All contents © 2001-2001, Rick Trembles
UNAUTHORIZED REPRODUCTION STRICTLY FORBIDDEN
GETTING TO THE BOTTOM OF RICK TREMBLES (or "EAT SHIT AND GO FUCK YOURSELF") by Rob Schacter
Gravy: How did you get into drawing comix?
Rick Trembles: My father used to draw Canadian anti-nazi war comic books for a living in the forties, so he had a few early anthologies lying around that featured reprints of newspaper comics while they were still experimental. Some deceptively crude looking stuff looked as if anybody could do it & that's always encouraging. A lot of early underground cartoonists were influenced by them and inspired me the same way. (Pictured right: Rick's father, J. Tremblay's WW2 character, Crash Carson of the All Canadian "Devil's Angels" squadron. Roll mouse over image to see a doctored version he once gave as a gag, substituting Crash for Rick)
Gravy: How did your drawing style evolve?
Rick: Out of occupational hazards like bad printing quality and size reduction, which forced me to keep consistent, easy to reproduce lines & not get too ambitious with shading. I also got to know the limitations of my drawing abilities over the years, so I concentrate on what I can get away with. My characters are basically sugarcoated pliable stick figures. "Rubber-hose" animation of the 20's & 30's & the "spaghetti and meatballs" school of cartooning are a big influence.
Gravy: So you're basically self-taught?
Rick: Yah, I learned how to plagiarize all by myself.
Gravy: How much does interacting with other Montreal cartoonists, both personally & artistically, affect your work?
Rick: The ones that share the same sensibilities influence me in the sense that we try to astonish each other with more outrageous work than our last efforts. We're hard to please cuz we've seen it all and we want more. There's not enough of what we like out there so we gotta make our own. Failing to outrage, perplex or induce laughter means I'm fucking up.
Gravy: That sort of sounds like a manifesto. So you have complete artistic freedom & a knowledgeable audience?
Rick: Yah, it's free. And the ability to be outraged, perplexed or induced into laughter doesn't necessarily require knowledge.
Gravy: Yeah, I guess so... Do you feel comfortable in Montreal's comix community, both Francophone and anglophone? Some of your strips show you getting into arguments & kind of getting jerked around, like in the story in SUGAR DIET #2, where a bunch of people step on & get beer all over one of your paintings, & VALIUM makes a crack about "anglo cartoonists."
Rick: My real frog name is RICHARD TREMBLAY. Rick Trembles is a nickname I got in highschool. I was brought up in French but I speak and read better in English cuz I went to English school all my life, so most of my friends are anglophone. My French is lopsided despite the definitive French-Canadian name. This still gets me in trouble talking to local French bureaucrats over the phone. Once my name comes up, they insist on speaking the "mother tongue" from then on, even though they can speak English, so I stumble through, groping for words, sensing smug contempt on the other end. I hate that kind of bullshit.
Gravy: Does VALIUM still holler at you?
Rick: He seems to have cooled off lately on all that crap, he doesn't bug me anymore, maybe he felt I helped get his "message" across. I see other Montreal cartoonists around at launches or when we're working on stuff together. Most of us barely scrape by so everyone's pretty preoccupied I guess. There seems to be the lifers & the ones who come & go. Either it stops being trendy for them, or else reality sets in that it's a shitload of work for usually nothing in return. Support is tough but this is what I do. I don't question it, I'm on automatic pilot. I've been doing it since it was even more unpopular.
Gravy: What were you hoping would come out of SUGAR DIET #1, which was more of a punk rock fanzine than a comic book?
Rick: The first SUGAR DIET was supposed to be 84 pages of nothing but Montreal stuff (although it was hard to resist interviewing JOHNNY RAMONE when I had the chance). It didn't take that long to make but by the time it came out, half the dozen or so Montreal bands that were interviewed had already broken up, so I gave up on stupid bands & concentrated on comix instead... It was partly aimed at the growing Montreal hardcore punk scene in the early eighties but the comix turned a lot of them off for being "incorrect" ...I was kicked out of the MONTREAL MIRROR where I did comic-strip horror movie revues for the same reason. Good riddance.
Gravy: Are there any new Montreal zines you like?
