Friday, December 30, 2016

Art That Moved Me in 2016

Robert Boyd

I included three art things that I saw in 2016 in Houston and vicinity in Glasstire's "Best of 2016" list. To narrow it down to those three, I had to start from a larger list. It was hard to choose the final three--indeed, my top three changed several times.

In the Glasstire list, I included

Various works by JooYoung Choi in various Houston venues
Pat Palermo's Galveston Drawing Diary by Pat Palermo
The Color of Being/ El Color del Ser: Dorothy Hood (1918-2000) at the Art Museum of South Texas

The Glasstire list has a lot of good exhibits that made my long list. I don't want to repeat their work, so here is a brief list of events I liked that Glasstire included in their long list:
Andy Campbell, PoMo Houston Bus Tour
Jamal Cyrus, Untitled, 2010 
Joey Fauerso, A Soft Opening at David Shelton, Houston
As Essential as Dreams: Self-Taught Art from the Collection of Stephanie and John Smither, The Menil Collection

And here are the some more that I liked that did not make the Glasstire list:

Holy Barbarians: Beat Culture on the West Coast at the Menil featuring John Altoon, Wallace Berman, Bruce Conner, Jay DeFeo, George Herms and Edward Keinholz.

Part of the reason I was so intrigued by this inventory exhibit was because I recently read Welcome to Painterland: Bruce Conner and the Rat Bastard Protective Association by Anastasia Aukeman. This book dealt with most of the artists in the exhibit--a group of San Francisco artists who mostly lived in the same apartment building, along with beat poet Michael McClure. We don't think of the beat movement has having a visual arts component mainly because for a long time, artists like Jay DeFeo and George Herms were ignored by art history. They were out of the mainstream art-historical narrative that was built up in the 60s and 70s, plus they didn't particularly want to be lumped into the beat category. Connor actively resisted it because in his view, "beat" had become a derogatory term used by the mass media to exploit their thing. Furthermore, few of these artists tried very hard to get noticed. They didn't care about being in museums or high-end galleries. All the galleries in San Francisco where they showed their work were small-scale artist-run spaces that lasted a few years at most then disappeared.

George Herms, Greet the Circus with a Smile, 1961,  mannequin torso, salvaged wood, feathers, tar, cement, cloth, plant material, paint, crayon, ink, paper, photographs, metal, plastic, glass, cord, mirror, electrical light fixture, and phonograph tone-arm, 68 × 28 1/2 × 20 in.

The odd men out in this collection are Kienholz--who really was a beatnik of sorts but much more ambitious than DeFeo or Berman--and Altoon, who lived like a beatnik but never was, as far as I can determine, associated with the movement.

In addition to showing a bunch of extremely choice artworks, it also shows several issues of Wallace Berman's early poetry and art publication Semina. Each issue was printed with letterpress on unbound slips of paper. It was truly a 'zine avant la lettre

The exhibit will be up until March 12, 2017.

Jay DeFeo, Untitled (cross), 1953, wood, cloth, plaster, synthetic resin, and nails, 28 1/2 × 16 1/2 × 4 in. 

Earl Staley designs for Faust at the Houston Grand Opera. These designs (sets, backdrops and costumes) were originally created by Staley in 1985. He was traveling in Italy and Greece at the time when the HGO contacted him. All his work for it was done abroad. The painted scrims are done in Staley's expressionist style which works wonderfully for this old warhorse. Every few years these costumes and sets are pulled out of storage and performed somewhere--for example, they were used for an Atlanta production in 2014.

The photo below is of the scrim you see before the opening and between acts. It looks a bit washed out compared to the real thing--it's hard to photograph, apparently. The sets had intense color and deep shadows. This infernal scrim was a remarkable depiction of hell and Satan.

Earl Staley, scrim in the original 1985 production of Faust (courtesy of Earl Staley)

Sharp by Havel+Ruck in Sharpstown.

I wrote about this work in Glasstire. If you haven't seen it, they're tearing it down January 1. (Might be worth a trip to Sharpstown to see it town down.)

Sharp by Havel+Ruck

Faith Wilding at UHCL.

I wrote about this exhibit in Glasstire. Nice show in an unexpected location.

Faith Wilding, Flow, 2010-2016, chemistry vessels, cheesecloth, water, ink

Statements at MFAH featuring Mequitta Ahuja, Nick Cave, Glenn Ligon, Kara Walker, John Biggers, Elizabeth Catlett, Melvin Edwards, Loretta Pettway, Louise Ozell Martin, Gordon Parks, Ernest C. Withers, Lonnie Holley, Jean Lacy, Thornton Dial, Sr., Jesse Lott, Dawolu Jabari Anderson, Michael Ray Charles, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Robert Pruitt, Mark Bradford,  and Tierney Malone. This inventory exhibit got a certain amount of criticism for not having a very interesting curatorial idea. The only thing the artists necessarily had in common was that they were African American. Sure, you'd like an exhibition to have a stronger theme than "here's a bunch of stuff we had in storage by African American artists", but the pieces they displayed were really exciting. The show might not have been greater than the sum of its parts, but did it need to be when the parts were this good?

Dawolu Jabari Anderson, Twinkle Twinkle Little Tar, 2009, 72 x 48 inches, latex, acrylic, pen and ink on paper

What I especially liked was the inclusion of Houston area artists, like Dawolu Jabari Anderson, Robert Pruitt, Trenton Doyle Hancock and Tierney Malone. In a show like this, you expect a clever Glenn Ligon, a striking Nick Cave, a powerful Thornton Dial, etc. But when it makes me feel good to see the local guys work side by side with such giants.

ILYB, Head

I Love You Baby at GalleryHOMELAND, Gspot and Cardoza Gallery.

I Love You Baby (ILYB) was an artist collective started officially in 2002 but unofficially in 1992. It consisted of Paul Kremer, Rodney Chinelliot, Will Bentsen, Chris Olivier and Dale Stewart and included occasional collaborators. They had a three-venue retrospective called We’ve Made a Huge Mistake at Gallery Homeland, Gspot and Cardoza Gallery. I reviewed it and interviewed the surviving members for Glasstire.

ILYB, Boot Face

Michael Tracy, August #2, 2013-2015, Acrylic on cavas over wood, 54 x 48 

Michael Tracy at Hiram Butler

This was a very small exhibit--four almost monochromatic canvases--two mostly black and two (like the one above) mostly orange. My knowledge of Michael Tracy's work is quite limited--I've seen a catalog from a P.S. 1 show, Terminal Privileges, and a book from 1992 showing images and writings about a 1990 performance, The River Pierce: Sacrifice II. I'd never seen work of his in person until I saw this show. Tracy had done monochromatic canvases before (as seen in Terminal Privileges), so that part wasn't a surprise. And his performances seem ritualistic and shamanistic, not unlike Yves Klein's, so the existence of monochromatic paintings has perhaps a connection to the void or the infinite.

But these paintings, as well as a series of painted drawings that Mr. Butler showed me, feel like very specific objects instead of representations of abstract ideas. It was ultimately that specificity that appealed to me.

Katie Mulholland, Mad Rad, acrylic on canvas, 20 x 20 inches

Kate Mulholland, Apocalypse Dreams at Scott Charmin.

Kate Mulholland's paintings are created by building paint up then sanding it down, over and over, to create images similar to topographic maps.  I saw her show at the Scott Charmin gallery early this year and was so taken by these paintings that I bought the one shown above, Mad Rad. The red and blue parts are so close in value that they vibrate slightly (an effect impossible to capture in a photo). The title made me think of rads as a measure of doses of absorbed radiation. I don't know if that occurred to Mulholland when she titled it Mad Rad, but when I see it, it feels like I am looking at dangerous, radioactive chemicals.

Emily Peacock, Your Middle Class is Showing, 2016, archival inkjet print mounted on aluminum

Emily Peacock, User's Guide to Family Business at Beefhaus.

I was up in Dallas to see Jim Nolan's show Welcome Stranger (which was quite enjoyable), and Beefhaus across the street was showing Peacock's User's Guide to Family Business. The pieces in the show, which were made from a variety of media above and beyond Peacock's signature photography, all dealt with death and mortality--specifically with the death of Peacock's mother.

I you had (as I have) been following her work for years (since at least 2011, when I saw work by her in the UH MFA show), you would have seen Peacock's mother and other family members guest-starring in her photos. Whether recreating Diane Arbus pictures or posing as Mary with Peacock as Jesus in Pieta poses, her mother has been a major subject of Peacock's work, and a major collaborator.

