while unbridled corporate growth downsizes and lays off the middle class to the point that we'll have a huge gap between rich and poor. That's the same equation that led to revolution in France and Russia. I believe in the American way, even the American dream. I just don't see that happening in America anymore.

But there are several things, in my opinion, that could apply today in Warrenīs writing.

Sure. He's an informed guy, but to be honest, it's his opinion of situations as he sees them. It's a glass half full or half empty situation.

How do you organize your workload?

Badly. *grin* We've been late on this book since issue #2, so I do the best I can to keep thm coming out monthly and still have a semblence of a normal life. (Normal being relative) I'm a notorious nite-owl. I tend to work from 7 or 8 in the evening until 5 or 6 in the morning, because I'm less likely to be interrupted and can focus more. During the day the phone's ringing, there's problems to tend to, errands to run, you know.

You mainly did superhero comics before TRANSMET. Did you feel that you needed to get out of that genre?

Not needed too. In some ways I didn't feel I was well received in that genre. MARVEL wouldn't offer me a monthly title, regardless of how well I did on mini series or even on my run of NEW WARRIORS. Meanwhile decent characters were given over to the hacks at Mike Deadato's factory. I got sick of seeing inferior work on MARVEL stuff, so I was thrilled at the chance to work at VERTIGO. My friends pointed out that I had always been the one to turn them onto alternative comics even when I was drawing mainstream super hero stuff. So now I'm working on something I would enjoy reading.

The super-hero comics I want to do are inspired by those that raised the bar on the medium, like Alan Moore, and Frank Miller. Those guys showed what you could do with super heros besides give them flashy costumes and one liners.

Unless something dramatically changes, the industry will continue to flounder. The medium, not individual comics, needs to be promoted to the public. We've lost our core audience to Sony Playstation and N64. Why read about Spider-man when you can be Spider-man? If all you get from the comics are cool visuals and fight scenes, well then you get that and even a hodge-podge story from the games. Comics are becoming irrelevant to super-heros. Sadly, I don't think the people at MARVEL, outside of the creative and editorial staff, care about that. They only care about profit.

I think books like TRANSMET and PREACHER are the future, because they reach a new audience. People who like to think while they're being entertained. People who enjoy a challenging story and can discern good from bad without having it spoon fed to them. With VERTIGO books, you're getting a form of entertainment that can't be had anywhere else. Not in a movie, not in a TV show and not in a game. The characters may translate into those mediums, but the comic is the foundation, not incidental.

So you never considered yourself a superhero artist?

Well, I try not to consider myself a "comic book" artist, and try to be just an artist. I don't mean that to sound pretentious. I just feel that the goal should be to produce art, not "Comic book" art. I hear people say that sometimes "It's just comic books" and that pisses me off. It's like it's an excuse to not do good work, and sell shit.

Any ideas as how to improve the future of comics?

Truthfully, yes. Many. I really believe there needs to be a campaign to promote comics as an industry and remind people they exist. The way milk is being pushed as a product. Not "Lambert's milk" or "Fresh Farms" milk, just milk. Promote just comic books in the same way. People take them for granted and I don't think people know that the industry is suffering the way it is. Hollywood turns to comics for new ideas and new properties, so why can't we sell Hollywood numbers? Why aren't there comic book kiosks in the theatre selling the PHANTOM MENACE comics, and maybe other comics that are of like interest? Why are there not copies of the comics available of adaptations, or the source naterial when they make a movie like BLADE? The industry as a whole has done a piss poor job of making itself known and available to the world at large. Right now, comics are considered entertainment solely for Geeks and children. Most people don't want to be indentified as either.

You ever think of self-publishing if you hadnīt made it mainstream?

Yes, quite often. There are times when I feel that Warren and I would have an even more intense and insane book if we didn't fall under DC's increasing timidity and cautiousness. We've been censored almost every issue on something and that's been frustrating at times. Warren's really pushing the edge but at the same time, PREACHER seems to get away with more than we do.

Garth Ennis has attributed the "freedom" PREACHER has to the fact that they warned DC before hand.

I don't think that's any excuse to censor us so heavily. As a result, Warren has quit HELLBLAZER and I'm having my art censored every issue. I hate that DC can't see that we need to shock as long as it's significant to the story. People are so closed minded about comics, we need to blow their minds open with stuff they'd never even see in movies, much less in comics.

Care to name any other authors that you would like to work with?

Garth Ennis, Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, Jamie Delano, Stephen King, Irvine Welsh, to name some.

In what manner would you like to work with Stephen King?

I would like to adapt something like THE STAND or IT for VERTIGO as a limited but ongoing series and really bring out the nuance of the story that can't seem to be captured on TV or in film. He love's comics, but he doesn't work with them.

