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Bill and Ted Paid My Rent: An Interview with Evan Dorkin

Evan Dorkin is in Detroit for a convention, but right now, we're in a bowling alley. He's drawing a small piece of cheese scowling, clutching his tiny cheese fists on the overhead bowling score display. "More beer," the word balloon reads. The DJ slaps on a Fishbone EP. "They don't have anything like this in New York," Dorkin says while making grand sweeping gestures with his hands, as if to encompass the festival that is "Rock 'n' Bowl" at Detroit's Garden Bowl. At the convention the next day, he tolerates the occasional request to draw Donatello and Co. from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle cartoon show he created storyboards for briefly. It is soon time for him to go; we escort him to the airport. He waves happily as he boards, yelling to us: "I hope this plane doesn't crash ... I hope we don't all crash and die!" We get strange looks from the flight attendant.

May 1991

I'm speaking with Evan Dorkin via a delightfully crappy Conair phone. He has just finished up the Predator: Big Game series for Dark Horse, and Slave Labor has released his long-awaited Milk and Cheese #1 and Pirate Corp$ #3 books. Suddenly the Prolific King, Dorkin is working on Marvel's Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure 2, out in July, Milk and Cheese for Deadline, various drawings for Reflex magazine, a five-person comic collaboration called Instant Piano, and while I'm speaking with him, he's secretly working on "The Murder Family," a one-shot comic for Epic, due out in September. We now join you with Evan already in progress.

The Past (Getting There)

D: So what else can I do for you pardner, or do you want me to ring that up for you?

X: You're rabbiting.

D: Watch "Northern Exposure" tonight.

X: Okay.

D: It's good ... trust me, I'm a doctor.

X: So are we going to get an interview out of you today or what?

D: Let's go, LET'S GO!

X: Okay! Let's go right down the line ...


X: Biographical information to start the article!

D: Hit me! So where ya from?

X: So where ya from?

D: Oh ... me? That's a question? Who's going to transcribe this?

X: I am.

D: Oh man ... I'll use lots of big words ... polysyllabic justification of dynamic juxtaposition.

X: See, but I can't use that.

D: Why not?

X: I don't know where that goes.

D: You're right. Ask me a question.

X: Where'd you grow up?

D: No comment.

X: You ...

D: Okay ... all right, let's start.

X: Okay, we're starting.

D: Okay.

X: Where'd you grow up?

D (pause): What?

The Past (Actual)

I was born in Brooklyn ... 1965 Brooklyn hospital ... grew up in Brooklyn ... grew up in a Jewish neighborhood, which was okay 'cuz I was Jewish. Moved to Staten Island when I was 13, hated that, got rocks thrown at me, I'm still out here because it's the cheapest place to live.

Your start in cartooning, or whatever the hell you wanna call it.

I don't know, I always drew ... since about five, my sister and I used to draw on the walls, my mother found me out once ... I would draw in school, tanks and stuff. You drew tanks, superheroes, monsters, Godzilla a lot, robots, and they'd all kill each other, real normal stuff ... I stopped doing that last year; now I do it for a living.

How did this living start?

There was a crazy guy I met at a store, and he kept using me to do the art in some of his [book] projects, an independent picked it up when the black-and-white boom was going on; he wigged out and never did it again; some people that were on the fringes of that company knew my ideas for Pirate Corp$ which was a very different book back then. Back then Pirate Corp$ was more science-fiction, sort of a space opera, with a "Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" twist and eventually it's just become ... bums. Back then, I was thrown out of my house for three months, and this guy said "you remember that ideal you were talking about" because it was very much entrenched in superhero-dom ... and "do you want to do it?" I said sure, I did the cover that night in the back of the [comic-book] store where it was freezing ... it was like November. Right before Thanksgiving, I went back after living in the store with no heat.

And then you went to film school at NYU?