But then she died. This show touches on that in various ways. For the Groundbreaking Ceremony is a very black shovel leaning against a wall. Its blackness is achieved by flocking (I suspect that if she could have gotten her hands on some Vantablack, she would have used that instead). In her photo Your Middle Class is Showing, Peacock has taken a picture of her own belly sunburned so that the words "Middle Class" are spelled out in un-sunburned skin. On one hand it's witty--it plays with skin color and by using old English style letters, recalls low-rider lettering. But as I looked at it, I also thought of mortification of the flesh, practices of early Christians to subjugate their sinful flesh. Could deliberately burning herself be a sign of guilt? Whatever the motive, the image is one that stays with you.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Some Thoughts about Degas

Virginia Billeaud Anderson

Several times in the past, dumb luck placed before me exceptional scholarship on the art of Degas. It happened years ago when I heard Theodore Reff lecture in New York, and again in October when MFAH’s Gary Tinterow and the Louvre’s Henri Loyrette opened “Degas: A New Vision,” and made available to me their exhibition catalogue.

It happened again the evening MFAH invited George Shackelford to lecture on Degas’s personal relationships. To use the artist’s relationships as a spring board to his art, was bound to make a juicy topic, Degas could be strange, an old fruitcake at times, correspondence indicates that in later years he had become insufferable. His prickliness must have accounted for Director Tinterow’s somewhat giddy introduction, “I can’t wait to hear what George has to say.”

Shackelford traced the art across years and locations and identified the individual family members, friends, and acquaintances in Degas’s paintings. His presentation deepened my understanding of At the Races (1869), an elegantly rendered “horse” painting which exemplifies Degas’s desire to capture modern life by depicting the Paul Valpinçon family in their carriage at the racecourse with a horse race taking place in the distance. Madame Valpinçon leans to shield from the sun with her umbrella their infant son Henri, whose tiny mouth is several inches from his wet nurse’s exposed tit. Scrutinizing the maternal activity from the front of the carriage are Monsieur Paul and Paul’s excited dog, the tight back muscles of which are so anatomically precise they practically twitch. In this early painting Degas eliminated the bottom portion of the carriage wheels and horse hooves from the picture plane, skewed perspective which set the tone for compositional irregularity. Foreshortening, off-centering and irregular spacing would continue to characterize his work.

As Shackelford had fun with his topic, I was struck by how purposefully Degas employed descriptive brush handling and unexpected composition. He had been guided by the Goncourt Brother’s directive to precisely portray life with a “living, human, inward line.” Although I haven’t read the Goncourt’s writings since graduate school, I do recall that Edmond Goncourt called Degas sickly and nervous and more skilled in capturing the essence of modern life than anyone he knew, and Jules Goncourt succumbed to the pox.

Edgar Degas, A Cotton Office in New Orleans, oil on canvas, 29 x 36 inches

My debauched Louisiana upbringing has me partial to paintings Degas made while he was in New Orleans, so it was exciting to encounter A Cotton Office in New Orleans in MFAH’s exhibition and in Shackelford’s discussion. The 1873 painting illustrates, among other figures in the office, Degas’s New Orleans uncle and mother’s brother, Michel Musson, who is seated in the foreground, and Degas’s two brothers, René, who reads the newspaper, and Achille, who leans against the window. The brothers had relocated to New Orleans from Paris to work with their uncle as importers and exporters of cotton. It’s probably dumb to try to isolate a focal point in a de-centered composition, but I vote for the “Times Picayune” newspaper in the hands of the exceedingly relaxed René, although some art historians would chose the messy waste basket. It’s possible my selection is influenced by having had my picture on the front page of that newspaper (holding a glass of bourbon.)

Degas’s brother René behaved disgracefully. After marrying his New Orleans cousin Estelle Musson, the low life abandoned her and their six children and ran off to Paris with Madame Olivier, a family friend from the Esplanade neighborhood. This was despite the fact that Estelle was blind. In the New Orleans Museum of Art there is a lovely portrait of Estelle painted by Degas when she was expecting their fourth child, for whom Degas served as godfather.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Fire Codes

Robert Boyd

On Friday night, December 2, an artists' warehouse/performance space known as Ghost Ship in Oakland, California, caught fire and burned. There was a large crowd present for an event hosted by a Los Angeles record label, 100% Silk. As of now, there are 33 reported deaths.

The interior of Ghost Ship from their Tumblr

Apparently the one staircase leading to the 2nd floor (where most of the people were gathered) was made of wooden pallets. The warehouse has been described as "maze-like, stuffed with furniture, objects, and artworks." I read this and thought of the many art spaces I have been in for which that description applies. For example, the great Fort Thunder in Providence, RI--if a fire had started there, it would have blazed up quickly and killed many. The artists there lived in rooms made of plywood they had built for themselves--they were like highly flammable coffins. But fortunately, nothing like that ever happened.

This past summer, I was researching the Commerce Street Artists Warehouse, which was established in 1985 at 2315 Commerce St. in a neighborhood of abandoned and underused structures. CSAW was a vast warehouse that had long been abandoned. It had holes in the roof and a large mostly undivided interior. As soon as artists started moving in, they started building walls to delineate their own studios.

"I built the first wall in the hallway. I was right in the front and people would come into the building and they were right there in my studio," said Nestor Topchy, one of the earliest residents of CSAW. "It funneled people into the core of the building and into the very back performance space."

Deborah Moore, one of the founders of CSAW, told me, "Virgil Grotfeldt did the first walls" which shows the unreliability of memory! "They were aluminum studs, and he built them in one day. I got home from work one day and there's the first studio. He did his and I think he did Marcy Hardin's too. And they just continued from there."

"Each wall was built by somebody else," she added. "Some walls were more impressive than other walls. No code inspection. Nestor built his walls on wheels, which was brilliant, but he got this black stuff that looked like sheet rock. From inside the studio, looking at it, it was like this lovely black sheet rock. It looked great. On the back side that faced into the hallway, it was stamped with big red letters--'Flammable! Caution!' So everybody who walked by had to see that!"

CSAW was well known for big events--plays, bands playing, performance events, etc.

 Scott Gilbert, "The Whole Story" page 1 (unpublished) , pen and ink, 1991

And in retrospect, it's only a certain amount of luck that kept CSAW from becoming a Ghost Ship-style tragedy.

Ad hoc art spaces are important to art scenes. To use a term popularized the year that CSAW was formed, they are "Temporary Autonomous Zones." Hakim Bey wrote, "The strike is made at structures of control." But what if that "control" includes fire codes? In Dallas in recent months, several events at art spaces have been shut down by the fire department for failing to meet code. In Christina Rees's editorial about the situation, she wrote, "To any hesitant attendees: this is the nature of DIY events and it always has been. Buck up and deal with it. Don’t miss the interesting stuff just because a room is a potential fire trap." But after the Ghost Ship fire, I would not discount anyone's fears in this regard.

If you run an art space and you don't have a certificate of occupancy or whatever your local fire department requires, at least keep your place clean and uncluttered by flammable detritus, have your exits marked in some way and have more than one, and have some fire extinguishers around. It's your responsibility to keep people who visit your building safe.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Scott Gilbert Interview

Robert Boyd

In preparation for the exhibit, True Artist Tales at the Galveston Artist Residency, I conducted a long interview with artist Scott Gilbert. We put about half of it in the catalog. I hated to cut so much out, but had to for space reasons. So I decided to print the whole thing here. Please note some of the art shown here are photos of Gilbert's original art, and some are photos taken from the art published in the Public News and Houston Press--that's why there is such a wide variance in the quality of the images. The reason for this is that at a certain point, Gilbert started lettering his strips electronically. The original art doesn't have the electronic lettering on it, but in many cases below I wanted to show the lettered strips.

I spoke with Gilbert at his house in Conroe, Texas--a distant northern suburb of Houston.

Robert Boyd: Your background in comics and art. You went to high school in Tampa?

Scott Gilbert: Yes. I was in Tampa from like 1974 to 79 or 80. During this time I went through elementary school and the whole of high school.

Robert: What year were you born?

Scott: 1961.

In Tampa, I was already into comics. It was the ‘70s so there was a very heavy nerd comicbook fan culture. All my friends were into that. I told you earlier that I was in a Star Trek fan club. That was a big deal because it was a huge club at that time. The original Star Trek was huge. We did cons (conventions). I eventually formed my own science fiction club because I’ve always been a snob. I looked down on the Star Trek fans, so I formed a “real” science fiction club. And that went pretty well. That was just me and a group of friends from high school and some people we picked up along the way. We ended up going to cons and showing movies. We published a zine—a couple of issues. A little half-sized thing. So I was an intense, regular, white boy, comicbook nerd growing up there.