Rick: I'm optimistic about FISHPISS (put out by Rick's roommate, Louis Rastelli). I like the comix pages in VICE. I hope VICE doesn't demographically decide all of a sudden that comix are no longer "hip with the kids."
Gravy: How do you feel about ROBERT CRUMB'S comments and his reaction to your work? (The Comics Journal #158 printed an interview with him at a comix convention panel discussion where he was asked to name "any revealing biographical cartoonists who you don't like, who you don't think do a good job." Crumb responded, "I think I told you about the Rick Trembles comic, didn't I? God, this thing is... I guess he's a guy from Canada who will reveal the most disgusting, horrifying sexual fixations & perversions that I've ever seen in my life! I've never seen anything so disgusting. Interesting, but bleeeeechhhh! You couldn't read much of it"). To me, other than being actually published in WEIRDO MAGAZINE, this was your most illustrious moment. When you read his response, did you think that he was missing the point?
Rick: I think Crumb knew more or less where I was coming from.
Gravy: How did you feel about it? Did you take it as a compliment or do you think it's more a reflection on Crumb and his particular tastes. I remember the scene in the movie CRUMB (1994), where he's in a comic-book store making fun of a bunch of undergrounds like "PUKE & EXPLODE"?
Rick: I don't think he was lumping me in with obnoxious one-shots & I wish "illustrious" moments came to me on the strength of my work rather than what somebody famous had to say about it, but that's showbiz.
Gravy: I couldn't help myself, it's such a juicy quote. So did you ever use his comments for self-promotion, like "I disgusted ROBERT CRUMB"? It must have made you feel like king of the castle in terms of trying to "astonish" other local cartoonists.
Rick: I tried to milk that quote dry but to this day, nobody seems to be interested in putting out a book of my work. I still photocopy, fold and staple my shit by hand whenever I get the spare cash to print them, which isn't often. He hasn't commented on stuff I've sent him since. I was worried for a while that using him to generate interest might've peeved him because his disgust is telling of his threshold. Crumb seems to draw the line at anuses. As polymorphously perverse as his work is reputed to be, I've never seen butt-fucking dealt with in his comix.
Gravy: You think Crumb is repressed in terms of talking about bums 'n anal sex?
Rick: I don't really know what Crumb thinks of anal sex cuz, like I said, he's never addressed it. Maybe it's a touchy topic for him... therefore, would I ever like to see him tackle it. Maybe he was feigning repulsion to goad me into revealing more.
Gravy: Yikes! What are you holding back?
Rick: I'm looking for new things worth holding back to reveal. (?) I might have to invent new ones from scratch. Can anyone help me? (Laughter)
Gravy: You must get tired of trying to capitalize on shock value?
Rick: There are a lot more aspects to my work than the adventures of my stinky-assed poop-chute but for some reason that's what's on the tips of everybody's tongues, so I ain't complaining. Beggars can't be choosers.
Gravy: Yeah, back to the quote... I assume Crumb was talking about "HOW DID I GET SO ANAL?"
Rick: So do I.
Gravy: Describe that strip a bit...
Rick: It's about all kinds of holes and what might've been in there before me. Retitling it "EAT SHIT AND GO FUCK YOURSELF" would be faithful to the story.
Gravy: I find it a struggle to come up with acceptable questions for it cuz I don't wanna sound like a prude or condescending... Do you ever find yourself wondering about the ramifications stories like "HOW DID I GET SO ANAL" might have on some people's ability to relate to you in person?
Rick: Whoever I ramify deserves to be ramified, including myself.
Gravy: When I think about it, it makes sense that it's the one piece you've done that's been commented on & even "academically analyzed" (a friend of Rick's, MARCY FRANK, published a heavy-duty intellectual analysis of Rick's story & some work by JULIE DOUCET in Duke University Press' Queer Diasporas). It's so intensely personal that there's an alienating effect.
Rick: Are you calling me a Martian?
Gravy: At the end of the strip you ask the reader a question: "Should I be put out of my misery, yes or no?" To me that sounds like guilt, so that the strip loses some of its self-assertiveness.