I had already been to film school ... I won a grant to an animated film, and I spent it on my car to fix it; and I never finished the film because like everything else I made it too detailed, and I just couldn't finish it. It was a four-minute [piece], fully animated, no short cuts on cels, painted, with backgrounds, I had done about 50 backgrounds, won a grant, got two confirmed sales of the film, and never finished it - got my degree and ran away. I kind of jerked off a little bit in school, I could have done a lot better. All I did in school pretty much was draw cartoons, hang out at the pizza shop, walk around the village, not do my work, and try to figure out how I could get up the courage to ask out all the girls with Doc Marten boots on. And that didn't work. So that was college. I'm not saying college wasn't good for me, I'm saying I didn't take advantage of it enough as far as the filmmaking was - I was so stymied by the technology that I couldn't do anything correctly with the film medium. I loved writing, and I loved planning the films, but I couldn't stand doing the lighting or camerawork, I always wanted someone else to do that. My scripts went over very well, and my teachers were enthusiastic about my ideas, but they realized I was a complete schmuck.

Couldn't you have gotten anyone else to do those parts?

I wasn't really friendly with a lot of people ... I was friendly with a couple of the actors, a couple of the animators -- in fact, I ended up getting the Turtles job from a guy that I just happened to come across at a comics convention years later -- it was't so much that I was anti-social, I just thought everyone was full of shit there. There were about five people that weren't ... I was the worst film student probably ... I didn't see Citizen Kane until I got out of there. They asked me "What's your favorite foreign film?" and I said Godzilla, which didn't go over too well. But film school was interesting, one day I'm going to do a book about when I was going to school - there were a lot of people I liked, in fact, I wouldn't mind getting in touch with some of these people, but I have absolutely no idea how - some of them actually appear on TV ... and of course, I know where Alex Winter ("Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure") is ... ... because ... . I have to draw him. He's a real snob, and now I have to draw him to make my rent. Yahoooo. It's funny that I'm doing all these licensed comics, I did Predator, Bill and Ted's, a Ghostbusters issue, and they're really usually banal jobs because you're following other people's dictum, but Bill and Ted's is, believe it or not, actually kind of fun ... so far, things have been 90% interesting. The press from Bill and Ted's is allowing me to do a lot of pushing of Pirate Corp$ and Milk and Cheese.

Milk and Cheese

You're doing Milk and Cheese for both UK and US Deadline?

Right, and they're different strips, they're not going to be the same strip. The UK ones start with Issue 30, which probably will hit these shores in three months, England in a month. There's a six-issue series from Dark Horse reprinting a lot of the earlier material from Deadline with new American material, and new material on bands ... . it's 96 pages bi-monthly, two strips per issue ... I don't think I'm in number one. Number one is out September, so my stuff will hit around November. They're probably reprinting Tank Girl, although they're doing a whole separate book of Tank Girl, and I guess Wired World, Johnny Nemo ... Philip Bond's Wired World is really good, I'm glad it's going to get some more exposure here.

Didn't he drop that?

Yeah, he stopped it except for a four-page flashback in Deadline #28. I hope he does something with them again someday, I really like the characters, but I perfectly understand someone dumping a character from getting a little bored from the grind of having to please a certain audience that doesn't want to see you do anything else. I kind of get that with the dichotomy between people who like Milk and Cheese but are very polite when they discuss Pirate Corp$, because Pirate Corp$ is something that have to sit down and read and actually pay attention to, and Milk and Cheese you can read one page and put it down ... you either get it or you don't. Pirate Corp$ you have to read and make a judgement on, but Milk and Cheese you look at the cover and they're just "oh, I see, it's a silly comic about a milk and a cheese, and they scream and yell and drink and get mad at people."

Origins of Milk and Cheese?

No idea, someone just asked me that the other day.The closest I can get is Cheese was probably first; I have the first drawing I ever did of Milk. Cheese was a little guy I was a drawing as a goof. That set style for this cheese I used to draw when I used to do little funny pictures about two friends of mine, Karen and Kristin Garcia. I called them the "Cheesy Garcia Sisters" and drew it on napkins in bars and clubs we were at. Somehow, the next thing I knew I was doing little Milk and Cheeses.