Art, fine art or anything hadn’t really entered the picture. I had all these pretensions, though. The “truth” was out there beyond. There was always something beyond what was really apparent to me. What was right in front of me, like the comics were right in front of me. Heavy Metal music was right in front of me. And TV and movies. Even theater. Some of my friends were theater nerds, too. I had a friend who went to Hollywood. He’s in Hollywood now. He’s a writer, a playwright. He’s done pretty well.

Laurie Anderson, Let X=X flexi-disc in Artforum February 1982 

In 1980, we moved to San Antonio. I started college at UTSA. I went into the art program there. Did all the basic drawing, basic photography, basic printmaking and all that stuff. A little bit of art history. That’s where I really glommed onto the idea of fine art. Artforum was really banging it out right then. The Neoexpressionist thing started then. It was just really cool. And punk rock had caught up to us as well. Like Laurie Anderson, her flexidisc in Artforum--that was a big deal to everybody. Lou Stathis was doing music reviews in Heavy Metal and he was talking about things like Brian Eno and Can. Stuff I had never been exposed to. It just blew my mind. And RAW came out then. I thought, wow, this is it. These are people who are really taking the art route with their comics. And I just saw that as a destination.

Kaz, cover of Raw #8, 1986

I was showing you my juvenilia. I was still doing superhero designs. I still had ideas to become like a mainstream penciler or something for a living. But that never really went anywhere. One of my drawing professors at UTSA told me I should just move to New York. He said it this way: “It’s like joining the Army. It’ll toughen you up!” I was petrified of that thought.

I did two years at UTSA, and my parents split up. My mom went back to Florida and I decided to go with her (although I was over 18 by then). I ended up going back there and started working full-time and going to school at the University of South Florida in their art department concentrating very much on printmaking. It was a really good program.

I was working really hard. Working full-time and going back to school, and Mom eventually moved to central Florida. That’s when we split. I moved in with a roommate near USF and worked in a Pizza Hut, doing fan stuff. All my fan friends were still around. One of them had opened up a comic book store. I used to hang out there constantly. It was a nice, friendly environment. Non-stop work.

I graduated in the summer of 1984. I was looking around at grad school. I got ahold of a brochure for the University of Houston that showed the Lawndale complex in photographs, and I was like, yeah—this looks good. And my dad had moved to Houston at that point. So I ended up moving back in with him, here, in Houston.

I started trying to get into the grad program. I didn’t get in at first. There was a post-baccalaureate study for a year that was kind of them feeling me out. The way that program went, they were really tight. At least the painting people were really tight. And I was going to go into painting because the printmaking department at UH was kind of dire, kind of tiny. They groomed their students from undergraduates to get into the graduate program there.

I started working there and they got to know me. And with the exception of Gael Stack, they liked me. I got in with the crew at Lawndale, this core of young artists that included Paul Kittelson and Noah Edmondson. The Commerce Street Artists Warehouse people had just come out of that program, so I got tangled up with them as well. And they started up the Art Car thing, and were involved in The Orange Show. It was an intense period because I had been working constantly, just struggling along. Then things kind of lightened up. I allowed myself to have my “wild years”. I got a job at Rice University working in the library then, too. Part time. I ended up working there off and on for 20 years.

Robert: You started True Artist Tales as a grad student. That was a class project?

Scott: Yes. You could take two independent study courses. You get a faculty member who agrees to guide you through a particular course of study. For a lot of students, it would just be a group of paintings or a major project. So my faculty member was Derek Boshier. Derek is a very special person. Great artist and a tremendous mind. He had such a history. He was a pop artist—one of the major pop artists. He was from England and that was exotic. He was friends with David Bowie. He knew Joe Strummer. He knew everybody. He’d tell these stories. But he had a great head for art. He really, really knew it. He was very much into pushing yourself, opening your mind up, looking into different possibilities, trying to do anything you can to get the art out.

Derek Boshier and Christopher Logue, Sex War Sex Cars Sex, poster, 1968

My thing with him was, he knew I liked comics. We had had an interesting class with him before that where you would produce a book, a film and a set of paintings. From the Super 8 film and the book I did for that class, he knew I did narrative work. He knew from talking to me that I liked comics. For this independent study, the thing was that I would create a comic strip—and it had to be of quality—and also it was required that I get it published somewhere.

Robert: At that point, Public News had been running for a few years, right?

Scott: Yes. I think they started in 1984. This was in 1987, 88.

So I get the first five I’d drawn to the Public News. I knew some of the people there peripherally. The editor at that time was Jane Ludlum who is also the wife of Kevin Cunningham (then theater director at Diverse Works Gallery and one of the founders of the Commerce Street Artists Warehouse) but she’s a poet and editor. She’s now up in New York—she’s been there for 30-some years being an editor professionally. She’s really nice and happily for me, I plunked down the four or five samples I had done, on her desk; she looked them over and said, “These are great! We’ll run them.”

Robert: They were all art related.

Scott: They were all art related. That was what True Artist Tales originally was about. True stories, anecdotes, satires of the people I knew in the local art scene.

Robert: So where were you living when you started True Artist Tales?

Scott: When I first moved to town I was living in the Fondren Southwest part of Houston. Sharpstown. I was living with my dad. We moved over to Alief. I lived with him for about a year and a half. In about 1987, I moved in with a fellow student Linn Swartz and it was in this house in the First Ward on Summer Street. It was that complex that was owned by Earl Staley. He was my landlord. That was an amusing situation. He had me and Linn and Ron Hoover lived right next to us in another bungalow. And James Bettison lived in a garage apartment behind Earl’s place. And then Derek Boshier’s studio was right next door to us. So it was this nice little cluster. I was there about a year.

I decided to move out on my own because I was not getting along with Linn too well, though we’re still pals today. I ended up moving to the East End. I got a cheap garage apartment there. That was a little bleak. That was the first time living on my own. It was a rough psychological thing. I was reading a lot of Weirdo at the time; that informed my whole existence.

I ended up bouncing around the East End for the next three years. Living in cheap places. I had another roommate, Henry Sanchez, a painter and now an environmental activist artist. And finishing up the graduate degree—trying to finish the graduate degree. I went through the mill. I had an MFA graduate show at the Blaffer—I was in that with my whole cohort. I thought that was it. I thought I was going to get my sheepskin and I was done.

Robert: So what happened?

Scott: I ended up moving to the Village of Cottage Grove there on the West End of the Heights through contacts I had into a cheap rental house. I was out of school, finally. It was the first time I’d been out of school in my life. It felt great. To be able to just work. To just bear down and work work work. And I rejected painting. I decided that comics is it. I don’t need this gallery thing. I don’t need all that.

My comic by this time was being printed regularly. I was hitting this audience of thousands of people as opposed to a gallery show where if you’re lucky 300 people see it. 100 maybe. So I just rejected fine art as a structure. Gallery art. And dove into comics. I did a few more things here and there, like that installation at The Art Guy’s studio. And I was still friends with everybody. It was a very good social scene.

Robert: But what about the degree?

Scott: All of a sudden I get a call from this guy. I can’t remember his name. He was at UH and he’d taken over the graduate student advisor position from Ed Hill. Ed Hill is part of MANUAL. Good guy. This guy tells me you’re not going to graduate because you didn’t fulfill the course work. You need to take a few more courses. I was like, what the fuck?! Because I’m not an idiot, you know. I read all the course catalogs and saw everything I was supposed to take and I sure as hell did the work. And I was just like, fuck you! Fuck it! I don’t need this degree. I’m going to work. And that was that. And all that was left was my debt. And I had the bad example of Julian Schnabel.

Robert: Maybe after this show they’ll give you an honorary MFA.

Scott: Right! At that time, I didn’t believe in teaching art, either. That was the best reason to get the degree—to teach art. It just didn’t seem right for me. But now…

Robert: It’s worked out pretty good for people like Kittelson…

Scott: Liz Ward.

Robert: Yeah.

Scott: I had taught and now I’m a faculty member at a community college. I did teaching as a graduate student. I taught drawing. That was a good experience.

Robert: Some questions about the art scene. Noah Edmundson?

Scott: He was an undergrad. He is and was a character. He was from Tennessee; I forget whether he was from Memphis or Nashville. Really Southern character. He was an oil field welder. He was just this gross cracker, lecherous hound of a guy. And he’s very funny. He was working the sculpture at Lawndale in their bay. He had all this crazy shit there. He wasn’t part of Commerce Street, but he did get a huge studio. It was an old machine shop just opposite Poppa Burger. It was rough and rugged. He would sleep on the floor on a mattress in this unheated place.

Scott Gilbert, "Honest Edmundson", published April 8, 1988 in The Public News

Robert: He was the subject of one of your earliest True Artist Tales.