And what about Irvine Welsh books into comics?

My dream is to adapt THE ACID HOUSE short stories into comics. God, I would love that. I'd dance around my room the day I hear that will happen.

Have you started on that yet or is it something to think about after TRANSMET?

It's just a dream at this point. I don't even know where to begin in getting the permission to do such a thing or if DC could afford him.

Would you rather be doing TRANSMET as a series of tpbīs or in the present format?

In some ways I feel we already are doing it as a series of TPB's. I was told that DC intends to collect the whole series eventually, assuming the sales stay up. Most people I know have discovered it through the collection, not the monthly title. I like the monthly income and steady work, but sometimes I wish the monthly deadlines weren't there so I could put even more into each page.

Do you think that the American market could learn from the way the Japanese work?

I think we already have as far as production and style go. There's more Manga in mainstream American comics than ever before. Unfortunately America has failed to inspire any new readers of the format, and still thinks comics are children's reading on the whole.

What do you think of manga/anime?

Some of it I think is amazing, other stuff just looks crappy to me. Movies like AKIRA and GHOST IN THE SHELL, DRAGONBALL Z and TANK POLICE were great, but this POKEMON craze I don't get. Of course I loved SPEED RACER and KIMBA as a kid and didn't even know they were Japanese cartoons. They were just cartoons to me.

Have you seen NEON GENESIS EVANGELION? The best anime I have ever seen and possibly the best ever.

No, but thanks for the recommendation.

As the artist on TRANSMET what do you have to say about the movie which has been considered for a long time now?

I hope it gets made and done well and that everyone goes to see it and they make 10 sequels, each one better than the one before and that I get to work on each one of them. Other than that I can't say much at this point. It's all talk right now. Warren's writing a screenplay and we have an interested party of some notable significance in the entertainment world who says he wants it, but until the screenplay's done, we wait.

Will you be creative consultant?

It's all talk. As of now, yes, I will be involved with the production.

Pro censorship groups say that the entertainment medium is the reason for growing violence but if you have a look at Japanīs entertainment industry where violence is extremely common that does not seem to be the case.

I agree. In Japan, they see all the violence want, but it's fake. It's special effects or animation and they don' feel guilty or bad for watching that stuff. There's no shame placed on considering violent thoughts. The physical reality is they sit and watch, no one is getting hurt when something on a screen is exploding.
Suppressing art and music is like an ostrich sticking it's head in the sand for protection.

The suppression of ideas is the what leads to a violent outburst. I was just saying that how strange it is to realize that Hitler wanted to be a painter, but was refused his place in art school, and I just found out through a Brian Wilson (of the Beach Boys) biography on A&E that Charles Manson was an aspiring singer and musician. I just think of all the people who would not have died had these two individuals found a way to be busy with their art and express their violent beliefs through art and music rather than through the means they were left to. Everyone has a voice and everyone gets angry, just because we don't want to hear or know of someone's dark thoughts, doesn't make them go away. Suppressing art and music is like an ostrich sticking it's head in the sand for protection. Ed Munch and Vincent Van Gogh had dark thoughts and through their art created masterpieces from them. Violence in our culture is a fact that goes back through time. Human beings are still apes trying to work out living together in an increasingly smaller world. As there becomes less for everybody, the more violent we will become.

Do you believe that a stricter censorship bill will cause more incidents in America and that it may spread?

Yes, because I think people will act out more and do so for attention. The more they make something "bad" the worse people will try to be for that 15 minutes of media glory. Art is becoming a pretentious word and people who claim to be artists are scoffed at. We haven't seen the emergence of an artist of Warhol's caliber since he coined the phrase "15 minutes of fame". 20 years, that's shameful. Celebrity artist are somehow not available to the world of Multimedia. Ironic, don't you think?

Do you have any comics series that you favor at the moment? Could you name a few and perhaps also why?

PREACHER, because it is consistently well drawn and written and always different from anything else I've ever read.

Do things you see in everyday life contribute to TRANSMET?

Oh, entirely. I draw things into the backgrounds based on what I may be watching at that moment, or something strange I see in the street. I try to imagine our world with more and that's a challenge.

Do you share Warrenīs fascination with Hunter S Thompson?

Yes, I think so. I've read his biography and a couple of his books. I think he's fascinating and definitely the best thing to come out of the 70's. The most profound voice of that generation and still crazy today. I loved that the film version of FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, as brilliant as it was, bombed in the theaters. HST is still too cool for the masses. I think the most flattering thing I've seen recently was an entire web page devoted to TRANSMET on the Hunter S Thompson web site, singing it's praises.

What do you think of European comics?