Is this before or after the little milk carton appearances in Flaming Carrot #20?

They were around before; I stuck them in there as a little "Hello, how do you do." Bob Burden was saying "you've got to do more of these ... "

Pirate Corp$

Pirate Corp$ is about confusion and depression and loss, and life going by too fast and being in the minority of people who seem to have common sense but don't know what to do with it. Kind of like this cycle of people I have who are caring, intelligent, well-meaning people who are so bogged down in their complaining and depression that they don't get anything done. They hate television, but they always seem to know what's on ... I'm talking for myself here! It's getting better, though, I don't have MTV anymore. I love junk culture, but I don't understand America's fascination with it. If there's anything in my work that seems to be a constant it would be America's fascination with junk culture. In Pirate Corp$, it's just all through it. There's references to bands, good and bad, TV shows, junk food, fast food, stupid bars and clubs and name-dropping. The whole idea of Pirate Corp$ has become, and actually was endemic to the original [concept], was that the outlaw groups, the Pirate Corp$ crews, which are not really too intergral to the plot, are revered almost as a combination gang and musical group. They have their own followers, almost like the people who used to follow street gangs in Brooklyn, or people who used to like certain bank robbers in the thirties, they had followings because they were getting the governments back. But the Pirate Corp$ crews have a sort of an MTV spin-doctor attitude - they have buttons, people collect fanzines about them, some of them are violent, some non-violent, some of them are just computer hackers. Pirate Corp$ is about junk culture and the hypocrisy it creates.


Milk and Cheese just basically picks out people I hate and trashes them right then and there. Milk and Cheese doesn't offer any room for explanation or argument. You live in a penthouse apartment? You're a shit. You're on welfare ... they hate everybody. They're kind of wrong ... there's one in Cerebus where they made fun of the unemployed ... there's nothing wrong with old people, but they constantly attack them. But sometimes they see something wrong being done, like people at malls who yell at their children, and want to know why they're crying, and then hit them and still want to know why they're crying ... or they get mad at cops, but generally they just hate people who bother them. If Halby and Blue from Pirate Corp$ had balls, and were just psychopaths, they'd be Milk and Cheese. Except that Milk and Cheese are sort of insane. They hate everything, but meantime, they love bad movies and television. They watch "A Current Affair" and listen to William Shatner records, go to Ninja movies, but they just don't want anyone interferring with their fun. Halby and Blue complain about everything - they understand what's behind the politics and machinations ... their schtick is they're just too lazy to do anything about it. They just pick the junk culture they can deal with, like punk, ska, fast food, funny toys, cereal, and Pez. Milk and Cheese basically are junk culture. They're just attacking people for liking them almost.

Dark, Mysterious Milk and Cheese Tales

I'm not a hot young prospect, I'm not a visionary, and I don't mean this sarcastically, because I think there are visionaries as far as comics are concerned, I'm not a Love and Rockets or Eightball or Hate, I'm not doing hard-hitting stuff, I'm just trying to do some solid humor with observations and some dramatic stuff inbetween. Milk and Cheese are just balls-ass ridiculous, but I think the characters are cute enough that people don't take them seriously, like Reid Fleming or Flaming Carrot. I'm a very unpretentious creator, I'm not saying anybody else is. I don't have pretentious fans, and I'm glad! I don't do dark, mysterious tales in Pirate Corp$, I don't try to hit anyone over the head with things ... so I'm kind of left adrift.


Toys ... are you ready for toys?

I'm ready for toys.

Okay, name off some of your favorites.