Scott: He’s now curator at the art car museum. He is a dear friend of mine. He showed me the way to be a Houston artist—drink lots of beer and be a character. And I got to make fun of the art cars.

There were so many people. There was this core of really interesting, talented, funny people. Including Kittelson, the Art Guys, Jackie Harris and so many others. It was a natural thing for me to put these guys into comic stories because I read the scene that way. It was like a comic. It was like narrative to me. That’s how I interpret things anyway.

Robert: Walter Hopps?

Scott: He was somebody I knew from afar. I hadn’t even met him when I put him in the comic, but I knew of his history. He was a mythic figure.

Scott Gilbert, True Artist Tales featuring Nick Duchamp, Art Dick page 8, published November 9, 1988 in Public News

Robert: Did he ever respond to the comic strip?

Scott: He did. I did actually finally meet him at a party or something and I got introduced as the “True Artist Tales” guy. And he came over and said, “Oh Yeah! That was great!” He was so happy about being in the strip!

Robert: He wasn’t bummed out about being the villain?

Scott: He totally wasn’t.

Robert: Your two man show with Don Kennel at On Waugh?

Scott: It was north of Gray about halfway to Allen Parkway. It was one of those old quadruplexes. It was run by three or four people. Ted Brown, who was a bartender and a painter. A couple of women. It was just a nice little gallery and a lot of people showed there. Painters like myself. Don was my best buddy then. Don’s a sculptor and real nature boy, I call him. He was from Wyoming. A tall, gangly dude. Real funny. He’s out in New Mexico now and he’s doing quite well doing public art. He’s involved with Meow Wolf. He’s not one of them, but he’s contributed artwork to that.

Our show was sculptures by him and paintings and drawings by me. It was just your basic two-man show. The funny thing in that show was that I had done a painting on a plastic yellow canoe that I found in the trash next to Interstate 45. I did an abstract painting on it. We hung it vertically from the roof in front of the gallery. The night of the opening, Hurricane Gilbert hit.

Robert: How perfect.

Scott: It caused the canoe to be slammed against the front of the building over and over and over. It was destroying the building so they cut it down.

Robert: Who was David Kidd?

Scott: David Kidd is still around. He’s back, actually, from New York. He spent many years in New York. He was a Lawndale product. Not a graduate student—an undergraduate. He’s from here. He was a good buddy. I took over that house in Cottage Grove from him. He just kind of ceded it to me when he took off on a cross-country trip on in his VW van. He only got to California when he wrecked. He had to come home. I’d taken over his house so he had no place to live.

He ended up moving to New York and worked for years at the Children’s Television Workshop doing prop work. He also got married to Deborah Moore (one of the founders of the Commerce Street Artist Warehouse)—they were up there together. And they just moved back four or five years ago.

Robert: The Nick Duchamp story—you didn’t start True Artist Tales doing serialized stories. What made you decide to do them?

Scott: That story was kind of handed to me by events. A painting was stolen from the Big Show at Lawndale. Walter Hopps was the judge for that particular show. David Kidd had done this kind of joke painting. It was horrible. A woodburning thing. Have you seen this?

Robert: No.

David Kidd, Oily Monster Melting, 1988

Scott: I gotta email you that image. He had done this thing and it was called the “Oily Monster Melting” or something like that. It showed a monster climbing out of an oil field derrick. It was as crude as possible on a wood-burning plank you’d by from TG&Y or something. Anyway, Walter gave it first prize out of all the 100s of pieces in the show. Not everyone was happy about this.

Walter was a bandit. He had a reputation for stealing art himself. So the piece got stolen. Mysteriously vanished. This piece began to show up at occasional parties I’d go to. When artists had parties, there would be the piece on the wall. Then it would inevitably disappear from the party. Then later, maybe there’d be two of them. They’d be in different homes at the same time. So that was where that whole story kind of came from.

Robert: I have a copy of a “Wanted” poster for Walter Hopps for that.

anonymous, Walter Hopps Wanted Flyer

Scott: See, Dave and the Art Guys were driving that whole business. And some of the Commerce Street people. This is the way things went back then. Comedy tumble. I put it all together. I was always big on noir. There was a lot of punning. Nick Duchamp, the private detective, the fictional son of Marcel. This was back when Houston’s downtown was still fairly undeveloped and in the crapper in the real estate situation. There was plenty of freedom. I set Nick Duchamp’s office—an archetypal private eye office with the venetian blinds—on St Emmanuel St. in the original Chinatown.

He was the only fictional character in the story. Everyone else was based on someone in the scene.

Robert: Michael and Tracy weren’t.

Scott Gilbert, True Artist Tales featuring Nick Duchamp, Art Dick page 8, published March 15, 1988 in Public News

Scott: [laughs] Yeah, that’s right. But “Michael Tracy” [well-known Houston-area artist from Galveston]. That was the influence of Los Bros Hernandez, the Mexican wrestling thing. I took a lot from them.

Robert: That’s what you were reading then?

Scott: I was reading everything though. All the Fantagraphics books. Weirdo. All the old Crumb stuff.

Robert: But you weren’t reading like Teen Titans and shit, were you?

Steve Rude, cover Badger #1, 1983

Scott: I was reading a lot of garbage. Badger was one of my favorite comics.

Robert: But Badger was pretty funny, though.

Scott: Like American Flagg, from First Comics. What was the worst? Was it the “Civil Wars”—the first horrible Marvel fuck-up that they had?

Robert: The Secret Wars.

Scott: That just killed my interest.

Robert: It was a comic designed for 12-year-olds in that they all had to fight each other. If you’re not 12, that’s not going to be very interesting. That said, I think Mike Zeck is a pretty good artist.

Scott: I thought there was a lot of Sal Buscema in that. I was reading a lot of stuff then. The independent press. People like Chester Brown. Pete Bagge. Kaz. Y’know, the whole crew. And obscure people who are gone now.

Robert: That’s one of the things I often remind people of. That there were really good artists like Carel Moiseiwitsch and Michael Dougan who just stopped doing comics.

Scott: Michael Dougan… And Dennis Eichhorn?

Michael Dougan, cover of Real Stuff #3, 1991

Robert: The late-great Denny Eichhorn.

Scott: I read all that stuff. I saw people doing their thing and getting printed. That’s where I wanted to go. I began to do longer stories and I began to push stuff out into the independent press.

Robert: I had been living overseas, came home and lived in Houston for about a year and saw your work in the Public News, then moved to Los Angeles to work for Fantagraphics. I showed your work to Fantagraphics publisher Gary Groth and he just whipped out an envelope he had gotten from you, so he was already aware of your work. I was saying, we should publish this guy.

Scott: It’s tough. What was the most obscure place a regular artist for Fantagraphics came from? Most everyone was clustered in New York and Seattle?

Robert: No. Clowes was in Chicago. Dave Cooper was in fucking Ottawa. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Ottawa, but it’s not a big city.

You also collaborated with a writer names Robert Simms on a three page story called “But It’s the Law” in 1992. What’s the story with that collaboration?

Scott: Robert Simms was a young African American guy. I think I met him at the comic book store, actually. We got to chatting, and he was a fan. We got talking about doing comics and he had some ideas for stories. At that time I was looking for collaborators. It was something very different for me. We put together two stories. They were very short—I think one was just one page. And this one was three pages. Unfortunately, it went nowhere.

Scott Gilbert and Robert Simms, "But It's the Law" page 1, 1992

Robert: So it was never published?

Scott: I don’t think I even submitted it anywhere, you know. I couldn’t find a place to fit it. There weren’t many venues back then. I mean, you had helped at Fantagraphics. And Kim Thompson. Caliber Comics. Did you know that Caliber publisher Gary Reed just died? It’s sad to me because he really helped a lot of people. Dino Haspiel—he gave him one of his first opportunities to publish.

Robert: Do you know whatever happened to Simms?

Scott: No, I have no idea. I lost contact with him. I don’t know.

Robert: Another longer story was “The Whole Story” from 1991. 

Scott: This is a case of bad behavior. Sometimes you shouldn’t put it all in. It’s a true story that a buddy of mine told me and I got into trouble with his girlfriend after I printed it.

Robert: Why did you do a three-page version of it?

Scott: I was trying to blow it up. It’s just like doing multiples of a painting or an image. Just painting that apple bigger or smaller.

Scott Gilbert, The Whole Story page 1, 1991

Robert: One thing I like about the longer version is that it’s a specific location and a specific event that you mention—the Zoviet France show at Commerce Street Artists Warehouse—but then the published version was very condensed.

Scott: That’s another thing. Sometimes you gauge the length of a story. You gauge if it can go multiple pages or can it be just one page. I was thirsting for the longer stories. This is the beginning of that. It needs to be more than one page.