Rick: The only guilt depicted in "HOW DID I GET SO ANAL" is from not living up to people's sex-pectations. What instigated the strip was the incredibly satisfying waking fantasies I was having about pretty girls I knew squatting over my face & producing hot, healthy turds into my mouth. I thought it was a curious and genuine enough impulse to investigate. I had time on my hands & wanted to get a long overdue book out. I was sick of the glut of smug, weak, auto-bio comix being done by others & attempted to outdo them with what were my own mundane concerns. (Pictured above: Sugar Diet #2)
Gravy: So what did you mean by the multiple choice question?
Rick: The interactive aspect of the ending was that I was offering anyone to alter my life at that moment cuz I wasn't capable on my own, as the strip illustrates. Asking if I should be put out of my misery was a pun. It didn't necessarily mean the firing squad. I was hoping more that it meant some handsome woman's asshole would be aimed squarely at my mouth ready to unload a long, solid hunka happiness into me to solve the misery. I was miserable with my unreasonable cravings.
Gravy: I'm confused. Did you want to portray the coprophagia as a manifestation of self-hatred or just an elaborate scatological-sexual fantasy?
Rick: I didn't think it was self-degradation cuz I was too submerged in my fantasies & welcomed the massive hard-ons I got out of them. I was motivated by curiosity.
Gravy: Without really having a sense of why this was going on?
Rick: The reasons for my brush with coprophilic fantasies I haven't fully figured out myself, which is why I drew the comic in the first place.
Gravy: What about MARCY FRANK'S homo-erotic theory?
Rick: Bless her butt for giving a shit, but other stories in the same book could've backed that argument better, like the one where I have a wet dream sucking my own cock for instance. The "shit penis" that I depicted myself sucking on in "ANAL" didn't come out of any "sublimated desire" to cram cock down my throat. It had nothing to do with anyone else's cock but mine & even that one was inconsequential. The phallic hardness of the turd depicted in my strip was due both to my limited drawing abilities & the fact that I was trying to inject humor into a potentially morbid proposition in an attempt to dilute its impact and make it more feasible. As far as watching myself shove things up my ass through a mirror in drag is concerned, sensory deprivation led me to produce what I viewed as my own miniature low-budget hard-core porn movie close-ups to jerk off to with the added realistic touches of stinky fecal matter and abdominal cramps.
Gravy: And then what?
Rick: Once it served its purpose I would get intensely depressed as I always do after jerking off alone & slowly clean up my mess & sulk away until it was time to whack off again.
Gravy: So you weren't actually filming yourself, but just pretending it was porn?
Rick: Who wants to leave evidence like that behind? It's unsanitary!
Gravy: When did you start turning your strips into slide-shows? How do people respond to you personally after performing "GOOPY SPASMS" (The slide-show version of "ANAL," beautifully enhanced with color & some incidental drawings.)
Rick: Only people who like it come up to me & tell me. Right after one of the first times I ever did the slide-show version I lingered around the tiny restaurant it took place in, trying to size up audience response, & I noticed a well-lit couple sitting close to the stage immersing themselves in smooches, oblivious to anything else. I like to think they went home and sniffed each other's butts as a result of my efforts.
Gravy: How many different slide shows do you have?
Rick: I have two in all. The other one's about piss and death.
Gravy: Tell me about what happened at VICE MAGAZINE (Rick has a monthly four panel strip in VICE). For a few weeks his strips were printed with CENSORED bars all over). I had the idea that you purposefully made them raunchy knowing you'd get censored.
Rick: It all started when a local promoter was trying to get a puff-piece out of VICE for my slide show version of "ANAL" but they had just axed their alternative comix review column & the editor said that as much as he likes my work, "comix are dead."
Gravy: Did he really say that? With a straight face?
Rick: He was talking to the promoter so I didn't see what his face looked like... Well, I'm a zombie and death doesn't mean anything to the undead. So with that fresh in my mind, among other things, I tried to single-handedly revive comix from their supposed demise by submitting a strip that I knew they'd object to, cuz the opposite of an apathetic response equals life to me. By coincidence, a strip by another cartoonist in the previous issue had already generated trouble for them, unbeknownst to me. Apparently, while they were on vacation, a woman had been leaving them messages for weeks threatening to involve the church & the police morality squad in having VICE banned from important outlets, all because of a comparatively innocent strip.
Gravy: Your strip is much raunchier, yet the first strip got a fair amount of media attention...
Rick: Much of it generated by VICE itself.
