Joe Matt interview in Columbia Daily Spectator

“NEW YORK -- What's your daily masturbation record? Joe Matt's is 20 times -- in six and a half hours.” / Columbia Daily Spectator / John Krauss / April 26, 2007

Cartoonist Joe Matt has been knocking around the comic world for twenty years, shamelessly baring the most embarrassing aspects of his life in his semi-regular strip Peepshow, which has been published in 13 successive issues since 1987. The four most recent strips have been collected in the comic book "Spent," to be released by FSG imprint Drawn & Quarterly later this month.

In an interview by e-mail, Matt managed to unwittingly touch on his own unique appeal when he opened his response with, "Haha ... who else has to answer questions like this?"

It's a revealing question; Matt identifies well-known comic artists such as Robert Crumb and Harvey Pekar as his cartoonist heroes-and indeed, he follows directly in their footsteps with his transparently autobiographical work. But Matt carves himself a truly unique niche with "Spent": He delivers a comic book so candid that any other cartoonist would blush to show his closest friends mere preliminary sketches. In "Spent," Matt remorselessly delves into his own personal demons -- masturbation and justification. And with somewhat jarring honesty, he succeeds in depicting himself, or rather his admittedly autobiographical character, as a relatively sympathetic, surprisingly un-creepy individual.

This is a remarkable feat considering five straight pages of "Spent" are close-ups of his face as he edits porn videos. Indeed, Matt likely has the largest porn collection of any contemporary cartoonist (provided he hasn't thrown any of it out) -- an exceptional statement considering the social faculties of your standard cartoonist. The aforementioned editing of porn videos is a primary thread in "Spent"; Matt's character spends so much time borrowing used porn videos, dubbing compilations of these borrowed videos (carefully eliminating every scene with a man), and masturbating to these compilations that he has no time to work on his comic book. The only cure for the malaise caused by this reduced productivity is masturbation. "Spent"'s direct and unforgiving depiction of Matt's "procrasturbation" ties the collection together in one universally appealing theme. Matt admits over e-mail, "If I'm going to give into any of my urges, the sexual ones are probably my favorite. And we all must give into something ... it's just a matter of choice." Matt's character is frequently characterized as lazy; in "Spent," he chooses peeing in a bottle over walking down the stairs to the bathroom. "I don't pee in bottles out of laziness," he defends himself in the comic. "I pee in bottles for practicality's sake." This desperate logicality is classic Matt; it is the same logic that compels his character to live illegally in Canada, "Spent"'s setting, because the U.S. dollar is worth more in Canada. It is the same logic that enables his dream of accumulating a "nest egg" that could some day generate enough interest to liberate him from work entirely -- ignoring that he already does almost no work. Just like his procrasturbation, Matt's proclivity for insane justifications is so appealing because it is a universal tendency that he brings into brutal focus.

As a cartoonist, however, Matt is a perfectionist, an attribute he called "just hellish." From the perspective of the reader, this idiosyncrasy of attitude pays dividends: Matt's illustrations are sparse but powerfully economical. He notably avoids fancy layouts and only occasionally employs extraneous speechless panels, the overall effect of which is to imbue his book with confident form and impeccable rhythm.

Even compared to his previous work, "Spent" is pared down. "I will be trying something different in the near future," Matt said when asked if he would continue his move towards minimalism. This is not surprising. He would be hard-pressed to push further in this direction, as with "Spent," Matt nearly perfects the art of honing away all superfluity.

Ultimately, the focus of Matt's work is the idea of "the classic everyman"; using the model of his meager living in Canada, he attempts to depict the rotten desires at the root of our person, such as his desire to do nothing for a living while still having plenty of orgasms. But what will he turn his pen to now? Having since moved from Canada, he says, "My next book will be about living in L.A. for the past four years ... among other things." Kind of makes you wonder if those "other things" include how he smuggled that porn collection across the border.

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