Robert: This was never published anywhere.

Scott: Nowhere.

Scott Gilbert, Jack Knife page 5, published in Negative Burn #33, 1993

Robert: What about “Jack Knife” from 1993? That was ambitious.

Scott: This is just me wanting to do a longer story. It got printed in Negative Burn. It was probably my first publication (outside of True Artist Tales).

It’s just a drive through Louisiana on I-10. One time when me and my dad were making that trip—we were right about in the middle of Louisiana, Baton Rouge, and a rig jackknifed in front of us, just like that. It was in the day time and nobody was shooting, but it was inexplicable. There was no road construction or anything. We drove around it and went on our way to Florida.

Scott Gilbert, "Amarillo" page 1, published in Pictopia no. 3, 1992

“Amarillo” (which was eventually published in Pictopia) was one of the first long-form. And this is building on a lot of that layout. With the ballet of the layout. I’m fond of all of that. It ends up with her—the old lady is whimpering and saying please don’t kill me—and she ends up crumpling up and kneeling in front of her and giving her the gun.

Scott Gilbert, Blind Force published in the Public News April 11, 1990

Robert: Let’s talk about local news as it affected you. There was that Scott Tschirhart strip. Were you following this story real closely? It looked like you were because you had a list of everything this psychopath had done.

Scott: I just read the newspaper stories. They came in sequence.

Robert: Was it well-known?

Scott: There was no internet back then, so I wasn’t able to research it very much. But I read the papers and talked to different people. I wasn’t a journalist by any means myself. It was just my interest and my outrage.

Robert: National events are a little different because they’re easier to get your hands around. They’re always in the news. Was Ida Delaney the talk of the town? It was a horrible event that everyone knew about, right?

Scott Gilbert, "The Killing of Ida Delaney", published in Public News, 1990

Scott: White people weren’t talking about it. That was part of the problem. One thing about it is that with local events, local bad actions, I hook into these stories by knowing the locale. I knew exactly where Ida Delaney was shot. I know that underpass. And that really drives the reality of that home to me. It allows me to illustrate it. Byron Gillum was killed down on Scott St. I know exactly where that is. I went there often.

Robert: How soon after the Ida Delaney incident (October 31, 1989) was this published? (The strip is dates 1990.)

Scott: I don’t know if it was right after. Of course, I was reading this stuff in the newspaper. So it must have been pretty quick.

Scott Gilbert, The Killing of Ida Delaney published July 6, 1994 in Public News

Robert: You revisit this a couple of times. One is a computer-drawn strip about Alex Gonzalez, the cop. And when he was sentenced, you actually reprinted this strip small with text around it talking about the sentencing.

Scott Guilty, Alex Hernandez: Guilty, published May 9, 1990 in Public News

We’re showing your follow-up to “The Killing of Ida Delaney”, “Alex Gonzalez: Guilty”. You’re trying to do your Mike Seanz (an early creator of computer-drawn comics) thing here.

Scott: This is “Scott gets a computer”.

I was trying to be a bad-ass through this. It’s very clear—we’re revisiting this stuff so much now. With Black Lives Matter and all the fucking murders.

Robert: I think “The Killing of Ida Delaney” is the classic True Artist Tales strip.

Scott: I feel like I come from a very privileged position. I realized it more and more over the years. It’s part of why I dropped out was because there are so many people who are silenced, who can’t get their voice out like I was getting my voice out. I didn’t feel like I had that unique a viewpoint. It just began to be “do the right thing” over and over again.

Robert: Let me ask you about the Public News. Jane Ludlum, the editor that hired you, how long was she your editor?

Scott: Not too long. There was a revolving door there.

Robert: Who did you deal with on a day-to-day basis?

Scott: I didn’t get edited much. I was usually dealing with the art director. That was one guy for a while. And there was a lady named Kim Stoilis. She was the main editor for a long time. She’s still very much a part of the scene here. She does PR work and is part of Discovery Green.

Robert: How did you physically deliver your art to them?

Scott: I had a deadline every Sunday night. In the beginning I would just bring the strip to them—the actual artwork. Then I started to scan it and I would have to bring down a disc—sometimes a Zip drive disc. That was a magic time because that’s when computers started entering my life. I’d been a geek in that area for a long time. I was also at Rice—they were improving our technology in the library and I was learning about that. I learned the Adobe suite there, Photoshop. And I was using their computers to do my stuff because I didn’t have a good computer of my own. I had an IBM piece of shit for years. I began to dig that. I got a bootleg copy of Illustrator and Photoshop that I ran off of a Zip disc. I’d go to Rice where they had the drive and I had my copies and that’s how I’d manipulate the art work and store it.

Eventually I got my own scanner and a decent computer. Photoshop and Illustrator were so expensive back then that it was impossible not to do a pirate copy. I stole them from the Public News. You could do that kind of thing back then.

Eventually we got past all of that. I began to put the strips together in the computer. I would compose them in Illustrator, scan them. Eventually the fucking internet caught up and I was able to start FTPing them. That was a wonderful thing.

Robert: Let’s talk about some specific comics. “Cartharsis” from 1990?

Scott Gilbert, Cartharsis published in 1990 in Public News

Scott: This is when we were parked in front of Fitzgeralds. You used to be able to park across the street in this little gas station parking lot, and we actually had this conversation. It gets hauled to the impound towing lot, and then you have to pay the fee and pay how many days it’s been there. It used to be downtown and now it’s out on Mykawa. There’s a lot of wish-fulfillment in this strip.

Scott Gilbert, "6 am, October 23, 1990 A Comic Strip is Born" published October 31, 1990 in Public News

Robert: What about the one where the newspaper vendor gives you a cigar?

Scott: I miss this. I miss being able to buy a paper from a guy. And reading the paper!

Robert: And the guy just gave you a cigar. Did this actually happen?

Scott: That absolutely is just right out of life. I think I mentioned to you that Raymond Carver thing about “Put it all in.” That was his advice. (To get all pretentious.) And also, of course, Harvey Pekar.

Robert: It’s not pretentious to have read one of the best-known short story writers. That what educated people do. It’s what people who go to art exhibits do.

Scott: People who aren’t from Texas.

Robert: “He Hit Homeboy” from 1990?

Scott Gilbert, "He Hit Homeboy!", published in 1990 in Public News

Scott: Again, this is absolutely right out of life. I’ll never forget that kid yelling, “He hit homeboy!” They were fucking with this guy. It was a weird store. Brookshire Brothers? It’s a rural grocery chain but this one was bizarrely positioned on Feagan down near Washington. Long gone, of course. It was a horrible old grocery store, but it was the closest at that time to me. Otherwise you’d have to go down to Randall’s in the middle of Montrose or to that horrible Kroger up on 12th St or 11th St. in the Heights. That was also right out of the 50s, that one. I know it’s a favorite of John Lomax’s. George Bush Senior’s favorite barbeque joint was right over there, too.

Robert: Otto’s on Memorial?

Scott: Yeah.

Robert: What about your three-part series, “Welcome to the End of the World” from 1990? I like all the twilight and night scenes. It gives is a noir feel.

Scott Gilbert, "Welcome to the End of the World Part One", published in 1990 in Public News

Scott: Until recently I as a late riser and a night worker. When I worked at Rice, I would work from 4 pm to midnight. Then I’d only have two hours to go to the bar after. It meant I got up late always. Most of my time spent during the winter—this would have been Thanksgiving—in the dark.

This was also the first era of autobio comics. There were so many that it became a cliché. This is my part.

Scott Gilbert, "I Do Want What What I Haven't Got!", published November 21, 1990 in Public News

Robert: As a shy guy, I’ve always related to “I Do Want What I Haven’t Got” from 1991. I can’t just turn on the charm in a bar like that.

Scott: That’s Rudyard’s again.

Scott Gilbert, "Hot Town...", published in 1993 in Public News

Robert: “Hot Town” from 1993.

Scott: That’s a great one. That’s Houston. That’s Houston right there.

Robert: The white on black lettering makes it seem even more oppressive and hot.

Scott: I had a good friend who had moved up to Seattle at that time who said the sun in Texas was like a sledgehammer.

Scott Gilbert, "What You Get Part One",  published in 1993 in Public News

Robert: You went in a surreal direction with “What You Get” from 1993.

Scott: This is why I do comics. You can do anything in comics. You can have an entire automobile stuck in a guy’s eye.

I had this awful breakup with this woman because she had some mental problems. I realized I was kind of driving myself to “save” her. I was trying to be the white knight. But I realized that she was never going to get helped by me. She was going to have to go through years of healing, and it was a challenge: are you going to stick with this? What are you going to do?

