My rating: 5 of 5 stars The Smell of Planet of Beer: Brian Sendelbach Interview
REILLY: Brian, first off, as you know, I am a very lazy man, so can you write the intro header for this interview?
SENDELBACH: I'm pretty lazy too, so I guess there will be no intro header.
I just read a preview of Planet of Beer and I loved it. It was as if the Harlem Globetrotters were playing a life and death game of hoops with Godzilla on Gilligan's Island in my head where my brain should be. I found it odd that the Globetrotters and Godzilla were all short, doughy white men, in top hats, smoking cigars. Any idea why your work has this sort of bio electrical, funky town engagement on the intellectual process?
That's a really good question! I wish I had an answer. However, it's interesting to note that Godzilla, Globetrotters, and Gilligan's Island all begin with the letter 'G'. Perhaps this is some sort of clue...? (Hint: Gesus ALSO begins with a 'G'.)
Well, I am a genius, so that must have been my subconscious screaming for recognition. A lot of people reading this may not be familiar with your work, so let's get down to some generic interview questions.
Yes, it is okay. Why the name "Smell of Steve" and have you ever regretted that moniker?
The Smell of Steve thing is random. Like Nine Inch Nails or Cat Power, it's just a name on the box. And then you put stuff into the box. And then, in my case, you throw the box into the trash.
What was your first published work and when was it published?
I won a poetry contest in fourth grade. My poem was published in a national magazine of some sort. Then the principal wrote the poem out on a big piece of paper and hung it in the school display case. I was a celebrity around school for about a month...such a celebrity that a bunch of girls gigglingly dragged me into the girls' restroom for a little while, which is another story.
Anyway, the school eventually gave me the big sheet of paper, which I proudly taped to my bedroom door. One day my sister got mad at me and ripped it to shreds. And I completely forgot about the whole thing until just now. (Except the part about the girls' bathroom.)
We both had work published in HellCar, how did you become involved?
The HellCar people contacted my people, and a beautiful relationship was born. I eventually bought my first house with the money I made from HellCar. (NOTE: Brian had no idea that I was letting HellCar pioneer Paul Fiedrich listen in.)
Paul, you once told me that you never wanted to meet or talk to Brian Sendelbach, because it would demystify his comics and paintings.
FIEDRICH: The question isn't entirely correct. It wasn't that I didn't want to talk to him on the phone. I didn't want any contact with him except to receive his cartoons. I travel the country, sometimes the world, but mostly the country a lot. Whenever I stop somewhere I pick up the local weekly paper or whatever zine or flyer I find in the bar or coffee shop, always looking for new cartoonists for HellCar or the DesignBox Gallery in Raleigh, NC.
It must've been around the turn-of-the-century that I was in Seattle, Washington for a gallery exhibit of my paintings. this was at the height of the Northwest's zine craze. There were zines everywhere. There were two or three zine specialty shops with bookshelves and racks, all full of zines, magazines and comic books. I remember the moment I came across the stack of Smell of Steve, Inc. comics several hours after I'd entered the shop and had looked at, flipped through and passed over many disappointing zines with comics, zines without comics, zines with music, zines about music, haunted zines, diet zines and too many zines about zines.
Smell of Steve, Inc's comics were different.
They were comics by someone who knew what they were doing. I read through the books. Stories featuring Phil Collins, Eric Clapton, the original cast of Saturday Night Live and the Moon on Fire. No one had ever put any of those things in the same story. The drawings were done by someone one-step ahead on the evolution ladder. The jokes were written by a god. These were cartoons so funny, so perfectly drawn, so genius that it was guaranteed that Smell of Steve, Inc. was destined for fame, wealth and greatness long after he was dead.
Some years later I had an opening in HellCar for a new cartoonist and emailed Smell of Steve, Inc. to see if he was interested in contributing some pages for publication. I originally never wanted have any contact with him, but I wanted to publish his cartoons more. In my mind he was 10 feet tall. and had spent his spare time fighting gorillas to the death in the forests of Washington State. In fact, I wanted to believe that his cartoons didn't come from his imagination, that he lived them; that they were all true stories. I didn't want to know anything about him except what he told me in his books. I didn't need to know anything about his life. What his favorite food was, if he liked movies, if he was good in school.