Cootie Bugs! You guys got me Cootie Bugs ... I have one in every room. Alright, lemme tell you what I have in my room - I'll just look. I love toys. I just bought new Pez for all my dispensers today ... I have a plastic posable Gigantor that my friend Pat got me which is really as cheesy-looking, as dopey as the cartoon. I have bubbles, I always blow bubbles when I can't think of something when I'm writing. A big Godzilla, a big plastic one from Japan. Robbie the robot, Godzilla lighters, wind-up babies, monkeys, the Lucky that you gave me, from Fisher-Price, an "It's Science" doll made by Scott Saavedra, two posable Milk and Cheese figures that Scott also made ... rubber cement's a good toy, sniffing is good. In the other room I have all my stuffed animals that women gave me or I bought for myself, super-hero action figures, Pee-Wee Herman toys, Mr. Peanut memorabilia, monster slippers, lots of Felix the Cat, couple of robots ... then I have a lot of crap like army boots and hats and army helmets and gas masks, I consider those toys too. My dinette collection, you know, all the stuff I steal, my ashtrays, beer glasses and mugs, plates, White Castle collections, I consider all those toys also. Rubber balls, slinkys, crazy straws, Mickey Mouse pops ...

What kind of toys do you wish you had?

If anybody who reads this interview wants to sell me a Rock'em Sock'em robot set, that's it. I've seen them in French. The Hot Wheels tracks that you whip your friends with ... the SST Racers, the cars where you put the stick inside the wheel and you pull and the wheel goes mad and you stick it in someone's hair ... the Evel Kneivel car was a good one, you'd rev up Evel, pull him off, and stick the tire into somebody's bare flesh ... yo-yo's, jacks, those were cool. Toys are good. I stick toys in Pirate Corp$, too. I have all the ad copy to Rock'em Sock'em Robots in French, I'm going to have Mr. Blue going around saying it. Majormat Mason ... science fiction dolls ... old GI Joe Dolls ... old Mego figures: Planet of the Apes, Superheros, I would love to have all those back, anyone that wants to get rid of them send them to my house. I would trade artwork for toys and things like that in a minute. There were these rubber toys, I think they were from Mattel, nine dolls, one for every planet in the solar system. I would love to get these things back.

Fisher-Price stuff?

My friend Pat had the shampoo ...

Right, the baby head.

I should get that and make a little ska hat for it, the Fisher-Price rude boy, because they look good like that. I had the barn ... oh, the garage! Everybody has to have the garage. Scene of multiple Fisher-Price accidents. I'd always have the nasty-looking kid stealing mom's car and zipping off. There would always be a tragedy, tragic consequences in my Fisher-Price world. Nothing was a given - safety was not a given. I believe I had the plane, I didn't like the plane for some reason - because the steps were so huge ... I know I had the house, because I remember sitting there and plinking that damn doorbell - it kind of hurt your fingers. I always would have the house get hit by an earthquake or tornado. Every toy I had got destroyed eventually.

Instant Piano

The Instant Piano group was originally just five of us getting together in New York - Kyle Baker, Mark Badger, Stephen DeStefano, Robbie Busch and myself. I believe it was Mark Badger's idea ... we've been telling people about it, but we're not talking serious to anybody until we have a first issue package. Basically what it's going to be is five wise-asses, but who are also kind of angry asses, and we're going to see about getting some things in comic form that we want to do that no one will pay us to do. I'll be doing some Mike and Cheese stuff here and there, it will be a jumping point to other strips; Kyle's going to be doing Cowboy Wally, Ed Smith Lizard of Doom, things like that; Robbie's doing something called Wuzzlenuts, which are really great. They're these very strange jagged cartoons, that - you don't know what's going on, I don't know, they're kinda weird! They're real weird! Stephen DeStefano's doing something called Little Chooch, which is kind of idyllic, but it's got some rough stuff in it, it's almost vaudville-esque, it's very lenient to his Italian heritage. The dialogue runs really wild, it's a very phoentic old Italian. Stephen's also doing Groovy Mouse, which is a funk funny animal series that Robbie's writing. Mark's is doing the serious stuff in the first issue - I haven't seen it yet, but everybody said it's great. I'm doing Phil the Disco Skinhead, which will be under the Groovy Mouse strips, which will be [wavering voice] "A light-hearted examination of racist mores in the music scene." So we've got three jews, a black guy, and an Italian with a lot of New York angst. We're going to have letters pages, contests that make no sense, we're going to be rude, and we're not going to care. It's mainly humor, but some people will probably say that it's pretentious and wise-ass in places, and some people will say that it's stupid, and dumb, and slap-sticky, they're all wrong ... [laughter]. It's going to be a funny book, and that's the bottom line is that we're looking for laughs first. It seems we're kind of treating it as a band ...