Scott Gilbert, "Power", published in 1993 in Public News

Robert: I like the “Kirby-dot” lettering in “Power” from 1993.

Scott: You know, it’s the goofiest thing. I tried to do it the way they did it, with the pencil eraser, and that never really works.

Scott Gilbert, "Leon Trotsky to André Breton 1938", published on February 23, 1994 in Public News

Robert: I liked how “Leon Trotsky to Andre Breton 1938” from 1994 contrasted the rather literary content with the mundane images.

Scott: I did a few of these quoting texts. That comes from working at Fondren Library at Rice. I was always up in the stacks. They had seven floors of books. Of course, the joy of that job was to get caught onto something as you’re passing by. And they had books going back 400 years on the shelves. I wouldn’t just sit there and read a whole book, but I’d find these chunks of text. I’d get these bits and pieces. It worked a lot like the internet does now.

This actually happened. My buddy, Randy Cole, had to come over and jump my car. And I mentioned this to him. It was something we discussed.

Scott Gilbert, "Duh!", published January 12, 1994 in Public News

Robert: “Duh” from 1994 is kind of a minimalist classic.

Scott: This is also very clearly the neighborhood I lived in when I lived in the Cottage Grove rental house that I had there. When you walked down the street, you crossed the railroad tracks, you passed this motel and there was this weird little diner where there was this guy who sold these boiled eggs. That’s all gone, of course. Although the rental house is still there.

A friend of mine bought the place from the owner that I was leasing it from. This artist couple that I know. He’s a grip and a special effects guy on movies around here and very handy. So he rebuilt this house because it was a wreck.

Robert: It was kind of shabby.

Scott: It was right next door to an artists warehouse which was part of the property. Tons of artist had gone through there. They took it over and fixed it up. But unfortunately, those guys got a divorce and she ended up with the house and he ended up being really pissed. She’s run the property real well. She’s a heavy duty environmentalist.

Scott Gilbert, "Suddenly I Fell Down", published March 23, 1994 in Public News

Robert: What’s the story behind “Suddenly I Fell Down” from 1994?

Scott: This is from when I had quit drinking and I was running three miles a day. I was going across I-10 into Memorial Park and I would always run at night on the golf course and the jogging track. It was great for me. You know, it’s nice being a guy to be able to do this stuff.

Scott Gilbert, "The Circular Sot", published in 1994 in Public News

Robert: “The Circular Sot” (1994) is like a Breakdowns-era Art Spiegelman.

Scott: I was looking at all that shit. It was breaking all the rules. You’re not supposed to have balloons cross each other, you’re supposed to go left to right.

Robert: You’re definitely not supposed to have arrows telling you which way to go.

Scott: This is more like a flow-chart. This is a real place. This is the Pik-N-Pak. That’s Ralph who owned the Pik-N-Pak. This is my friend Alan Ainsworth, a poet, who I was hanging out with that night. Pik-N-Pak was an incredible venue because of Ralph. He always had the roughest toughest band playing. Good stuff. Hard core. And really informal, too. Almost like a practice space for all of these guys. And this big deli case that he kept the beer in. It’s all Rudyard’s parking lot now.

Scott Gilbert, "Tierra del Fuego", published October 26, 1994 in Public News

Robert: “Tierra del Fuego” from 1994 is rather mysterious.

Scott: This is the one that Francisco Solano López (a great cartoonist from Argentina) read out loud to me at San Diego Comicon in 1995. I think he saw “Tierra del Fuego” and he thought, “Oh, the kid knows some geography”. He read it aloud to me and smiled, and shook his head. “Very funny” he said.

Scott Gilbert, "Somewhere in Texas" page, published September 13, 1995 in Public News

Robert: “Somewhere in Texas” was serialized in 1995. It was completely wordless.

Scott: The majority of what I did in the early days of the strip was political if it wasn’t dealing with the art scene. And a lot of anecdotal strips. And the autobio thing was going on, and I was doing that myself. I began to snap to some of the more formal and poetic elements of cartooning. Of comics. So I began to deal with more lyrical poetic themes. I was trying to sum up the essential spirit of Texas. Of this civilization we’re living in. All the good and bad things. Use symbolic mythical creatures. Monsters and whatever.

Somewhere in Texas had this whole Norse God set-up, but it was Norse Gods by way of the Germans in the Hill Country. I’m collaging things together in a lot of ways. The main character was this Cyclops. The way the Minotaur was for Picasso, the Cyclops was for me. Being a Texas artist. A half-blind dumb guy working muscularly in the art field here. And the secondary character, his partner, was the bass player for the band Rusted Shut who I had taken a shine to.

Scott Gilbert, "Somewhere in Texas" page, published August 23, 1995 in Public News

Robert: The Zocalo house band.

Scott: Also involved was a pair of Blackhawk helicopters. These two take over the Black Hawk helicopters in the hill country, and there’s a dragon involved.

Robert: There’s also guys in a satellite or something?

Scott: Yeah. There’s also a framing secondary story about this dystopian culture observing from afar these events going on. That was another device. It was just a sad story: these characters came to no good, and horrified the dystopian characters. It was all symbolic.

Robert: What was the reaction to it? Did people actually follow it from week to week?

Scott: Yeah, yeah. I always had fans. I didn’t get a lot of feedback, ever. Just from people I’d meet who happened to know I did it.

Scott Gilbert, "Luis Bunuel in Mexico", published on February 7, 1996 in Public News

Robert: “Bunuel in Mexico” from early 1996

Scott: Typical bad customer. All those years of service work, I was like, “Yeah!” That book was so good. Bunuel’s semiautobigraphy—My Last Sigh.

Robert: It was a good lead-in to Mysterioso. Mysterioso starts in June 1996. Apparently you got the bug to do longer work.

Scott: Right. It was more challenging and there was more room to do more things. Also, I was getting a lot better at it.

Scott Gilbert, Mysterioso part 1, published June 5, 1996 in Public News

Robert: In the first episode, you say it’s a 7-part series. (It ended up being 31 parts.) It’s a “Tone Comic in 7 parts”. What the hell was that all about?

Scott: Well, that was very pretentious. [laughs] The title is from the Thelonious Monk album, Misterioso, and the improvisation of him. This was launched as an improvisation of feeling about these elements: danger and mystery, the background, the religious stuff, all lumped on top of each other. I didn’t know when I began—all I knew was that I wanted to do an improvisational series. I didn’t know how long it would go, obviously. It grew like Topsy.

It was like jazz improvisation. It grew upon itself. It was really a growth experience week to week. It gave me the strength to do something larger and focus harder.

Robert: So you made a mistake at the beginning. Did you have a specific plan for seven strips at the beginning?

Scott: No, that was the best guesstimate at the time. But it got bigger. I actually only had the feeling about the story. I didn’t have a plot. I just knew this was where it was going to start. I knew the devil was going to come up out of the bay. I had to eventually actually sit down and write it. That’s when I knew it went past seven parts.

Scott Gilbert, Mysterioso part 5.2, published July 24, 1996 in Public News

Robert: At a certain point, you obviously realized that and you start numbering them weird, like 5.1 and 5.2. Eventually you gave that up and just numbered them sequentially.

Scott: This was also in the beginning of the internet when everything was numbered that way. These were like updates! They weren’t actually episodes.

Robert: And it has an element that up until then had not appeared in your work. It was pretty highly sexual. You didn’t get any specific reactions from that?

Scott Gilbert, Mysterioso part 17, published October 16, 1996 in Public News

Scott: Nothing really memorable. Some people were like, Jesus is a stripper, man! What is that?! That’s so cool!

Robert: Did you want to package it as a stand-alone comics?

Scott: Yes. When I did package this it was going to be published by one of the co-owners of Top Shelf, Brett Warnock. I redid the artwork in the computer quite a bit and modified it. He got cold feet on me because the reproduction was going wrong up there. I had saved these as TIFF files and I had rasterized the grey tones to pattern. They kept getting moiré patterns when he was outputting it. He wasn’t outputting it the right size, or something. He just got cold feet about it.

I thought this was going to be a big deal for me. It’s one of the best things I’ve done. The story is loose and big and I got to play with scale a lot. And that’s always a fun thing. I got to include all these Houston elements in this one. I’ve got Galveston Bay. The protagonist is actually living in the rental house I told you about. He’s in my house which was just as falling down and weird as this looks. Another funny thing is that I ended up moving next door to this guy in Spring Branch. My neighbor, the Mexican neighbor I had, was the spitting image of this guy. The strip joint. That’s a perennial Houston thing—the Galleria area strip joints and that kind of straddling of the glitzy rich area with the horrible sex trade and everything that comes with that. And the story about the devil. The devil is always awesome to draw and to use.