In our correspondence I learned his name was Brian Sendelbach. I hadn't even wanted to know that he had a name. I admit it's a good name. But I know other Brians. I couldn't help a mental image of Brian Sendelbach from forming. He wasn't necessarily 10 feet tall anymore. I had no need for more knowledge.
For many years our communications were kept to a minimum. I'd email Brian when the HellCar deadline was coming and he'd email several pages of cartoons. No small talk, no profound thoughts. Nothing. It was perfect. Everyone loved his cartoons in HellCar but I couldn't tell anyone anything about him. He was everything to everyone. He was whatever we wanted him to be.
Life doesn't always go the way you want it to go. It was close to the end of the print edition of HellCar and I ran into a problem.
I had six pages of a Smell of Steve, Inc. story with no page numbers. There were several possibilities of the order. No one in the office could agree and the deadline to get it to the printers was approaching. We needed a solution and an email might not get to Brian in time for the answer.
I had to call him.
I had to speak to him.
And he lived up to all that he was supposed to be. If we'd lived in the same city, we would've been best friends. We'd drink beers, shoot pool, hit on the waitresses. We'd have been ringers in lawyer's softball leagues. We'd have created a whole new genre of music. We'd have ended war in the world. There'd be nothing that we couldn't do.
That was the only time I've ever spoke to him.
Now I feel bad for being flip. Chris, can I be a real person for a second? Just for a second...? I really enjoyed being in HellCar. Paul is an amazing artist, and one of my best friends that I've never actually met. Had we lived in the same town, we surely would've done all the things he said...and more besides. (So...THAT'S what it's like to be genuine...? I feel kinda weird.)
Brian, don’t let your guard down, Paul is the droll Hannibal Lecter of passive aggressiveness messing with your head. You could not possibly offend him. And you do not want Friedrich in your head
I'll be going to Comic Con in new york. Are you still going this year?
Shut up, Paul. You were a one question guest.
Brian, who were your influences?
Mostly loud rock music, Thomas Pynchon, and David Foster Wallace. Also, a frightening illustration of a beturbaned jack-in-the-box I saw in a children's book when I was six.
I love Thomas Pynchon and I think that beturbaned Jack-in-the-box was that freaky thing that wouldn’t stop laughing at you, right? Did you receive any angry letters for your Stranger cover depicting the Pope and Terry Schiavo in a death race and if so, can we print one of the crazier ones here?
I forget whether I received any angry letters. Supposedly, the Bill O'Reilly guy on TV was mad about it, but he gets paid to get mad about things. Also, I got interviewed on a Christian radio station about that cover. Well, actually, I asked a friend to be interviewed in my place. He called up the station and said he was me, and then answered questions as he imagined I would. He did a pretty good job.
O’Reilly in his fair and balanced way, did go ape shit on that cover in an editorial. Brian sent me two letters to the editor in regard to the cover.
POPE VS. SCHIAVO: PRO
EDITOR: The "race to die" cover was a hilarious relief from the teary-eyed crap the rest of the media has been bombarding us with for the last few weeks. Thanks, guys!
POPE VS. SCHIAVO: CON
DEAR EDITOR: The cover art on last week's edition of The Stranger was absolutely despicable. Has The Stranger really sunk to the level of picking on defenseless sick people in order to push the paper? Surely, there must be more creativity floating around your office than what's exhibited by the trash on this week's cover. It's offensive, disrespectful, and classless; but worst of all, the cover shows that you lack the insight and creativity to say anything meaningful about an event that will be remembered by Christians and non-Christians all over the world for years to come. You have proved that The Stranger has nothing to offer this city other than the shock value of an everyday rag.
Does any sane person believe that either of those Pudding Heads knew they were alive, and if they did, would have prayed for death’s merciful embracet.
Whose work do you enjoy today and why?
I like Mo Willems. His books are funny and economically drawn. Also, I like the Captain Underpants books. Very mainstream of me, eh?