They're better artistically than most American comics. They don't crossover well to American audiences sadly. When I lived in Italy I was a big fan of DYLAN DOG and NATHAN NEVER. DARK HORSE reprinted those here recently and I haven't heard any reaction.

How would you describe Spider Jerusalem?

I don't need to, I draw my description every month!

I guess that's not the answer you're looking for, so okay, here's my take on Spider: Spider is a good person. It's hard to see through all his anger, but his anger is born of a struggling altruism that is constantly bombarded by the bullshit of politics and religion. I identify with his anger but am not nearly as brave or eloquent as Spider. He's insane, but only relatively. He's a loyal friend with a bad temper. He probably smells bad, he's probably hard to be around but missed in his absence. He tells the truth and that can be uncomfortable to those that don't want to hear it.

A few of the Vertigo writers have stated that they were into recreational drugs. Have you ever been into drugs and what do you think of them in general?

I've experimented with LSD and Ecstasy and came out the other side just fine and feeling enlightened. I have never been addicted to anything or used any drug on a basis regularly to the point I've had any problem with them. I don't advocate regular drug use, but I would advocate experience over assumption and fear. I feel I have benefited from my experimentation and those experiences were some of the happiest memories of my young adulthood.

I won't ever do anything stupid like Crack or Heroin, but I do wonder what it would be like. I also wonder what it would be like to leap off a building, but I can see the end result and resist the urge. I like to drink with my friends, I like wine, and I like pot. I don't think Marijuana should be illegal, but I understand why it is. I just don't agree with the hypocrisy of legal cigarettes and alcohol, but illegal marijuana. I feel with Pot, it's more like the prohibition that we saw in the 20's with alcohol. So many people openly enjoy and use it, and scientifically it's been proven to do more good than harm, but yet it's criminalized.

Like alcohol, I think it should be regulated to require ID for age and supervised in it's use (Amsterdam is a good example of a pot tolerant society) but in America, we have a lot of ex-military people with nothing to do since the end of the cold war arm's race. As a result, career military men are going to work for the police and private sector. The war on drugs gives them something to fight. As a result, we are over filling our prisons with people who's only crime was growing a plant and smoking it and selling it to their friends so they could smoke it, meanwhile letting violent criminals and sex offenders go free.

Were pot legalized, like it's being fought for in California, we could focus on the the more destructive drug criminals that sell addictive drugs like crack, heroin and cocaine, and ruin nighborhoods in the process of setting up shop. These drugs clearly ruin people's lives, but since it happens to the lowest class, no one really cares. Pot is not addictive in and of itself. People that become addicted to pot will become addicted to anything; junk food, alcohol, sex. I know many people who use pot occasionally, even daily, and still function at a high level of efficency. European's seem to have a better attitude towards the drug problem than American's. Especially the Nordic countries, like Holland. I think there's much more to the drug "problem" than we actually see. Prozac and other mind affecting chemical drugs are somehow okay, but marijuana, an all natural plant that needs no processing, isn't. But that's the rub, isn't it? If people were allowed to grow their own medication and stimulant, why would those people go to a doctor for Prozac, or to a bar to drink?

I believe that in America there's a movement of heavy propaganda, financed by the very wealthy alcoholic beverages companies that scare people about drugs but provide very little information about the postive aspects, which do exist. Unfortunately, to admit them would mean admitting that the government was wrong and that destroys people's faith in the way things are. That is the real threat.

The problem now is that young people see through the lies, and yet don't have all the facts to know the truth, so they experiment for themselves. Some of these kids have addictive personalities, some of these kids have emottinal trouble from being neglected in a 2 income family that has no time for them, and drugs fill that gap. Drugs are an easier scape goat and problem to tackle than the reality of things.

I believe drugs are a symptom of the disease, not the disease itself. Greed and unbridled capitalism without social awareness or concern for the well being of the community is more to blame. Everyone can't be number one. It's impossible and a pointless goal. We have down-sizing and corporate growth and a loss of industry like never before and there is a growing canyon between the rich and the poor, a decimation of the middle class, all the while the television preaches "Buy Buy Buy! Can't aford it? Charge it! Go deeper into debt! Work forever and own nothing!" It's frightening. Public schools are falling apart, kids are taking guns to school and killing people, teachers are paid almost nothing for a noble job and the arts are being phased out as a necessary thing to learn. And we wonder why teen pregnancy and drug use is a problem.

Geez, that was a rant almost worthy of Spider. See why I love working on this book? That's the truth.

Arni Gunnarsson is a founding member of PopImage. He now runs NextComics, launching soon.

PopImage would like to thank Karon Flage for the photo of Darick that appears near the top of this article. - Online Comics, coming soon. - Darick Robertson's Homepage.
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