This was when my style began to evolve. I began to take seriously what Alex Toth said about simplifying.

Scott Gilbert, Mysterioso part 12, published September 11, 1996 in Public News

I got the devil in this Land Rover. Land Rovers were symbolic to me. The worst of Houston. The most pretentious things.

Robert: So there was no problem with the Public News over the nudity?

Scott: I didn’t get in any trouble for that, but in A Hole in a Man, I used the N-word.

The last shot in Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry 1994

This is a great ending, too. I always loved these 70s movies and those French movies with a hard ending. Bam! It’s over. Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry. The ending is that their car gets crush suddenly by a train.

Robert: Obviously “Just Do It” from 1997 has to do with the Heaven’s Gate mass suicide. I liked the zoom. It made me think of Michael Snow’s famous experimental film Wavelegth.

Scott Gilbert, "Just Do It!", published April 9, 1997 in Public News

Scott: “Just Do It” were the only words.

Robert: Yeah. You didn’t tell your readers what it was all about.

Scott: That was a great period. Like ’96-97? It was this vibe of the X-Files and Bigfoot and Art Bell and these guys, it was all this conspiracy time. It was juicy and colorful. I love that, I love those years. All I was doing was living in this tiny apartment, drawing drawing drawing. And drinking beer.

Robert: In March 1997 was when you strip making fun of some ads in Public News was censored. So that image of the woman with the IV—whatever you were going to add to it electronically was like the dressing on the ad, like the logo and layout.

Scott Gilbert, "Marlene Deitrich", 1997, never published

That strip gets censored and Bert Woodall, the publisher of Public News, actually publishes something in its place. A little bit of text that in essence says, “Yeah, I’m a fucking sell-out.” I have a good photograph of what Bert Woodall put in its place—his “non-apology” apology.

Bert Woodall's explanation for not running Gilbert's Kamel Cigarettes parody

Scott: He always thought he was being real clever. Those ads were like the beginning of hipster ads. All the computer aided design was coming to fore. All that tricky layout shit. Those ads were just pumped full of that stuff. What was it, fucking Camel cigarettes?

Robert: With a “K”.

Kamel ad in Public News

Scott: With a “K”! That’s right. And they suddenly appeared in the bars. Those big fancy displays. It was the OK Soda era. That all kind of sickened me. That’s where Chuck and Viva came from. They were a little further along but they were like my early image of the ur-hipster. Yuppies who had a little more cool knowledge.

My parody was Marlene Dietrich. An old nostalgia picture. The cigarette ad always pissed me off because it was so pretentious. It seemed to be exploiting Marlene Dietrich and the whole nostalgia trip for fucking cancer sticks. That was like the beginning of the hipster period when hipsterism got so commercial. It began to be exploitative.

Robert: The “Hitler wore Khakis” era.

So had you talked to the Houston Press before then?

Scott: All of that was kind of coincidental. The least coincidental part about it was that I only made $25 a strip from the Public News. $25 a week. I never made much money from any of my comics stuff.

Robert: I know Fantagraphics didn’t pay you all that much.

Scott: They paid probably the best. I got fairly well mistreated as a cartoonist by the Public News people. They thought they were funny. One time I came into the office and they had this editor at the time—kind of a frat boy out of the journalism school at UH. I walk in the door and he says, “Hey, funny book man! Say something funny!”

Robert: Jesus. He’s lucky he didn’t get punched in the face.

Scott: So I was dissatisfied and then I was approached by a new editor at the Houston Press. It was this guy whose name I can’t remember for the life of me. He was a journalist who had just come over hear from Atlanta. He had done reporting on the Atlanta child murders. He was a comics fan. He had seen the stuff in Public News and asked, would you like to come work for us?

I boldly said, “Only if you pay me $30 a week!”

Robert: So it was purely a coincidence?

Scott: Yeah.

Robert: How weird. Because it definitely feels like when you read it, as I have done recently, you’re thinking, “OK, I just got censored.” And five weeks later, you’re gone.

Scott: They didn’t care that much. They didn’t care if I left the Public News. I had fans who followed me to the Press and got more fans there.

Robert: Did anyone at the Public News say anything?

Scott: Not really. No. They were like, anh, OK. They were pretty self-absorbed.

Robert: You end your run at Public News with a great image: “Long Live Punk Rock!”

Scott Gilbert, "Long Live Punk Rock", published on April 23, 1997 in Public News

Scott: My swansong. The publisher of the Public News, Bert Woodall, was a character. We had our outs.

That’s the Colorado River. I did a bunch of drawings from life in that area.

Robert: Then your first strip for the Houston Press was this one.

Scott Gilbert, "Attack of the Fifty-Foot Nancy", published on May 1, 1997 in the Houston Press

Scott: “Attack of the 50 foot Nancy.” This was to introduce myself to the Houston Press readers and to show my bona fides as a regular comic book nerd with Nancy.

Scott Gilbert, "We'll Always Have Paris", published on September 11, 1997 in the Houston Press

Robert: I liked the image of guys dumping trash in a dumpster in “We’ll Always Have Paris” from later that year.

Scott: I’ve done this. I’ve been there. I don’t want to say I’ve been there a lot. I know the smell of the things. What a pain in the ass it is to pick that up. There’s a billion of these guys all over town. And Lady Di and all that nonsense.

Scott Gilbert, "Chlorine Cowboys", published on May 21, 1998 in the Houston Press

Robert: “Chlorine Cowboys” from 1998 was part of a series of strips you did about cowboys.

Scott: I got into the cowboy kick. I don’t know what set that off. It was right around the Snake Music time. I guess it was going out to West Texas at that time. I would go out to Balmorhea and Ft. Davis mountains. And looking at a lot of cowboy stuff. I was gearing up for the final continuity, A Hole in a Man.

And this is funny because this is not a motel. This is actually the Richmont Square Apartments “disco pool” with the gay guys. It was the greatest pool which has now just been destroyed because they’re putting the Menil Drawing Center there. It was always a cool place. It was a huge pool and if you ever went down there, they’d have Abba going and Madonna.

Scott Gilbert, Snake Music part 1 published on July 30, 1998 in the Houston Press

Robert: What about the serialized story Snake Music? There’s not any art from it in the show, but it runs a really long time. It runs more than a year as a serialized strip storyline. There are a couple of breaks, like for Thanksgiving. But pretty much the whole time from July 1998 to November 1999 you’re producing Snake Music week after week.

Scott: That one was building on the experience of Mysterioso. I had been travelling to West Texas quite a bit at that time—I’d go at least every Thanksgiving. I was charmed by the Davis Mountains and the desert and everything. I wanted to do something with all that. I was doing sketches out there and life drawings. That was a great setting for the story. I was also dealing with my memories of tourist traps, the snake farms, that I experienced not so much out there but growing up in Florida. The country music element, the Mexican cultural element in there.

Robert: Plus you had the Mexican band that was like the mariachi version of the Specials. They did a Spanish version of “A Message to You Rudy”.

Scott Gilbert, Snake Music part 28 published on February 11, 1999 in the Houston Press

Scott: I had a good friend who I was working with at the library from Mexico. He was a Mexican opera singer. A cultured guy and a wonderful fellow. He helped me with the translations. I would come to him asking, “What’s Spanish for ‘a message to you, Rudy’?” I just thought it was pretty funny to have Los Especiales as this mariachi band and the lead singer being a guy with dreadlocks. All of them in mariachi suits.

I wanted to do a noir story set in that area. We talked a bit about that kind of 70s movie milieu of Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry and things like that. The movies end with the characters dying—violently and abruptly.

Robert: Although in this case, the only people who die are the villains. They do die kind of abruptly although the sheriff gets kind of an operatic death—a police car full of rattle snakes biting him. One is hanging from his ear like an ear ring and he shoots it off—and ma nages to shoot himself in the head.

Scott Gilbert, Snake Music part 65, published on October 21, 1999 in the Houston Press

Scott: But the ending of that one was nihilistic. It was kind of mirroring some of my fears. The country boy, the putative hero of the thing, is so frightened by the idea of travelling to Los Angeles with a mariachi band that he runs off into the desert. And that’s that.

Robert: It doesn’t feel unrealistic, though. After what just happened, he couldn’t just walk away.

Scott Gilbert, Snake Music part 68 published on November 18, 1999 in the Houston Press

Scott: It also relates to Truffaut’s ending of the 400 Blows. The guy on the beach. I studied French New Wave film a lot. David Brauer was teaching art history at UH back then, we talked a lot. He guided my study of Truffaut.