At this point in time, what is great about comics and what bites the wax tadpole?
I honestly don't know much about comics these days.
Time for some Inside the Actors Studio, James Lipton questions. Brian, why Phil Collins? Why Sammy Hagar? Why cigars?
I was just trying to be funny. I drew those strips a long time ago. When I was putting together the Planet of Beer book, I would read those old strips and shake my head. I have no idea what I was thinking.
Is Black Aquaman based on someone close to you? It seems quite personal.
Black Aquaman is based on the regular Aquaman, except he's a different race than the regular Aquaman. He's black.
Tell us about Bigfoot on the Moon. Why Bigfoot and not Belushi?
Belushi wasn't available at the time. Well, Jim Belushi was available, but who wants Jim Belushi?
Why did the rock band Queen send Bigfoot to the moon? It sounds more like something Kiss would do?
I don't think KISS is very funny. Queen is funny though. And they didn't send Bigfoot to the moon. They blew up the moon. But that was a very long time ago.
Did you ever receive a cease and desist from American Greetings executive and Ziggy creator Tom Wilson and are you a Ziggy fan?
I am indeed a Ziggy fan. The biggest. But no cease and desist as of this writing, unfortunately.
You have been in the online webcomic trenches for years. How did the Dark Horse deal come about for Planet of Beer? Did they approach you?
I actually never drew webcomics at all. I always drew strips for newspapers. Eventually a lot of those strips made it to the web, via my website (which went up in smoke a couple months ago, long story) and serializer.net. Perhaps serializer is where some people saw my work first, so I get plugged in with the webcomics stuff.
And I approached Dark Horse about a collection. Originally, the people at Dark Horse seemed really enthusiastic about it. At the acquisition meeting, Bigfoot Vs. Planet of Beer For The Future of The Moon! (as it was called then) got a unanimous thumbs up.
Is the book actually in danger of not being published?
As of this writing (January 14, 2009), Planet of Beer has 3 weeks in which to improve its orders. If it doesn't, it heads into some sort of mysterious unpublished limbo. Dark Horse says it's a book that will likely achieve good sales upon release (with word of mouth, positive reviews, etc.), but its initial orders were a little low. Apparently not enough to justify publishing the book. So I'm trying to get the word out however I can. I just added some more Planet of Beer sample pages onto my Myspace page so readers and retailers can get a better idea of what the book's all about. (Hint: It's all about EVIL!!!!!! And a large-breasted Captain America. And Henry Kissinger doing 'the streak.' And the statistical impossibility of love. And Nick Nolte.)
[Retailers -- feel free to order more copies! Customers -- feel free to bully retailers into ordering more copies!:]
Why is Jaws my favorite film?
I didn't quite catch that question. I was eating this burrito here. Could you repeat it? Oh, never mind.
It’s because it has a huge shark in it!
Who would win in a sword fight, you or Robert Hamburger and why?
I am more or less undefeated in the swordfighting department.
What projects can we expect from you in the future?
Well, I don't draw the weekly strip anymore. So if Planet of Beer doesn't end up coming out, I'm throwing in the towel on any future creative endeavors. Then I'll probably work on becoming a professional swordfighter or whatever happens to cross my mind.
Brian, you are weird and unattractive, so instead of including a picture of you in this interview, could you send me a picture of someone that you wish you looked like.
I wish I looked like this guy:
Quite the bee costume you've got there, guy!
Having interviewed you in the past, you knew this was coming – can you send us off with long, boring prose piece, perhaps about why monkeys groom other monkeys?
Monkeys groom other monkeys because...well....[Long sigh. Sound of head hitting keyboartyyyygfvfgvvvvvggggggggg:]
(Sigh) Male monkeys pay for sex by grooming females, according to a study that suggests the primates may treat sex as a commodity. "In primate societies, grooming is the underlying fabric of it all," Dr. Michael Gumert, a primatologist at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said in some interview, "It's a sign of friendship and family, and it's also something that can be exchanged for sexual services."
Thanks, Brian, it is always a pleasure grooming your brain monkey style and good luck with Planet of Beer.