Gravy: Yeah, & yours just sort of slid by. So VICE was paranoid and they knew your strip was going to be "potentially offensive."
Rick: VICE told me to censor myself for the likes of that woman by covering over most of it, which made it look dirtier... I did my best but since every brushstroke was potentially objectionable, you can't help getting the gist of it. (Pictured right: before & after VICE magazine. Roll mouse over image to see uncensored version)
Gravy: When you have to censor yourself, I guess it's hard to know what other people find offensive.
Rick: The following month's strip also had to be encrusted with censorship banners, rendering that one unintelligible, so I've cooled off since then. The woman was never heard from again.
Gravy: Do you hold a grudge against VICE for subverting your "comix revival"?
Rick: I bet the whole thing was fabricated to make it look like some external factor made them censor me, cuz they probably didn't wanna admit they were scared to offend advertisers ...How's that for my paranoid delusions of grandeur? To their credit, though, they did publish them all, no matter how vandalized they were.
Gravy: How do you like doing a monthly? How does the limited format affect your work?
Rick: I like whimsy, & I don't mean family values bullshit, but narrative dream-logic, surreal, screwball type stuff, which is what I find missing from mainstream comix now. I'm a complete slut for seeing my shit in newsprint. The more the merrier. Especially free papers like VICE that end up as garbage all over the streets. I like stepping on my own discarded work inadvertently. It means there's so much of it out there that it's second nature. I'd also like to illustrate children's books one day.
Gravy: I remember when SUGAR DIET #3 came out, my friend Jamie took me into DANGER & showed me the "GOD'S COCKSUCKERS" pages & we were both just amazed by them, the intricate detail. They're so much fun to look at. It wasn't until recently that I found out that they were originally done as poster sized "multimedia" paintings.
Rick: With the "GOD'S COCKSUCKERS" painted series & film I just wanted to see how much I could cram into one drawing & I wanted to have all naked people enjoying fucking & slaughtering each other just like in real life. I wanted to suggest multiple narratives occurring simultaneously. The film version comes across as more experimental because that kind of composition doesn't lend itself well to conventional cinematic framing & temporality. Dozens of interacting critters go by before you can take it all in, so repeated viewings are needed, which was intentional. They're set in theme parks to add to the garishness and clutter. The Cocksuckers' vehicles are exact replicas of the cars in the old funhouse at the local amusement park, La Ronde.
Gravy: You've had work published in SCREW MAGAZINE. Did you just send them work and they decided to print it or was it solicited?
Rick: I've done stuff for them twice in the last couple of years, cover illustrations and 3 pages inside. A girl I know married someone at SCREW & I guess that made things move a little quicker for me. But years before I knew anybody there, JULIE DOUCET was pushing me to send my shit in, cuz she had done it & said it was easy money & they really encourage struggling underground cartoonists. They've been doing it since the 60's. CRUMB still occasionally does work for them. He did a T-shirt design of publisher AL GOLDSTEIN saying: "I eat pussy and I'm proud of it," that I got. The most I've ever been paid for my comix is from SCREW.
Gravy: I've seen a few stories by you lately about your childhood. You draw yourself as a miniature version of you as an adult, flipped-down sunglasses and big hair. Is this conscious, since you're projecting your adult self onto these recollections?
Rick: I only started wearing prescription glasses the day I turned 18, but I draw myself as a bespectacled toddler. This is cuz I'm no portrait artist, so in order to keep the continuity, I gotta include recognizable, obvious icons in my flashbacks.
Gravy: What are your plans in terms of large-sized projects; you showed me story-boards for an animated version of "ANAL"...
Rick: In my never-ending quest for realism, I've been slowly learning how to animate my "perversions" and bring them to life on film. This learning process will continue 'til the day I die cuz there's no limits & it's a slow and costly project.
Gravy: If there's one generalization I can make about your work in general, it's that sexuality, when it's portrayed, is always accompanied by violence, or, as in the auto-bio stuff, bitterness and frustration. You don't really seem to enjoy "sex," which is probably the reason that a really sexually motivated person like CRUMB would be turned off by some of your work. I think it's probably at least part of the emotions underlying the story that made CRUMB freak out. What do you think about sex? You know... fucking?
Rick: Repression is the root of all creativity.