Robert: Let’s talk about technique a little bit. At the beginning, everything is hand-drawn. But by the end, it’s largely electronic. Are you drawing anything by hand at the end?

Scott: Each panel would be drawn separately on a piece of notebook paper or something like that.

Robert: You told me you were influenced by the way Chester Brown did it.

Scott: He was the first guy I heard of doing it that way. It just made sense to me. The part I hated most about comics was ruling of the panel borders. Because I’m sloppy. I would always end up with things crooked. But in Illustrator, you build your panels and then you drop each individual piece of artwork into those panels perfectly.

Robert: So that’s why there’s no artwork for Snake Music or A Hole in the Man.

Scott: Right. With A Hole in the Man, something else came on at that point. I was sick. I had diabetes come on me abruptly. At least I didn’t realize I had diabetes. It came hard on me. It made it hard for me to sit at the drawing table for hours and hours to draw, which was required. I felt awful. It just kicked my ass and I had no idea I had it. I had hypertension as well. I was almost looking for an escape through these computer techniques to avoid work. Like the lettering. Doing the lettering on the computer—Jesus, that’s so much easier. And it helped me spell-check. It was very embarrassing to see bad spelling. And I was attracted to technology anyway.

The internet came on. I had a little website that Rice gave me. They gave all their employees a little space. I learned to do websites and I learned to do HTML. That’s eventually what got me out of Rice. I learned enough HTML that I became a web designer for a corporation here in town and quadrupled my salary. I was able to buy a house in Spring Branch. Because I couldn’t afford to buy anything in Montrose.

Also I was doing a lot of illustration work at the same time. The Houston Press also provided a tremendous amount of support that way. That was so bizarre because I’d do a spot illo and I get $200 for it. Whereas the strip, $30.

Robert: That is bizarre and perverse and shows how little comics are appreciated. And I think it’s still pretty much true.

Scott: Why does a dog lick its balls? Because it can. That’s the way it went back then.

Robert: So you started A Hole in a Man in June 2000 and in October, you stop abruptly in the middle of the story. Was it the health thing?

Scott: It was mainly the health thing. I didn’t realize how sick I was until later and didn’t get treatment until later. I was just stressed out. And I got censored again. I used the N-word in A Hole in a Man. 

Robert: When the black guy comes in the house and the kid’s parents have been murdered.

Scott Gilbert, A Hole in a Man part 3, published on June 22, 2000 in the Houston Press

Scott: I used it twice, actually. But it was just dialogue that is the kind of dialogue that would have been used in that period. And the psychotic kid character used it once and it worked. But apparently the Houston Press got a lot of heat for it, and they warned me not to do it again. That kind of bummed me out. I didn’t understand it in a historical piece of fiction like that.

Robert: Did they know you were going to do this long piece?

Scott: No. There was no editorial interaction between us besides them slapping me on the hand for doing that.

Robert: What was your relationship with the Houston Press like. By this time, you’re delivering the strips remotely to them via FTP. Did you ever talk to them?

Scott: Not really. Not about the strip.

Robert: What about the illustration?

Scott: Monica Fuentes, the art director there (she’s still the art director), was very good about working out what they needed. That was so nice because you didn’t have to think about the purpose of it. There was no editorial back and forth because the way they had always dealt with the comics like Red Meat or Life in Hell or whatever the other comics were, it was a product that was delivered to them.

Robert: Right. They were bought from a syndicate.

Scott: Yeah, and they handled me the same way.

Robert: Did you ever try to get True Artist Tales syndicated?

Scott: Yeah. I did. I did a lot of mailing.

Robert: It was so local and personal that I’m not sure it would have ever flown.

Scott: Yeah, maybe.

Robert: During the 90s and the early 2000s, you had a relationship with the comics world. You were doing strips with Pekar and had work appear in Negative Burn and Pictopia.

Scott: That blew my mind. I’m on a page opposite of Spain Rodriguez, a great hero of mine. I had finally made it.

Robert: How did you hook up with Pekar?

Scott Gilbert and Harvey Pekar, The Worst Possible Job page 1, published in American Splendor: Comic-Con Comics, 1996

Scott: I think I sent him some fan letters and sent him some examples of my work. “You’ve been a great example to me. See how similar our work is. I think you’re great. Keep up the good work.” He eventually sent me a letter saying, hey, we are similar, how would you like to do something for American Splendor? We started off with that little one-page story. It was a back up. I think I did one other one-pager. And then I met him in 1997, I think it was, finally, at the San Diego Comicon, and I spent the whole day with him. Hanging out with him. Sitting at the table and witnessing the events that would become a whole issue of American Splendor. I did the cover and two long pieces. There was one other piece in there. That was a great experience. That was the point when he had stopped self-publishing and he was getting published by Dark Horse. But he was still struggling. That didn’t end until the movie came out. That was long after I had stopped working with him. And then he died. A horrible horrible thing—he died.

Robert: You got involved with a bunch of comics creators. I know you went to SPX one year.

Scott: There was a class of ‘95. I won the Xeric Award in 1995. I got a grant to self-publish. The money was like $5000 strictly to be used to publish my work. The Xeric Grant was money that came from one of the creators of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I always referred to it as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Money. I was one of like five people that year who got grants and I came to know all those people through visits to San Diego Comicon and a bunch of them lived in Austin at the time, like Matt Madden, Tom King, Roy Tompkins—I got to know Roy real well.

Mack White was a tremendous cartoonist. I really became good friends with him. I visited him many times. I went to San Diego Comicon and went to SPX up in Silver Spring. It was a bunch of us kind of the same age or a little bit younger. We’d all cling together, sort of supporting each other. Have a good time together and do a bunch of drinking together.

And behind all this on the internet I was part of this mailing list called the Comix@ group. It was a bunch of comics academics and comics scholars on there who were also like the backbone of this network. Everybody knew everybody and everybody talked on this mailing list talking about comics. And that was something you could do everyday at work. Just chat chat chat. It’s very familiar now because of Facebook and things like that, but this was an email list. So I just knew a lot of people. I had been around a little while.

The weird thing was, even though I was bopping around doing all this stuff, I was still getting zero feedback from my local readers. It was before social media but email was happening. I had my address out there. And I had my website up early. 1995-96. But no feedback. That was tough, you know.

Robert: When you quit doing A Hole in a Man, did you do comic after that?

Scott Gilbert, "Comanche" p. 4, 1996

Scott: Yeah, I did the “Comanche” story. It was a spec story. It got published by Joe Zabel who was self-publishing an anthology. It was like Negative Burn, kind of. It was a mystery anthology. “Comanche” was an adaptation of a Sig Byrd newspaper column. It’s from his book, Sig Byrd’s Houston.

Robert: That’s long out of print. Where’d you get a copy of it?

Scott: Fondren Library at Rice. That’s one book I didn’t steal. That was one of those that clicked and I was able to transpose the time to a current milieu. It’s just a timeless story. It’s so odd. It got noir elements.

I really did it on spec. I happened to hook up with Joe. I was really happy with that story. It was the pinnacle of my achievement in comics.

Robert: But that was it! And then you went to library school.

Scott: That was it! I did bits and pieces here and there. Mack White put together a book called Bush Junta. That was a good one because I could do a satire of George Bush during the Vietnam War.

I tried to continue doing illustration, but that was the point when the internet started killing the alternative weeklies. They didn’t have enough money to buy illustrations. Plus, that’s a fashionable kind of thing where they’re always looking for new artists. But not much else.

I went to work for Cy-Fair College as a circulation manager. It was a new college they opened up on the West Side. There was a lot of work. And I had that rupture of realizing, “I don’t have to do this. I don’t have to.” It was a feeling of freedom. Like being released. It was like when I became an atheist. It was like, I don’t need God. I don’t have to go to church. I was able to just kick back and do my day job, then come home and have fun.

Also, I was getting worried. I’m a very middle-class person. I had that anxiety about making a living. Keeping a job. Having a house. You’re not going to see me in the streets. I decided with my 20+ years of library work—at the low level, the non-professional level—I would amalgamate that and go to library school and get my Masters of Library Science through this online program through the University of North Texas. A bunch of my friends at Rice had gone through it. If they could do it, so could I. It was great! I was working full time. I took it slow. Paid as I went. I didn’t have any debt. I didn’t take any summer classes so it took me about three years. But I nailed it. I got the degree and I did well. And two years later I got a faculty position at the junior college—the place where I am now. In 2009. And it’s been good.

Robert: So now you’re living in bumfuck.

Scott: Yeah, but when I got the job I was commuting 50 miles each way from Spring Branch. I don’t know why I did that for so long. I finally got this situation where I could get this house with my mom. We pooled our money and we got a really nice house. It’s a luxurious house—it’s great.