The Murder Family

I'm doing the Murder Family, which is a sitcom about murders ...

It's more like a sitcom about sitcoms, isn't it?

Exactly. It doesn't really make fun of murderers, it makes fun of sitcoms because they're so banal. The joke is the audience probably would sit there and crack up at a sitcom about people killing each other. I'd rather see a sitcom about murderers than a sitcom that has all the jiggling, stupid flesh like Who's The Boss.

Like a sitcom is ever going to mirror any kind of real-life situation ever.

Exactly, The Murder Family is probably closer to real life than anything on television ... dad comes home and mom's hacking up the gas meter reader. I don't know, that happens - mom doesn't do it as often as dad. This is a family of sickos that do some strange stuff and don't see anything wrong with it; they have their own perverse sense of morality, and I inject into their lifestyle typical sitcom plots. Doug has a date with two girls, and his brother decides to be a good brother by murdering the one he doesn't like as much. But Doug kills the other one in a flash of anger, and now he has no date. Which is a very typical sitcom plot. Dad says "Well, don't worry about it son, because you've got us!" and everybody laughs and the credits roll. Two people dead in a half-hour, but they solved all their problems, and everything comes to light, nothing means anything, and hopefully they sold some more Nabisco products. This planet has trivialized talent to some degree. There have always been no-talents, I mean, I don't know where my skills lie on the scale, especially since America doesn't seem to give a shit about cartoonists anyway, unless they're doing Garfield ... "Hey hey I'm fat ... " 600-fucking years in a row. "Garfield, where's my turkey?" "Oh, I never saw it ..." "bowk-bowk," his stomach says. "I'm a fat cat, and I talk."

I don't undertstand that at all. I think the appeal there is for geriatric cat-owners.

I ... I, well, there aren't forty million of these people reading these books.

The Big Finish

D: I'm doing a convention in Jersey and I told them I just want soda and broads ... I don't think they're going to get me broads ...

X: I think they're going to get you soda, and call yourself lucky.

D: "Get me some Dr. Pepper."

X: Do you have Mr. Pibb in New York?

D: No, we don't actually. I never even had it, but I know it's the Dr. Pepper equivalent ...

X: I saw a commercial in Florida awhile ago, this guy bought a Dr. Pibb, and a beautiful woman appeared; that sold me.

D: That's pretty good ... I just did a fake commercial in Murder Family ... "Hey kids, don't forget tomorrow is Saturday, and at 8 am, is the Saturday Morning Favorites" who are these four tremendously ugly little characters ... Hilly, O. B. Spum, Loveless Ed, who's drunk and has flies over his head ... and Round-Headed Soprano who looks just like Charlie Brown except he has a little mustache ... "and at 10 am, The Latchkey Kids," which is my favorite cartoon ... "The utilities are off, the food is gone, so is dad, Spot is growling, and mom's still not home yet - hilarious cartoon excitement!" and the two little kids are going "Mom ... mom?" I'm actually going to do an episode of that for Instant Piano where it's the last episode and the kids are drinking out of the toilet and the dog eats them.

X: [laughter]

D: Really nice, huh?

X: A barrel of cheer.

D: Whaddya going to do?

X: I don't know ... hey, you live in New York.

D: Your sensibilities go.

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